The land laments

Monday, May 22, 2023

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The land laments

In this world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have overcome the world.

In Romans 8 Paul writes about the earth, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth, right up to the present moment.”

The hour is coming (and has arrived) when each of you will be scattered to his own home.

At Sunday School yesterday we heard from a group of men and women who have traveled often to Congo. After fourteen trips their leader Greg described a four-generation moment on this trip: one man showed another man the way to build and sustain a business, then that man showed a woman how to do it, and then she showed a fourth person. Greg was visibly overjoyed.

But before the joy of sharing that story Greg showd us a funny video of the leader of a gorilla troop of fifteen or so, dismantling a palm tree, eating one bite after another. But think about it. A fire would ruin their lives. Jungle fires ruin habitats. Forest fires burn the homes of thousands of forest dwelling animals.

Many of us in Oregon, California and now western Canada know too much about how that feels to human families. But what about the land itself? Can I put my ear to the ground and hear the sound of its lament?

Pastor Andi Lloyd has been doing that for years. Like many who work for “creation justice,” she does what she can and is patient with the results. In the meantime, she listens to the land’s lament:

In the Hebrew Bible, mourning is an expansive practice. The people mourn, of course, but so do the land, the pastures, and the deep springs. Even gates and walls lament. The Hebrew verb abal, translated in Hosea as “mourn,” also carries the meaning “to dry up, to wither.” Where a widow might put ashes on her head, the land and pastures and springs mourn by withering and drying up—all ways of speaking aloud the truth of inward grief. 

Therein lies the power of lament: to speak the truth that all is not well. It bears faithful witness to all that is not right with the world and to all that is not right with ourselves. To take the land’s mourning seriously is to ask about its grief.

The land’s lament speaks a foundational ecological truth: when one part of creation goes awry, the whole suffers … Our lives are held, connected, one to the other and all to God: we are bound up in a beautiful, multicolored, homespun fabric. The land’s mourning speaks simultaneously of a vision of the world as it ought to be—that beautiful fabric—and the truth of the world as it is: too much injustice and too little love fraying the threads that hold us all. The land feels those fraying threads. The land grieves those fraying threads. The land mourns. 

We can feel it when we walk along upon the earth. But I forget so soon,  when first I feel the asphalt and the concrete, and my ears recognize rubber hitting the road. Engines hiss and brakes screech. There isn’t that much grass. Where have all the flowers gone?

I remember Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Getting down in there in the depths of the lawn, smaller suddenly than the already resident insects, everything changed. The kids’ lives were constantly threatened with drowning, mutilation, poison. Eventually restored to their original size, their awareness of the world around them grew in leaps and bounds.

When I’m sheltered from the earth, as I am in hundreds of ways, I just stop thinking about it. I do not hear its lament. Gradually I don’t hear even my own lament, as I separate from the land around me. How long has this been happening to me? To you?

The father of orphans and the defender of widows is God in his holy dwelling. God gives a home to the forsaken, he leads forth prisoners to prosperity. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.

(Acts 19, Psalm 68, Colossians 3, John 16)

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