This past Wednesday was the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day. Back in 1969 the Earth Day movement was started in reaction to a number of significant environmental concerns; rivers were so polluted that they were known to start on fire, breathing in the air pollution within some cities was the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes per day, and our national bird was close to extinction. Typically Earth Day is recognized by doing something good for the environment; planting a tree, picking up garbage, drawing attention to an environmental injustice, etc., but this year ironically it seems as though the most significant action we have done for the earth is nothing. By substantially reducing our activities, by shutting down our manufacturing, reducing our travel and simply staying home during this global pandemic our earth has taken advantage of this time and carried out some cleaning of its own. The mountains in India can be seen from their cities clearer than they have been in decades and our satellites are detecting reduced pollution in multiple countries. In response to our absence segments of our wildlife are roaming wider than they have in a long time. Coyotes are strolling the streets of our cities, cattle are enjoying the beaches of France and the sea turtles are laying eggs uninhibited by crowds of beach goers.
The speed at which the earth seems to have taken advantage of our absence is almost startling, but then I am reminded of Psalm 46, which urges us to be still and know that God is always present and active. We may be forced to put our activities on hold, but God does not stop working, God’s wonderous creation continues to heal and express love in ways we can hardly fathom.
I suspect that when the humans begin to increase our activities again, when our factories pick up production, when our freeways fill with vehicles, the air pollution will indeed return and the wildlife will recede into the quiet countryside that they know as home, but in the meantime, I find hope in our current situation. The earth is demonstrating an ability to heal, we do not need to accept the pollution as the way things need to be. When we evolve our world into a system that utilizes cleaner energy and we figure out ways to work smarter, our earth will jump at the opportunities we give it. Our skies will clear again and maybe the cattle and the turtles will roam our beaches more frequently. In this liminal space, when there seems to be more questions than answers, our earth continues to live in hope and showing us promise, let’s embrace it!
~ Rev. Nathan Athorp