Today if the feast of St. Mark, writer of the first gospel and a companion of Paul and Barnabas on several of their missionary journeys. As Mark 1:1 states, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark’s gospel contains the bones of what Matthew and Luke later fleshed out. It is like Genesis, in a sense; both are stories of beginning, which are still studied and revered.
Rather than focus on Mark, which has been done more justice than I could do it, I want to concentrate on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day this past week. The idea of caring for the earth and its resources is a concept far older than Earth Day and goes back to the earliest chapters of the Bible. Earth and all stars were created by God and given to us to care for and nurture so that it might provide for us abundantly.
These days it seems that the earth has suffered from a lack of care, which seems to get worse every year. It has been the nature of humankind to make working the land to improve production and to ease the burden of labor needed to make those improvements. For centuries, the load on the earth and its surrounding skies and waters worked together with humankind. Then humans got greedy. They built bigger and bigger factories, put more and more of the land under cultivation, and began to use fertilizers and insecticides in greater profusion until the land could hold no more and the rains carried the poisons into the waters that many depended on for drinking, cooking, bathing, and watering the crops.
With the industrial age, factories belched more gasses into the air, sometimes making the atmosphere so thick with the gray-black smoke that surfaces of buildings in the cities grew dark in color, the sun was blotted out, clothes hung out to dry came in almost as dirty as they were before washing. People began to cough more frequently, became more unhealthy, and many died of respiratory distress, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other diseases. Out in the countryside, there was a growing disparity between rich and poor, but at least people could still see green trees and grass. Rain and snow could make life more tedious and challenging, but the sun would eventually return with the blue skies.
Earth Day was established to encourage people to see what was happening to Earth’s health. Waters were dirty, polluted, and full of discards and contaminants. The air was getting thicker, and more and more respiratory problems cropped up. The chase to make more and more money while still accumulating more and more disposable goods grew more heated. It used up the stored resources of the ground, leaving dust to blow and the climate to change. There had been small changes, but for every step forward, people took two, three, or four steps backward in other areas. That’s what Earth Day was created to do—remind people that Earth needed help and that God wanted us to take care of those problems.
Then came the global pandemic, COVID-19. There may be places on earth where it has not reached, but the number of countries, cities, and towns that it has hit has increased daily. Both numbers of those ill with the virus and the death list are still growing in most places. Those who practice the most rigorous practices like self-isolation, keeping a distance between others when out in public, wearing appropriate masks, and avoiding crowds seem to be helping. Still, many are beginning to feel their need to go on as usual (now referred to as the “old” normal) and the heck with anybody else’s health, rights, or even acknowledgment of their right to safety and well-being.
There is one side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic that some are beginning to notice. With fewer people driving and tossing pollutants in the air from auto exhaust, less need for public transportation with its accompanying noise and pollution, and the chance for people to stop and look around, it’s becoming more noticeable that the sky is bluer, the air is fresher, and things that are often hidden, like mountain ranges and more distant vistas than we have seen in quite some time, are now visible. In northern India, the Himalayas are now visible with their snow-cropped glory. That view hasn’t been seen in many years, and it is breathtaking. The sun sparkling on the ripples in streams, creeks, rivers, and oceans is like seeing tiny jewels scattered on the surface. The trees seem to be greener, and the animals more relaxed, even to the point of appearing in places where they usually hide from the noise and bustle of traffic and passers-by.
The whole Earth, or most of it, anyway, seems happier and more at ease. But the difference in just a couple of months of individual isolation and cuts in industrial pollution appears to have made a big difference already. I’m trying just to enjoy what I can see, hear, smell, and feel now, without looking ahead to a fast return to what we had before the sequestering. I also wish it could continue even after we return to what is probably going to be a “new” normal.
God gave us the Earth and its surroundings to care for and work with. I will try to cut back on what little driving I do, run all my errands in one well-planned route, and not be so profligate with electricity, water, and household necessities. Maybe my little contribution in honor of Earth and Earth Day may not make much of a difference, but I think God will be pleased if I try my hardest to be careful in all I do, thinking of others and the environment as my neighbors, and listening for God to tell me what else I need to do.
Image: A glorious day at the ocean near Astoria, Oregon. Personal photo.