Psalm 104 – “Be the Church: Protect the Environment”
This Psalm is so beautiful. What a gorgeous vision of the world!
The earth is full of God’s creatures.
And everything in its place.
The high mountains for the wild goats,
The rocks a refuge for the badgers.
The night time set aside for the lions.
The springs are in the valleys, the birds among the branches.
And we, human beings, are in the midst of all of it.
We inhabit every piece.
And yet God also calls us to tend this majestic Creation.
And perhaps, that deserves some thought.
Where is OUR place?
Many people would respond, Americans in particular, perhaps, “Well, my place is anywhere I darn please. It’s a free country. And those mountains – those forests, as a tax payer, they belong to me.”
And if I want to drink beer and toss my cans off the mountainside, that is my right.
And if I want to ride my ATV up and down a burn scar, that’s my right too.
And those little groundhogs and chipmunks and marmots are so cute, I know the sign said not to feed them, but they’re like little squirrels right? I can totally feed them nuts if I want. It’s a free country, and I can do whatever I want.
But in doing so, we end up poisoning the animals with food that is too fatty and salty for their wild diets.
We were just trying to have fun. And those poor little chipmunks. They looked like they were starving! We were just trying to help… but ultimately, we went somewhere we didn’t belong and we ended up causing damage.
There is something so sad and upsetting about walking along a mountain trail and discovering trash or other signs of human life that shouldn’t be there.
This past weekend, I had the privilege of hiking near Taos.
And the views were absolutely extraordinary.
For me, the thing that brought me particular joy were the mountain streams.
As a desert dweller, there is nothing more beautiful than the sight and smell and sound and feel of fresh water flowing down from the mountains.
And yet, occasionally, along my hike, I’d discover something like a cigarette butt or a plastic bottle. And it interrupted. It was clear to me, those don’t belong there.
This is a sacred place. I am walking on holy ground.
And this place belongs to the creatures, to the mountain goats and the deer and the mice and the woodpeckers and the hawks and the mountain lions. I am guest here.
It’s not for me to impose my will and my impact on this place.
It’s outside my hula hoop. (Children’s time featured children catching legos by dropping hoops over them – whatever was in their hoop was theirs).
I’m being welcomed here. But this is not mine.
Having just been in the mountains myself, I have a renewed appreciation for people who practice Leave No Trace ethics.
Leave No Trace is a national organization that helps people learn how to be in nature without destroying it. It includes advice like Planning ahead, camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and be considerate of other visitors.
The basic idea is to take only memories and leave only footprints.
We can’t eliminate our human impact completely, unless we stay out of the wilderness altogether, but we can minimize it.
Today, I want to move past just thinking about the wilderness, though.
I want to move past our outer environment.
I want to challenge us to consider our human inner environment as well.
There are places in us, in our spirit, that are calm as a mountain stream. That are as vast as the sea where the ships and the Leviathan play.
And yet there are also plastic bottles and trash that doesn’t belong there.
Things that clutter up our soul.
Problems we can’t solve.
Problems that aren’t ours.
Thoughts that go no where but in circles.
Leave no trace ethics teach us to dispose of our trash properly.
Are we letting go of issues that are heavy on our hearts that we can’t do anything about anymore? Are we giving them to God? Or are we letting them clutter up the wilderness of our souls?
What is our place? What is in our box? And what is in God’s?
Leave no trace ethics also teach us to respect other visitors.
Some of us love to jump into other people’s business, their environments, and try to make an impact there, where we may or may not be welcome.
We try to feed the wildlife, they look hungry, after all. We try to “help” our friends. Or do their work for them, in some cases. Because we see the solution to their problems, after all. We’ll just feed them this little peanut of wisdom.
They need it. Clearly. So instead of sitting there and enjoying the wildlife. Instead of just listening. We insert ourselves somewhere we don’t belong.
And in some cases, we end up giving someone something that’s actually harmful.
Leave no trace also emphasizes staying on the trail. If someone tells us to back off or leave them alone, if they post a “stay on the trail” sign, telling us not to ask about certain topics or push their buttons, do we obey? Or do we say, “It’s a free country, and we can go wherever we want.”
We’re all interdependent, and so it’s difficult sometimes to know where we end, and where the world and others begin.
It’s difficult to know what belongs to us, and what is not ours.
What belongs to God to solve, and what belongs to us. What’s within our hula hoop.
My challenge to us this week is two fold. First – to take every moment we can to enjoy God’s creation. To do our best to leave no trace, but to take in the majesty of the holy ground that God has created for all of us. My second challenge is for us to consider what is actually ours. What problems are cluttering our inner environment that we can give to God? And what problems and issues are outside our limited scope of influence and impact? What places in our lives might we step back, listen a little more, and simply enjoy being present, remembering we are visitors in a wild place.