From September 1st – October 4th many Christians around the world participate in the “Season of Creation.” In many Christian churches, the Season of Creation is an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate all of God’s creation or, in the words of Ronald Sider, this “gorgeous token of affection God has given us.”
It’s no accident the Season of Creation ends on October 4th, as this is the day many Christians celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the Saint best known and loved for his intimate relationship to “Mother Earth.” As a lay Associate of the Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque, Iowa, I’m pretty partial to St. Francis and even more partial to this beautiful planet.
As I think about this Season of Creation, I’m reminded of a couple of principles that guide a Franciscan view of creation.
The first is this: the image of God exists in all things. Our planet would look and feel vastly different today, if we Christians embraced this one simple principle. If all Christians believed the image of God or “Imago Dei” existed in all living things, our natural default would be to do everything in our power to care for everyone and everything, all the time.
A second principle of a Franciscan view of creation is this: we have a special place in creation, but not a central place. Said more plainly, while we human beings are special because we’ve been created in the image and likeness of God, we’re not the center of the universe. Embracing this concept requires the ability to be humble; to know our place. I’m convinced that much of today’s environmental degradation is a direct result of “center of the universe” thinking. Whether consciously or unconsciously, if we believe the universe revolves around us, it makes it much easier to pillage and plunder everything we can see and touch.
A third principle of a Franciscan view of creation is this: we have boundaries and limits that have been set for us. While God created this wonderful planet in such a way that it should be able to regenerate itself, the earth’s ability to do so is being hindered or completely obstructed by us humans. There are a finite number of natural resources. There are a finite number of times toxic chemicals can be put into our ground, air and water before they begin to do serious damage to the earth and to us. And, there are a finite number of times we can do things that prohibit the natural world from replenishing itself, so it is better able to protect us. The magnitude of damage caused by hurricanes in the past 10-20 years – most recently Hurricane Florence – is just one of the many examples of how our actions may well be leading us into a time when the earth can no longer protect us from ourselves.
That said, there are more environmental stewardship organizations today than I have ever seen in my lifetime. The world community is actively seeking out ways to protect Mother Earth, so she can continue to replenish herself, and nourish and protect us. And, the next generation is learning about and involving themselves in efforts to care for our planet in unprecedented ways, even from very young ages. My hope is not only that these trends will continue, but that all of us will embrace our inner Franciscan and dote over this “gorgeous token of affection” God has given us.