World Environment Day this year has been somewhat overshadowed by the news of President Donald Trump pulling out of the Paris agreement. Given the huge awareness of climate change and its impact on the most vulnerable, many people are in shock that the USA, the world’s second-largest emitter would pull out of the agreement which offered such hope that the planet was finally pulling together.
How do we respond? We might become depressed at a future which looks increasingly bleak; we might become angry at the politicians and the big business which funds them; or we could become apathetic – because really our tiny actions can have no impact at all on such a big problem
The message today for International Environment Day is “connect with nature” and this is what Jesus constantly advised his followers to do. In Luke 12 Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool who decided to make himself great by tearing down his barns and building bigger ones. He hoarded his wealth to make himself great without considering the needs of others. And then Jesus says to his disciples – do not worry - do not worry about the rich man and what he is doing – consider the lilies, they do not sow nor reap.
He pointed his disciples towards nature – a source of great spiritual renewal for Jesus who often went out into nature to pray.
So in the short term, if you are feeling overwhelmed with bad news , take a break from social media, clear your mind from all the bad news and distressing future scenarios and reconnect with nature. A walk in the forest, a hike on the mountain will give you strength to keep on going.
In the long term, we have work to do – the challenge is extreme and we have limited time to combat climate change. We are in this for the long haul, so firstly it is important that you find a spiritual practice that connects you with nature. In the early church, they taught that there are two books of God – the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature. Seminarians were sent out into nature to study theology. Scripture tells us that ‘All heaven declares the glory of the risen the Lord, their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1- 4) God speaks to us, heals us, and renews us in and through nature. Nature is speaking - the question is – are we listening?
Secondly, we need to consider where our driving force comes from – if it is anger at a politician or certain groups of people, we will become consumed by that energy. If we believe that God loved the world so much that he sent his only son (John 3:16), and that we are called to be keepers of the Earth (Gen 1:15) this will sustain us as we work for love for God and God’s world. As Pope Francis so beautifully put it, we must hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor. If our inspiration is love for God, God’s world and God’s people then we will work with others and be inspired by others.
Perhaps the best example of what God is calling us to do is the story of Moses and the burning bush. Moses goes out into nature and sees a “blazing bush that does not burn up." He takes off his shoes - for this is holy ground and covers his face in the presence of God. And it is there in nature, in that holy place, that God calls him and says, “I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt… I have come down to rescue them … so now, Moses, go!” This is the essential relationship for those involved in environmental ministry - connect with the sacredness of God in nature and hear the call to go.
Take off your shoes to listen to the voice of God in nature, hear the cry of the earth, hear the cry of the poor…. and then put your shoes back on and get into action.
The Revd Rachel Mash is the co-ordinator for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa’s Environmental Network