The Friday Reflection: Environmental Stewardship

From The Rev’d Paul Colbert,
Holy Trinity, Madera

The Church has been reclaiming many parts of its past traditions and relearning the intent of our forebears. The Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before the Ascension are known as Rogation Days, and many places celebrate Rogation Sunday on the Sixth Sunday of Easter. The lessons and prayers of the days are: for fruitful seasons, for commerce and industry, and for stewardship of creation. It goes back to the creation stories when our first parents were given dominion (not domination) over the creation, and joined with God in maintaining the earth.
The Rogation days show that the church was involved in environmental stewardship long before the first Earth Day celebrations in the US, though some of the messages have been the same. In 1970, an advertising poster for Earth Day proclaimed, “We have met the enemy, and he is us”, later used by Walt Kelly in his comic strip, Pogo. It is recognition that there are consequences to our human actions for both good and bad. The apostle Paul speaks of the whole creation responding to human sin and separation from God.
There are many ways to relate to the created order. René Dubos (a microbiologist, environmentalist, and author) speaks of two of these ways in his book A God Within. He relates a Franciscan approach, in which people relate intuitively with the created order around them, and the Benedictine way in which people take care for their surroundings. As a Benedictine myself, I agree with Dubos that the stewardship approach is the more holistic approach. Benedict admonished the community to “care for the tools of the monastery as if they were the sacred vessels on the altar”. In other words, treat all creation as being sacred and take care of it. This is a more active and communal role than the internal connections that we may feel toward creation, though the two can work together.
Care for creation is a daunting task, but we take it on as we are able. Dubos helped popularize the maxim of Jacques Ellul, to Think globally, act locally.” We can take on the small things in our control for now (recycling, composting, buying recycled goods) and then move on to larger issues that can turn into political nightmares (transportation, water policy). We can help others recognize that all of this is part of God’s creation given into our care for stewardship (dominion), rather than commodities to be exploited for greed (domination).

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