Surrounded By Intelligences Other Than Our Own
Updated: Dec 20, 2022
This is in stark contrast with how the Bible portrays our relationship with the natural world. Our Psalm today calls on all aspects of creation to praise the Lord:
from heavenly beings and stars in the sky to seas and weather, from trees and animals to the peoples of the world. Praise the Lord, sun and moon; sing praise, all you shining stars... Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps...
fire and hail, snow and fog... mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars...
wild beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds.
But notice: in this extended chorus of praise, people get mentioned in only 3 verses out of 14.
People are viewed as only one voice in the intricate harmonies of the universe.
We are not the whole song. It is a helpful corrective to our human-centered way of thinking, and it is not the only example for us to draw on.
The native peoples of the world use the same words to refer to the natural world as they do their family. Robin Wall Kimmerer, founding director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
notes that indigenous cultures typically have a special word to refer to all the beings of the living earth, whether it is a tree, an animal, or a person.
She explains it this way:
If your grandmother is making soup, you say, “She is making soup.”
You would never say, “It is making soup.”
“It” is a word that signifies an object, something useful, perhaps,
but not something that requires the same attention or care as a human being.
In the same way, native people use the same word to include all the he/she/its of the world. Accordingly, all creatures and the natural world the same respect and care as humans. Right in their language, these most ancient cultures recognize the kinship of all elements of creation.
I think it is time we recovered the language of reverence for the earth.
For too long we have thoughtlessly treated the earth and its creatures as mere resources for our use without regard for how it affects those creatures and the environment—not to mention that generations that come after us.
We need to cultivate instead the understanding that it is just not all about us.
We are surrounded by intelligences other than our own.
Recently I heard about a species of ant that has specialized to live in a flood plain.
It seems like a poor choice for a burrowing insect, but these ants have adapted.
When a flood comes, they are able to build a raft out of their own bodies.
They hold onto each other, jaw to leg, building layers,
protecting their queen at the center, and float their way to safety.
They do all this without an organization chart or memos or an overpaid CEO.
The creatures of the natural world indeed have amazing abilities.
Whales can sing and communicate across an ocean
birds and butterflies and salmon navigate thousands of miles in migration
plants bend toward sunlight and produce their own food.
Why should we value our intelligence more than theirs?
Why view the natural world as less than us?
Why not think of them as a sign of God’s unending creativity, and ourselves part of a larger whole?
When we have reverence for our fellow creatures and for our mother earth, our actions naturally follow.
Just as language that objectifies opens the door for abuse and misuse
language that notices and appreciates and sees God at work within nature leads to care and sustainability.
There’s a group that has been working for the past 22 years to change our thinking and acting on these issues.
It’s called Lutherans Restoring Creation, and they have a great website by the same name. Their work takes seriously our role as stewards of the earth.
At their website you find a host of resources, including
scripture readings from Sunday morning that connect to caring for creation,
And Information about what you can do individually and as a community.
It treats Living sustainably, working to reduce one’s carbon footprint, or advocating for less waste not as partisan issues, but rather faithful Christian responses to our calling in Genesis 1 to be caretakers. There is even a personal covenant that you can make online, which I have also made available in hard copy form On the usher’s table in the narthex/entryway. I would like to close by making a connection to our reading from Revelation. When I teach this book in Confirmation class, we create a mosaic
I begin with a painted tile with a picture of the world on it—blue sea, green continents, swirling clouds. I tell them this is the world as God made it—
they always oblige me by admiring it, even though my art is not so good.
Then I pull out my hammer.
No! everyone protests.
But I whack the tile into a hundred pieces.
Then I ask, what is broken in our world?
The kids never have trouble coming up with answers:
pollution and bullying, war and abuse, hunger and sadness.
And then I we read Revelation 21: “The one seated on the throne said, See, I am making all things new”
and we make the broken pieces into a mosaic like this one.
It is a beautiful vision of the truth that God loves the world God made—all of it
making a new heaven and a new earth, recovering what is lost, renewing what is worn, restoring what is broken.
Our calling as Christians is to be part of this healing work
That we may recover our sense of wonder, and to be faithful caretakers of all God has made.