We are in the midst of Easter Week and Earth Week, a wonderful coincidence of celebrations. What better day than today, what better week than this, what better time than now, to reach out in wonder and gratitude to the living world around us! Jesus Christ’s resurrection is good news not only for human beings, but also for the whole creation – for ocean and mountain, beetle and bumblebee, granite and grasses. If we imagine that Christ’s resurrection affects only people, or that it concerns only a “spiritual” realm unrelated to ordinary reality, then our understanding of resurrection is far too small. As Br. Mark, Brown, SSJE, explains in a powerful sermon:
Something that pertains to the whole cosmos is happening in the death and resurrection of Christ: animal, vegetable and mineral; earth, air, fire and water. From the depths of inner worlds to the furthest reaches of outer space. “Behold, I am making all things new” — not just all people, but all things, he says. Whether we quite comprehend this or not, the scope is breathtaking.
So it is no wonder that during the Great Vigil of Easter, when we mark Jesus’ passing from death to life, we listen to the ancient words of the Exsultet (from the Latin root that gives us the word “exultant”) and we proclaim a joy that is being expressed on every level of existence, from “all the round earth” to the “heavenly hosts”:
Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,
bright with a glorious splendor,
for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.
Once we understand that Christ’s risen, living presence is everywhere, how much more curious we can be about the other creatures with whom we share this planet! Like our human brothers and sisters, they, too, speak to us of God. They, too, invite us into relationship. I know of no contemporary author who communicates this more beautifully than David Abram, who writes in Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology:
How monotonous our speaking becomes when we speak only to ourselves! And how insulting to the other beings – to foraging black bears and twisted old cypresses – that no longer sense us talking to them, but only about them, as though they were not present in our world…Small wonder that rivers and forests no longer compel our focus or our fierce devotion. For we walk about such entities only behind their backs, as though they were not participant in our lives. Yet if we no longer call out to the moon slipping between the clouds, or whisper to the spider setting the silken struts of her web, well, then the numerous powers of this world will no longer address us – and if they still try, we will not likely hear them.
Spirituality is sometimes defined as our capacity for relationship, and Easter season invites us to explore and renew our relationship with the living community that surrounds us.
This week a friend of mine pointed out that there is a difference between going for a walk or a run, and actually being in nature. When I go for a walk or a run, I follow my own agenda. I stay in my head, enclosed in my self-centered world. By contrast, when I am in nature I never know what will happen next. I am available for encounter and am open to surprise, willing to being affected and changed. I may greet the wind or hear the laughter of the birds. I may talk to the trees. I may grasp a pine cone or touch a forsythia blossom. I may lie down on the grass and let the good earth hold me up. Sure, when I go for a run, I get some exercise and burn some calories, but unless I take time in nature simply to observe in silence, to listen through the pores of my skin, and maybe to move or even dance in response to the moving, dancing world around me, I am not likely to experience the Risen Christ who connects all things and in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).
As my friend remarked, ignoring the natural world is like being invited to a party and paying no attention to the festivities: we walk into our friend’s house and we interact with none of the other guests; we talk to no one and we accept no food or drink. What’s the fun in that? And just think how we have impoverished our relationship with our fellow creatures, and how much we have disappointed our Host!
Earth Week and Easter Week invite us to consider the many ways that we can take part in healing the Earth, from conserving water and cleaning up a local park to advocating for strong public policies that put a price on carbon and that keep fossil fuel reserves in the ground where they belong. As people who bear witness to the resurrection, we need to join the struggle to protect life as it has evolved on this planet. We need to show in very tangible ways what good news it is to the rest of creation that Christ is risen. In this suffering, death-obsessed and frightened world, where climate catastrophe may soon be upon us and we have little time left in which to turn things around, we put our trust in a creative, redeeming, and empowering Presence that holds all things together and whose love will never let us go. We have urgent work to do in the days ahead, and we plan to do it singing.
Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth!
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