From Ash Wednesday to Earth Day: Stewardship of Creation
I am writing this on Ash Wednesday. This evening an ash cross will be smeared on my forehead. I will be reminded that I am dust, and to dust I shall return. I will be reminded that, like Adam, I was formed from Earth.
Stewardship is sometimes still narrowly understood as "what we do around here to make sure we can keep the lights on" and driven by monetary concerns. But deeper down we know that stewardship is fundamentally a spiritual journey, an opportunity to learn how to move through life with an open hand rather than a closed fist.
In the context of reflecting on the fact that Lent begins with a reminder of our "Earthiness", and noting that Good Friday this year is also Earth Day, how might we reflect an open hand in relationship to God’s Earth?
First, we likely have to make some significant adjustments to our worldviews, to the cultural conditioning that says "you earned it, it's yours." The Psalmist impatiently brushes aside these and other related vanities by matter-of-factly reminding us that everything belongs to God, simply stating "The Earth is the Lord's” (Psalm 24:1). Put alternatively, none of what we have is ours; all of life is a gift.
Author Walter Brueggemann has said that Jubilee justice is "finding out what belongs to whom and giving it back." Of course, to give it back we have to open our fists, release our grip on the gift.
So, as our worldviews adjust, what are some practical ways we can care for that which has always belonged to God?
GreenFaith’s Certification Program
One exciting opportunity is to apply for GreenFaith's Green Certification Program. Since last fall, the Episcopal Church has partnered with GreenFaith to offer tuition subsidies for Episcopal churches to enroll in the program. It is a unique two-year environmental leadership program designed specifically for houses of worship. Congregations taking part in this holistic program are finding that they engage and energize their members while caring for Creation, and find opportunities to reduce their operating expenses through energy conservation, discounted green purchasing opportunities, and more.
Through the Episcopal Church-GreenFaith partnership, tuition for the program is reduced by 50%, and ranges between $250-$750, depending on your church’s budget size. To learn more about this opportunity and the tuition subsidies available for Episcopal churches, visit: http://greenfaith.org/success-stories/episcopal-church-partnership-certification.
Another very specific way to honor that which belongs to God is to celebrate Palm Sunday with Eco-Palms. The palms are sustainably grown and harvested in Guatemala and Mexico and a social premium of five cents per frond goes back to the harvesters’ villages. Learn more and order your fronds at www.ecopalms.org – and integrate environmental and social justice concerns into Palm Sunday.
Celebrate Earth Day
The co-incidence of Earth Day and Good Friday is quite profound. Jesus is Emmanuel: God with us, God embodied among us. His crucifixion on Good Friday is the crucifixion of God's body.
More and more Christians today, as well as Christian leaders and mystics throughout the last 2000 years, also see Earth as one part of God's body. Western theology has traditionally emphasized God's transcendence almost to the exclusion of God's imminence. The Scriptures, however, are replete with the belief that God is very present, all around us. In Acts 17 the apostle Paul points to the statue of the "unknown God", and proclaims to the Athenians: I will now speak to you of this God "in whom we live and move and have our being." Paul seems to suggest we swim in God's presence. If that is so, if God is not only transcendent, but imminent as well, then when Earth’s systems are degraded part of God's body is as well.
While your parish likely has well-established liturgies planned, there may be opportunity to integrate a focus on creation-care, on eco-justice, on Good Friday (or on a Sunday soon thereafter).
Every year the National Council of Churches' Eco-Justice Working Group (of which the Episcopal Church is an active member) produces an Earth Day Sunday resource which includes educational materials, sermon starters, and prayers. The 2011 edition is free and downloadable at:
Two other organizations that offer further liturgies, sermons, and prayers are Earth Ministry (http://earthministry.org/worship/) and the Episcopal Ecological Network (http://eenonline.org/reflect/liturgy.htm).
It’s time to walk next door to St. Mark's Cathedral for the imposition of ashes. I like this service. It is settling, quieting, humbling; it is a reminder of my Earthiness. Hopefully it will also help me remember that literally everything is a gift, and that stewardship practiced well means accepting and letting go of all of those gifts with an open hand and a grateful heart.
-- Michael Schut is the Economic and Environmental Affairs Officer for the Episcopal Church.