by Leah D. Schade
During this past year of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people sought refuge in nature. Maybe it was finding solace under the tree in their backyard. Or the city park with its oasis of greenery. Or a trip to a local creek to listen to and watch the cleansing water flow. In all of these places and more, God’s Creation has been there for us, as always.
For example, living in Kentucky, my family and I made it a point to visit a different hiking area nearly every weekend during the summer of 2020. In between, we frequented the many parks in the city of Lexington. We felt safe from the coronavirus among the trees. We relished “forest bathing,” which isn’t literal bathing in the woods, but the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku, Forest bathing is simply walking in the woods, breathing in the exhalation of the trees that scientists have discovered is filled with phytoncides that help to reduce anxiety, boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, and improve sleep cycles. Forest bathing helped us appreciate the need to respect and protect these ancient wooded areas.
Last year was also the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Coinciding with the year of the pandemic, this was the first time since the beginning of the Industrial Age that Earth finally got a break from the relentless activity and growth of human industrial production. Worldwide lockdowns meant that pollution levels dropped, animals and birds appeared in places never seen before, and brown skies turned to blue. There are interesting correlations with the biblical concept of the Jubilee Year. As described in Leviticus, the Jubilee is to be a period once every 50 years where people and land are given complete rest, all debts forgiven, and everyone takes care of each other. We might say that 2020 was earth’s Jubilee.
I wonder if humanity will learn the lessons of this crisis and see that making massive changes is not only possible, but necessary? Many are realizing that “business-as-usual” is what has contributed to this crisis that has been so damaging. Many of us don’t want to go “back to normal,” because normal was neither healthy nor sustainable.
Maybe for this 51st anniversary of Earth Day, we can use this time to rethink our relationship with the planet going forward. We can make different choices that protect both Earth and our neighbors. Hopefully, this pandemic will show us that not only are we capable of making different choices, but that we must.
Rather than being forced into future emergency stops, we can return to the ancient biblical wisdom of sabbath: planned, regular, and complete rest for ourselves and God’s Creation. Is it so bad to have stores close at 9 p.m.? Would it be unbearable to have one day a week when everyone—workers and consumers alike—gets a day to rest? Can we understand the prudence of leaving forests and natural lands alone to live as God designed?
As you approach Earth Day, here are some practices to help you with intentionality, prayerfulness, awareness, and faithfulness to God, Creation, and the human community.
1. Observe and wonder. Begin a weekly ritual of settling into a circle of nature for a few minutes of observation, contemplation, and appreciation. Maybe your yard, a green space during your lunch break at work, or just a crack in the sidewalk where weeds and grass have pushed through. Let this time center you in prayer, wonder, and gratitude.
2. Plant and grow. Make a plan for your garden. Even if it’s just some pots on your porch or windowsill, think about what vegetables and flowers you would like to grow this season and determine when you’ll plant them.
3. Share your green space on social media. Find interesting angles to take pictures of the plants and trees in your living space. When you post your pics, share that caring for God’s Creation is part of your faith and encourage others to post their photos in the thread.