In eight days I will be at Folly Beach with my mother. It’s the second time we’ve done this trip together, and we have a great time immersing ourselves in the sand and surf along with all the plants and animals that inhabit the shoreline. We pick September because the kids are back in school, the weather is a bit cooler, and the price of hotels is a little cheaper. What’s not to like about THAT? While I must confess that I’m most definitely a mountain person, a few days at the beach has a restorative effect on my soul. There is something about the vastness of the ocean that helps to put your life into perspective. It never fails to fill me with a sense of wonder about this beautiful blue and green planet we inhabit.
Today we begin the Season of Creation with Earth Sunday. As such, it’s the perfect opportunity to ask ourselves where our theology of creation comes from. While most people make a beeline for Genesis 1 & 2, the first building block for me is Psalm 8. Why Psalm 8, you might ask? Psalm 8 reminds us that our theology of creation begins with feeling a sense of wonder about the world we inhabit.
The Psalmist begins with a word of praise: “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Right away, we know the Psalmist is excited and can hardly contain their enthusiasm. The source of their excitement is seen in verse 3: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”
Being out in nature fills the Psalmist with a sense of wonder. It’s a humbling experience that puts everything into perspective. The Voice paraphrases this verse beautifully: “When I gaze to the skies and meditate on Your creation—on the moon, stars, and all You have made, I can’t help but wonder why You care about mortals—sons and daughters of humanity—specks of dust floating about the cosmos.”
This is why I begin my theology of creation with Psalm 8 instead of Genesis 1 & 2. Our relationship with the earth, and all of creation, has to begin with wonder. It’s the only appropriate response when we glance up from our cell phones and take the time to appreciate the natural world around us.
And so, I’m filled with wonder when I stand on the beach with the vast expanse of the ocean before me, and the salt air stinging my face. I’m filled with wonder when I take in the view of our awe-inspiring mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’m filled with wonder when I make teas, tinctures, salves, and mead from the plants in my herb garden. When we look at the heavens, the works of our Creator’s fingers, we cannot help but be filled with wonder. This wonder humbles us because we get to play a part in nurturing this magnificent planet.
As Psalm 8 continues, the Psalmist tells us that human beings are created “a little lower than God.” God “crowned us with glory and honor. And we are given dominion over the works of the Creator’s hands.”
This is challenging because the word “dominion” in Hebrew is not exactly one of my favorite words. It also appears in Genesis 1:28 where God tells the newly created humans to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
Dominion means “to rule, dominate, tread, or trample.” While many theologians, both Jewish and Christian, try to soften the meaning of this word, it says what it says. However, if we begin our theology of creation with a sense of wonder and humility, then it’s impossible to have dominion over creation, in any way that damages it. As people who are created in the image of God, we are called to nurture creation as lovingly and tenderly as God nurtures us. The notion of ruling, dominating, treading or trampling the earth is utterly unthinkable. Yet, this is often what we are guilty of doing.
That’s the challenge of being simultaneously saint and sinner, caretaker and exploiter. I believe there is enough to sustain all of us on this planet. And yet, our fear of never having enough drives us to take more than our fair share. Even if we begin our theology of creation with a sense of wonder, we will still be tempted to have dominion over the earth instead of being caretakers of it.
However, I would argue that if we begin our theology of creation with a sense of wonder, it increases the odds that we will see the earth as a gift and a sacred trust. If we continually contemplate the work of our Creator’s hands, then our hands are more likely to nurture and preserve this amazing world we inhabit. This is why wonder is the foundation of my theology of creation. Perhaps it will be your foundation as well.
What I build on this foundation is the understanding that the earth, along with all of its plants and creatures, have valuable lessons to teach us. These works of our Creator’s hands have wisdom to impart to us, if we take the time to listen.
This is where I need to make a confession: I’ve not always been very good at listening to creation. Sure I’ve been wowed by vibrant sunsets, and breath-taking mountain vistas. However, I knew virtually nothing about the plants I walked by on a daily basis.
All of this changed three years ago when I enrolled in the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. It’s why I’ve continued my studies with The Herbal Academy where I am currently enrolled in their Intermediate Course. What my studies have taught me so far is that many of the plants we take for granted have wonderful healing and nurturing properties. Some of these plants are mistakenly labeled by many as weeds. But, trust me, they are wonderful gifts from our Creator to us.
Dandelion, plantain, and chickweed are loaded with more minerals than either spinach or kale. Common flowers such as yarrow, violet and lavender have wonderful healing properties if we know how to use them. Bee balm, salvia and daisies are havens for butterflies and bees alike. My studies in Herbal Medicine have only served to deepen my sense of wonder, regarding the natural world around us. Every time I walk by a plant I don’t know, I ponder what gifts it has to offer us, what wisdom it has to teach us.
Thankfully, we don’t have to become herbalists in order to deepen our sense of wonder; to learn the lessons that pants and animals have to teach us. All it takes is the ability to pay attention.
For example, if you’re blessed to have crows in your neighborhood, watch them carefully. They are really smart birds. All the variations of their cackles and caws have a meaning and purpose. They are very familial in nature and you will hear mama crows calling their children to come home as the sun begins to set. Furthermore, there’s nothing more entertaining than crows having a hissy fit with each other. You may not be aware of it but if you treat a crow poorly they will not forget it, and will remember who you are.
I also challenge you to pay attention to any flower or plant that catches you eye, and you feel inexplicably drawn to. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m obsessed with calendula, which is a member of the marigold family. It’s a flower I now grow in my yard and I’ve taken the time to learn everything I can about it. It has wonderful healing properties and a rich history of use over many centuries.
So, the next time a plant or flower catches your eye, post a picture of it on Facebook if you need help identifying it. There’s even a Facebook Plant ID group I belong to who never fails to help me with this task. Then, do a simple Google search and learn everything you can about it. I guarantee your relationship with that plant will never be the same.
One final activity you can undertake is to notice the change of seasons and think about what lesson each season has to teach us about life. Fall is a season of harvest as well as letting go. It calls us to think about the things we want to harvest in our lives, as well as what it takes to make this happen. As the leaves fall off the trees, they call us to ask ourselves what things we may need to let go of in order to create space for new things to grow in our lives.
Winter is a season of rest and slumber. We do our own form of hibernation by sleeping a little bit more and focusing our attention inward. It’s a time to think and dream and plan. It’s a time to focus on nurturing our relationships with those we love.
Spring is a season of new growth. It’s a time to make sure our spiritual roots are reaching deep into the soil of God’s love. It’s a season that tells us that anything is possible, if we’re willing to put the work in to make it happen.
Summer is a season of growth. It calls us to grow in our relationship with God and with others. The heat slows us down just enough to read a book, or plan a vacation to recharge our spiritual and emotional batteries. I think you get the point!
As I bring my thoughts to a close, I encourage all of us this Season of Creation to get in touch with our sense of wonder regarding planet Earth. Wonder is the foundation for any theology of creation. It gives us a firm foundation to build on as those who are called to be compassionate caretakers of the earth and all of its resources. AMEN.
Copyright ©2018 by David Eck