Every week the elderly nun took the class of 12-year-old girls for ‘nature study’. The students loved these periods, not only because they were a welcome break from more academic studies, but because almost always the nun took them out into the open fields where she helped them discover the beauty of what until then had seemed so common and so ordinary – grass and weeds and wild flowers. She opened the windows of wonder in their hearts and, long before it became fashionable, these girls grew up caring deeply for the earth and all creation.
Half a century later those fields are gone. Trees cut down, grass paved over, houses and roads where once buttercups, anemones and speedwell bloomed. Philip Larkin saw it happening in the early seventies when he wrote:
I thought it would last in my time –
The sense that beyond the town,
There would always be fields and farms
Where the village louts could climb
Such trees as were not cut down…
Things are tougher than we are, just
As earth will always respond
However we mess it about;
Chuck filth into the sea if you must:
The tides will be clean beyond.
– But what do I feel now? Doubt?
Today the reports come thick and fast: We are polluting the planet, destroying thousands of species, denuding forests, poisoning the oceans
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.
But maybe at last we can hope that the groaning of Mother Earth has reached the ears and the hearts of people all over – people who are united in their determination to heal the wounds caused by greed and thoughtlessness. With deeper understanding and with love we are learning to live more simply, to recycle, to restore and to reverence, and to teach our children to reverence, the world that is our home. As Christians our response must surely be whole-hearted, courageous and persevering. “In Him”, St. Paul says, “all things were created, in heaven and on earth…” (Col 1:16). When we abuse or destroy the physical universe we ignore the truth that Christ came to redeem not just humanity but all of nature (Rom 9:18f). Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, reflecting on these truths, wrote, “When we mindlessly throw a Coke can into a ditch, we are not just breaking a law, we are also, at some deep level, defacing Christ”. But when we ‘taste and see’ the beauty of creation, God is truly glorified. In the short time we have on this planet we must, as St. Francis of Assisi urged, “do what is ours to do”, as we join with others in caring for the earth and for each other.