Reflection given at Parkminster United Church, Waterloo, May 24, 2020
Entomologists tell us that one of the results of global warming is an increase in the number of Ticks that are lurking in woodlots and hiking trails in Southern Ontario. Well, as it happens, two people close to me – one child and one adult – were bitten by Ticks this week and had to have them removed by medical doctors. Both persons are still anxiously awaiting the results of lab tests for Lyme disease that were conducted following their removal. In the child’s family many hours of sleep were lost while baths were taken, siblings became panicky, and the adults were taxed to their limits to provide comfort, reassurance, and a non-anxious presence in order to help assuage the fears of the young children.
These small incidents remind me of how connected and dependent we all are on one another and on the plant and animal systems with whom we share this Earth. In the past twenty or thirty years we have been warned by biologists, economists and climate scientists that, as a species, we are exceeding the limits of growth and of carbon dioxide emissions that our planet is able to sustain or absorb. Many scientists are warning that we are in the midst of a ‘climate emergency’. It is in response to these warnings that we begin our worship services each Sunday with the words: “In the midst of a climate crisis we acknowledge that, as a species, we have not acted with respect for our precious planet.” And then we pledge that we will commit to learning and practicing better stewardship of our Earth’s resources……. In spite of our words, the fact remains that we are using up Earth’s non-renewable resources at an alarming rate and that our world is being torn apart by ‘unshared bread’. We hear frequent reports that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
We are all just now trying to emerge from a world-wide ‘lock-down’ of national economies. Factories are beginning to resume their production. Businesses are struggling to reopen their doors. And many of us are wondering if it is safe to venture out of our homes to go to parks or clubs or restaurants — or even grocery shopping. It seems like it has been a very long time since we could visit our extended families, socialize with friends, or even attend church together. The question on everybody’s lips is “how soon can we end our social distancing, and get back to our normal lives?” And the related question is: “What will the new normal look like?” Wouldn’t it be inspirational if – as a result of all our discomfort and self isolation – we emerged from the lock down determined to create a ‘better normal’?…. a world where homeless people would be able to afford safe housing, …. where health care would be accessible to all, where factories and resource extraction industries would not daily belch out thousands of tons of carbon dioxide and minute particles of dust and smoke which obscure the sky and bring on all manner of respiratory problems?
By the way, have you seen the satellite images of the Turin area of Italy and the Bejing area of China that were taken from the International Space Station during the lock down? Have you seen the clear photographs of the Eiffel Tower, the streets of New Delhi and New York City, and the canals of Venice – also taken during the pandemic? It seems that human inactivity due to the coronovirus pandemic has reduced air pollution to the point where the natural world has been able to emerge from under a cloud of smog and take some breaths of fresh, clean air again. After seeing these images, a friend of mine exclaimed: “Hurrah! It looks like ‘Earth is having a holiday’”.
It seems as though millions of people taking part in thousands of climate marches during the past 20 years has had little to no effect in convincing governments and heavy industries to change their policies and practices in order to produce less green house gas. Ironically, it is the introduction of a microscopic coronavirus on the other side of the world that has accomplished what all our speeches and demonstrations have failed to do: and that is reduce the amount of pollution entering our air, our water and our soil to the point where, at least for a time, Earth is able to breathe again, plants and fish and animals are able to grow and thrive again.
I think it is time for all of us to claim the traditional wisdom of our Indigenous neighbours who have believed for centuries in the interconnectedness and interdependence of all animate and inanimate things and who have acted with reverence and respect for all parts of creation.
Chapter 17, in the gospel of John which Rev. Joe read for us today, quotes what has become known as the priestly prayer of Jesus – the prayer where Jesus says: “Father, protect my followers in your name, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
At this point I want to circle back to what I said near the beginning of this reflection. One of the things necessary for our continued life and well being on this planet is for humans to respect and to care for all of the other parts of creation. That means that we must acknowledge our co-dependent relationship with other creatures and life forms. “All my relations” is a phrase commonly used by First Nations people to refer to all the other creatures with whom we share this earth. Think about that. Wouldn’t it be remarkable if we humans who have assumed for centuries that we are superior to all the other creatures, could acknowledge that we are but one of many species — all equally valued by Creator, and all equally necessary for the well being of the world?
I want to conclude with a question: suppose Jesus were uttering his priestly prayer in our Covid 19 world, would he say: “Father, protect ‘all my relations’ in your name, so that they may understand that they are all immensely valued, and may hold one another with respect, caring for, protecting, and loving each other in honor of your holiness?”