This week as we celebrated Earth Day, I began to reflect on the gift that our earthly home is to us. I thought about how many good gifts the earth provides on a daily basis. As I reflected upon this, the words God spoke to Moses when he saw the burning bush came to mind: "Take off your shoes. The ground upon which you are standing is holy ground." This verse kept repeating itself in my head, it seemed. Then it occurred to me that the ground upon which I was standing was also holy ground, not because I was somewhere extraordinary, or that I was going to be telling a prophetic message, but because it is all holy ground. In other words, everywhere is somewhere special because God made it. Therefore His hand can be seen in all that He has made. His presence is in all the earth. Therefore all ground is holy ground. It is all sacred because it is His, and it is His gift to us.
It is very easy to get caught up in the daily activities of our lives and to forget the world around us. But there is so much beauty in the world which often we simply fail to see. If we allow ourselves to really see what is around us, we can be filled with wonder and awe, a gift of the Holy Spirit. I am sure that when Moses was with his flocks all he saw was the scrubby grass that the sheep were eating and the rocks around him. He may have been wondering where he would water his sheep, as he looked for a water source. Or maybe he was daydreaming, thinking about how his life turned out differently than he had expected. Whatever it was, when he saw the bush, it captured his attention immediately. When he approached it, he knew it was unlike anything he had ever seen. But unclear on holy things, when the Lord spoke his name and told him what the protocol was for being on holy ground, the Scriptures say Moses not only took off his shoes, but he fell on his face, prostrate before the bush. He recognized he was in the presence of divinity, but only because God had made an incredibly obvious visual sign that Moses could not miss.
I am sure that after the dialogue with God in which Moses was told that God had a mission for him, Moses never looked at another bush in the same way again. I am sure he wondered when the next bush would burst into flame in order for God to speak to him. But little by little, Moses realized that God did not need to light everything literally on fire for him to get God's messages. Moses learned to hear God’s voice within and to see God around him at every turn. As he learned to trust God, he did not need obvious signs. And as he learned to recognize God he was able to know what God was asking and what God was giving. I believe that in essence every bush was afire with God's presence after a while; Moses learned to see God everywhere and thus everything was charged with God's presence.
This is what God wants for all of us. He wants us to be able to be aware of His presence with us, but He also wants us to enjoy the gifts of beauty with which He created our world. Genesis 1 tells us that when God created everything, He saw that it was good; that phrase is repeated after every day of creation. He made everything with us in mind and gave it to us for our use. The book of Genesis also tells us that God made us the steward of all there is. It says He gave Adam and Eve dominion over everything. "Dominion" does not mean that He simply gave them power over everything. It means He gave them the task of stewardship. They were entrusted with everything He had created and so they had the responsibility of taking care of it. In a sense, that is having power over all that is created. We have the power to nurture it or to destroy it. But God wants us to see it the way He sees it; He wants us to see that everything is good, including ourselves. That has not changed.
We know that although God gave humans the power to choose, we do not always choose wisely. Nonetheless, we have to try to make good choices if we are to be good stewards. The earth is no more or less ours than it was our first parents and all the people who came after them. We do not own it. Rather, it is a sacred gift, used and shared by all. The Psalms are replete with reminders of how good and sacred the earth is. Psalm 104 is one such example. In other words, the ancient people of God really did understand that the earth is the Lord's and we are given this earth as our home to enjoy. It was entrusted to us and it is filled with great beauty. Therefore we must have this understanding as well.
Today, one does not have to travel to see how beautiful the earth really is. There are photos of all types: of the world from space, of landscapes and seascapes, of "skyscapes," and of creatures great and small which also inhabit this glorious orb which we call home. All we have to do is look outside the window to see some small wonder if we have the eyes to see. If we look up we can see incredible cloud formations, and if we look carefully we can see the cycle of life in plants and creatures that roam our backyards. If we really let the Spirit open our eyes, everything can and will transform so that every bush we see really is afire with the presence of God. What it takes is not divine intervention, but the willingness to let God reveal Himself. He is already there. We simply have to let ourselves see. Often we do not see with our physical eyes alone; it is with our hearts that we see. And if we find this difficult, then we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us to see. Just as Peter had to see (in Acts 10) that there are no unclean animals, and just as he needed to see with new understanding that all people are God's people, radically changing his entire understanding of the Law he grew up with, so too can we begin to see with new eyes.
Our earth is a beautiful home. It is not a home we should take for granted. It is a gift, and like all gifts it needs to be taken care of and loved. But we should also have gratitude. The earth is such a wonder and it is so beautiful that we should continually thank God for this gift. It is a gift of life for us, and it speaks to us of God. It is where He is building His Kingdom, which we "enter" when we say yes to Him. He has given us many gifts to work with, so it is up to us to say thank you by taking care of the earth and by taking care of one another. It is the message of the gospel. Pope Francis recently had this to say: The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents.
Take off your shoes! The ground upon which you are standing is holy ground! Every bush is afire with the glory of God! Let us take the message of the Gospel and live it by respecting all that is created. May we have the wonder and awe of a child as we see the world as a beautiful gift! May our hearts become afire with God's love! May we be moved to gratitude for so many gifts which are given to us daily on our earth! And may we be good protectors of the earth and of everyone we care for, from our family to strangers whom we meet! Let us continue to meet on the Holy Ground which is within the Heart of the Lord, the giver of all Good Gifts. Peace!
The image at the top is by Rev. William Hart McNichols and is called The Name of God, Yahweh (Masculine). It can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=374
Heart Speaks to Heart