by Dorothy Littell Greco
I wish I had a photo of myself on the first Earth Day fifty years ago. I was nine, had long brown pigtails, and probably wore a homemade, tie-dyed shirt. I tried to motivate my classmates to join me in a celebratory clean-up but instead walked alone along the river near my house, collecting bag, after bag of garbage. Even at young age, I was passionate about caring for the earth.
When I think back to that first Earth Day, my feelings about the environment were neither sentimental nor politically motivated. Through dogs, goldfish, flowers, oceans, and more, nature pulled back the curtain and gave me a glimpse of the spiritual world. Of something bigger, grander, far more transcendent than the life I knew.
Behind our house was an undeveloped tract of land that bordered a collapsed quarry. This was my refuge—full of wild blackberry bushes, towering oaks, a small creek, and numerous places to disappear. My calico cat and I often walked through the woods together. I was comforted by the wind blowing through the pine boughs, the gurgle of water over rocks. They whispered, There’s more. Lean in. God was wooing me.
I didn’t know what the more was until many years later when I began to explore Jesus as a college freshman. It wasn’t necessarily individual Christians, or the church, or Scripture that provided a path toward him. It was nature.
Nature’s raw, untamed beauty broke open my heart. Paraphrasing Lewis, I experienced beauty as a portal. When I stepped over it, I found myself drawn into God’s wide open arms. Into a universe filled with awe and wonder.
When I finally got around to reading Scripture and came across this verse, my tears flowed:
For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. (Romans 1:20)
It all made sense now. This was, and continues to be, my reality.
Though mankind has failed me, though the church has failed me (repeatedly), God’s creation has never failed me. It always draws me back to him in reverent worship. It feeds my soul and brings peace to my body. I know that I am not alone in this experience.
It is for this reason that I mark Earth Day every year. I want to honor and thank my creator God for this gift. I never want to stop being amazed at the miracle of snowflakes, the scent of a magnolia, or the sweetness of watermelons. Today, in the midst of our shelter-in-place, I rebelliously went to the hardware store to buy pots, flower seeds, and soil. (Yes, I wore a mask and washed in an obsessive fashion upon returning home.) In this season of death, I want to partner with God in bringing forth life. I want to fulfill the job description that he gave humankind: “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” I want to re-read and rejoice in the creation story.
I also want to acknowledge that something is different this year.
Our global time out, courtesy of the pandemic, has given the earth time to heal and the changes are nothing less than remarkable. Residents of northern India can see the Himalayas Mountains for the first time in more than 30 years. Endangered hawksbill sea turtles have not only hatched on deserted beaches in northern Brazil but successfully reached the ocean. Birds can be heard in major metropolitan areas and air pollution levels have dropped from 40 to 50%. Animals are reclaiming their spaces.
I do fear what might happen when the all-clear signal is given. We have grown so accustomed to understanding travel as a right rather than a privilege. Of expecting the earth to withstand abuse and still serve us. We have been raised in a world that understands God’s creation mandate in militaristic terms—of conquering and subduing rather than loving and nurturing.
My youthful idealism is long since gone. I know that no matter how stunning the views of the San Gabriel Mountains, residents of Los Angeles will surely be back behind the wheel as soon as they are able. Business people will still fly across the country for one-day meetings even though Zoom has now demonstrated that might not be necessary. And most of us will quickly return to our pre-COVID consumeristic habits.
And yet, I hold onto the hope that as God offers us a glimpse of what might be, that we might not only pause and thank our creator, but consider how he’s calling each of us to restore and renew our home.
Happy anniversary Earth Day.
Dorothy Littell Greco is the author of Making Marriage Beautiful and the forthcoming Marriage in the Middle. She writes on the intersection of faith and contemporary culture for Relevant, Christianity Today, and many others. You can find more of her work or follow her on social media by visiting her website: http://www.dorothygreco.com
All photos by Dorothy Greco and may not be used without her permission.