The terrible suffering of our world, in many places and forms has been esspecially on my heart in the last weeks of Lent. I've been feeling close to the suffering of Jesus, and the belief that Jesus, the "God who is with us" (Emmanuel) of the Christian tradition is esspecially present with the suffering of our world. It seems to give many people's hope in the face of problems and injustices which seem overwelming.
As someone who grew up esspecially close to nature, the sufferings of our non-human neighbors is esspecially painful to me as well. I shared an experience I had in Salem at our Good Friday service in Salem last night- walking along the shore of the inlet by the train, currently low from the receeded tide, I was struck by the beauty of the setting sun- then with sadness as I saw the heaps of garbage close up. I had just been reading of discoveries of traces of Oceans and hints of life on other worlds (Mars and Titan, Saturn's moon), yet now literally stumbling through filth we have made of our own life-giving waters.
For generations (a class is being taught at Harvard now on this, actually), many religions and cultures have believed in the cleansing power of water, that the world's waters could wash away any stain. We have, tragically used this as an excuse to throw most of our junk in the ocean, with the result that there are now massive, island sized drifts of toxic garbage in the Pacific Ocean:
I know that many Christian groups have been leary of "environmental" issues in this country, although that seems to be changing recently with growing talk of "Creation care" and stewardship. I think the reasons for this are complex, though at least some are a sense of this world's fallen/passing nature and fear that care for the earth is "New-Agey" or worshipping nature. The unfortunate result I have seen, tragically is that people get the impression that Christians only care about Heaven, and end up supporting the abuse of the world since its going to end soon anyway.
I'm a strong believer that each religion needs to address these issues, but should do so from the heart of its own beliefs. There are many Christian strands of love for the earth, and reminders (in the Eastern churches esspecially) that God is redeeming/ultimately renewing ALL of creation, not just disembodied souls. While that final healing is in God's hands, many Christians down through history have seen a deep call to work towards it here too.
There are many calls in the ancient traditions of Native peoples which inspire me, and strongly echo deep things in our own tradition. A reminder that the care of this earth, of all life IS a care for people too, that we're all connected because the Creator/Great Spirit/Great Mystery made it that way. Scientists are literally realizing the rainforests our world's lungs, they produce the oxygen we breathe and cleanse the air of toxins and excess CO2. Every tree is literally helping to keep us going! Native peoples have long believed this, and call for a deep recognition of our failings to honor what we have been given, to purify ourselves and pray and work deeply for the healing of our land. The Plains idea of prayer is called "Crying for a Vision," where you fast (purify) and humbly pray deeply for holy wisdom in a time of great need.
The ancient Hebrews, who also felt deep closeness to their land as a gift have a similar call, one I think might help Christians recover some of our own concern for Creation:
"If my people which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from Heaven, and forgive their sin, and will heal their land." 2 Ch 7:14
At the Salem Gathering, talk of sharing one's faith in the different ways we have been called seemed for many to embody Christ's healing in a hurting world. For me, I think this is a big part of mine. I'd welcome people's thoughts on these ideas, which I might share more at some point.
I offered a sea-shell at our Good Friday service in our contemplation of the "Tomb" like old bank vault- a beautiful pearly purple piece I found amidst the garbage. Christians believe that our world's sins and pains have died with Christ, that we might all rise to new life. Such is my prayer for our wounded world, its peoples... and its Oceans and trees, this Holy Saturday.