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Dirty Hands Can Save You from Hell

"Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place." --Pope Francis, Laudato Si

     Wonder and awe abound in the natural world for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

     Perhaps we are caught short by a vibrant purple emanating from the petals of a wild lupine. We might stare wide-eyed at the lazy circles of a turkey vulture soaring on thermal air currents. Even the most agoraphobic city-dweller can find something beautiful about a landscape even if it's simply the warm and varied red, yellow, and orange of a sunset glowing on a building.

     "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" asserts the Psalmist. If that verse is true, why don't we live like it? Why are we flabbergasted trying to come up with the names of the many plants and animals we pass by everyday?

     All people respond to beauty in some way or another--even those who have willingly or unwillingly surrounded themselves in ugliness. Beauty is still free, accessible right outside your door. But it can disappear.

     Pope Francis recently declared that care for our common home is a corporal work of mercy--this to a list of many other things most of us can do.

     How should we care for it? First, let's drop the hubris about "saving the planet," we aren't capable of destroying it and neither can we save it. However much damage we inflict, and we can and have done much, the planet and life will go on. It might be vastly diminished from the present state, but march on nevertheless it will. "Life finds a way," so says the fictional Doctor Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park.

     Secondly, move beyond the "I recycle so I'm a good person" thinking. Yes, recycling is good, but caring for the land, and getting your hands dirty, is richer and more rewarding than breaking down cardboard and sorting through plastic.

     Start with learning the names of the plants and animals that should be all around you. Be Adam-like in knowing what the landscape bears. It will transform from an indistinguishable mass of green, wall of bird noise and flitting of insects to individual species that you can observe, get to know, and perhaps love.

     Caring for the land--and the water (and the air to a lesser degree)--should have a three-fold purpose:

  1. We should love what God loves. 
  2. We are given regency over creation.
  3. Mitigate the damage we have done and prepare for the coming King.
     At times it may be hard to love what God loves--your sister-in-law, the guy driving through your neighborhood with the booming bass at 10:49 PM, yourself--but Jesus has made everything (OK, he didn't make this keyboard, but he did create the raw materials that constitute the keyboard), he loves what he made, and we are to be like him (1 John 2:6).

     God made the rivers and water molecules, ailanthus trees and garlic mustard, squirrels, pigeons, and even mosquitoes. Who are we to say something is not worthy of love? Especially God's infinite, incomprehensible love?

     There is no getting around this as much as we might want to.

     The mandate given to Adam and Eve in the primeval paradise was to rule over the earth. Before you pull out that Lynn White essay, slow down. Whom should we emulate in and out of the polis? Jesus, right? To quote Ken Myers, "What kind of king is Jesus?" Rapacious, greedy, myopic? Hardly, he is the superlative of all the virtues.
     As C.S. Lewis showed in his Narnia series, we are God's regents, caring for creation because it is his and he has given us this great gift, and secondly, because we need the elements of creation to survive and flourish. Caring for the land and water and all the teeming ecosystems (and the exhausted ones especially) from the charismatic megafauna down to the microbes in the soil and water, means we nay not always get to make record breaking profits or extract resources as absentee landlords. Perhaps we should listen closely to the thinkers who show that ecological love doesn't necessarily mean the end of innovation and contemporary conveniences.

     Lastly, to quote the band King's X, "King is coming." Jesus will return to the earth (and according to my favorite bumper sticker: He is pissed missed.) To what kind of world do we want the king to find upon his return? A planet of diminished birdsong? Depleted oceans? Mountains turned into poisoned valleys? One where soil can't support human food? Water filled with lead, dioxins, and PCBs? Air so filled with particulate matter that people have to wear masks to breathe?

     The answer should be a shouted "No!"

     Giving of your treasure is important, and needed, but we should also give of our time and our talent. We need to get our hands "dirty." While we work to help the poor, reform criminal justice in our country, and encourage the reduction of the gross amount of sin present in the anthroposphere, we also labor to restore the earth. We do all the while knowing that we will never restore everything lost, never achieve perfect or lasting harmony, but we do it nevertheless, as a small, humble woman once remarked, "with great love."

     An easy way to start is in your backyard or your neighborhood. Learn the names of the creatures you encounter daily or weekly. Reduce the amount of turf grass in your yard with native plants. Know, protect, and love your watershed. Get the soil under your fingernails and in the whorls of your fingers. Do these things and you will find yourself not far from the Kingdom of God, for what is faith without works?


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