E-mails have started to trickle back into my inbox from students and colleagues, signaling the end of summer and the beginning of another semester at Gonzaga University. In just a few weeks it’ll be writing lectures and grading papers again, which can be taxing and overwhelming.
I feel ready though, and I have nature to thank.
As of the end of July I’ve been on one 22-mile backpacking trip through the Selkirks, and logged nearly 1,200 miles on my road bike, cycling mostly through the outskirts of Spokane and climbing the hills of the Palouse. For me, those roads and trails have been a place for meditation.
Being outside seems to be the only time I can quiet my mind, truly unplug from email and social media and enjoy the beauty of this place we call home. And, if I’m honest, the rhythmic whirs and clicks of my bike drowned out the increasingly disturbing headlines that I listen to and read every morning: Raging wildfires in California, an alarming heat wave in Japan, melting Arctic glaciers.
What does the future hold for the woods and the wilderness – my sacred spaces?
This year, 2018, is on track to be one of the hottest years on record, and NPR reports that there are five times more wildfires today than there were in the 1970s. Here in Washington, our glaciers provide us 470 billion gallons of water each summer, but like glaciers worldwide, ours are retreating.
A recent Gallup poll shows that more than half of Americans think climate change is a distant problem that won’t affect them personally. I get it. There are bills to pay today and tasks that need to get done right now. But if we selfishly think climate change is another generation’s problem, and not ours, then we won’t take any steps to help Mother Nature, when she’s clearly crying out to us.
In Christianity, caring for nature is a duty.
Many people point to Genesis 1:26 to make this point, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”’
I’ve always taken issue with this particular verse because the word ‘dominion’ is misused. God isn’t saying ‘dominate’ and pillage the earth, he’s saying man should be responsible for the earth, meaning care for it gently because it’s a gift.
Environmental activist, writer and Christian farmer Wendell Berry said “Our destruction of nature is not just bad stewardship, or stupid economics, or a betrayal of family responsibility; it is the most horrid blasphemy. It is flinging God’s gifts into His face, as if they were of no worth beyond that assigned to them by our destruction of them.”
I’m guilty of what Berry is saying. Too many times I’ve been careless with how much water I use, the chemicals I buy, the amount of electricity I waste, the things I wrongfully recycle or throw away. With the weather trends we’re seeing, it can seem impossible to help stop climate change.
Popular Science magazine reports, though, that there are plenty of ways we can help including having less children, eating a plant-based diet, driving less, washing laundry with cold water, recycling, and so on. You know all this.
Perhaps the first step is getting outside and seeing what I see. We all need a reminder to appreciate the gift of this earth, so that together we can care for it better.
Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a journalism lecturer and editor of Spokane FaVS, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the region.
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