What if the Earth could speak?

Sermon preached by Christopher Lind on April 22, 2010, the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, at Church House in Toronto, Ontario.

Psalm 148

1Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

2Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

3Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

4Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

5Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.

6He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

7Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

8fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

9Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

10Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

11Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

12Young men and women alike, old and young together!

13Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

14He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the Lord!

I want to ask you a question today that you’ve probably never asked yourselves. This is Earth Day. What if the Earth could speak? What would it say? Would it complain, would it celebrate, would it protest against injustice, would it laugh, would it cry?

Psalm 148 gives us one answer: it would praise God from the earth and the highest heavens! Is this just hyperbole? Is this just anthropomorphizing our island home? Surely the earth can’t REALLY speak, can it?

Let’s engage in a thinking exercise. What prevents us from thinking this thought? Where does our resistance come from? Some biblical scholars say our resistance comes from our pattern of “dualistic thinking”. This kind of thinking divides the world into pairs of opposites:

People vs animals

Reason vs emotion

Mind vs matter

Male vs female

Sacred vs profane

Heaven vs earth

Humans (culture) vs nature

Us vs them

This kind of thinking can be helpful when it is the beginning of analysis. However, it becomes unhelpful when it becomes the beginning of hierarchy; when we are not just different than them but better than them!

Another obstacle to this way of thinking is our tendency to think of the earth as a moss covered rock hurtling through space, the 3rd rock from the sun. What if, instead, we thought of the Earth (Capital ‘E’) as a community of all living things on the planet, a community of life. This would mean complex ecosystems interacting, of which humans are just a part. Can a crowd speak? Well maybe…

In philosophy we learn to distinguish subjects from objects. Subjects are capable of communicating, of acting and of forming intentions. The Earth is not a human subject. However, as a community of life, Earth has a collective identity and maybe even a collective voice, capable of rejoicing in delight and groaning in sorrow. In order to hear the voice of Earth, we have to listen for it. Maybe the voice of Earth is a little bit like ‘body language’ – a communication without words. You might say that the Earth is making noise but not really communicating. We used to say that about whales, but we don’t any longer. Just because we haven’t yet learned the language, doesn’t mean a community is not trying to speak.

Has the Earth been trying to speak for a long time? If so, is there evidence of it? What if there is evidence in the Bible? Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. Specifically, it has to do with becoming conscious of the principles we use when we translate or interpret a text.

There are some metaphors we can use to describe the activity of interpretation. One metaphor has to do with light and dark. Interpreting Scripture is like shining a light in the darkness. You have to be sure what you’re looking for. Every light casts a shadow. This doesn’t make the light bad and the shadow good, its just the way the light works. If you want to see what is in the shadows you have to shift the light or use a different kind of light. On the crime shows, if the forensic team wants to see if there is blood present, they have to bring in ultraviolet light because ordinary light won’t reveal it.

 

In the recent past, the 50s & 60s, biblical scholars were concerned to demonstrate how the bible revealed the story of God’s saving acts through history. This was called “salvation history”. If you studied the Bible in a seminary during this period you would have read the work of scholars like Gerhard von Rad & Oscar Cullman who were shining their light on salvation history. This approach kept questions regarding the Earth & the Voice of the Earth in the shadows.

 

In Australia, another group of scholars, led by Norman Habel, have been concerned with the voice of the Earth. Habel gathered an international community of scholars together to dim the hermeneutical light of salvation in order to retrieve the story of Earth communities.

 

Another metaphor that is used to describe the science of interpretation has to do with the lens we look through or the glasses we wear. When we wear dark glasses we don’t see enough and when we wear rose coloured glasses we only see the things we agree with. Earth Bible scholars have been skeptical of the glasses we wear when we read Scripture Hands up, all the people who wear glasses. Many of us wear literal glasses. All of us wear metaphorical glasses. When we read the Bible we need to become aware of the metaphorical glasses with which we are reading it.

 

As I get older I lose things more often. In order to find them again, I have to become suspicious of my movements. I become sceptical of what I think I did and where I think I put things. It makes it doubly difficult if the item I’m looking for is my glasses! The same is true of biblical interpretation. If you want to find something that is not revealed by current methods of biblical interpretation, you have to exercise suspicion and then retrieval. We learned this from both feminist and then liberation theology.

The Earth Bible scholars have developed 6 hermeneutical principles. One of those principles is:

The Principle of Voice1

Earth is a subject capable of raising its voice in celebration and against injustice.

Can the earth speak? Funny question but our Scripture answers us all the time. Why don’t we hear it? In the 12th chapter of Job we read “Ask the animals and they will teach you, the birds of the air and they will tell you!” Our Cree and Innu and Ojibway sisters & brothers understand this very well. Why don’t the rest of us?

Today’s Psalm, 148, is very clear on this question:

“Praise the Lord from the Earth, you sea monsters and all deeps!”

(Sounds like a great children’s story! Where the Wild Things Are)

“Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!”

This is Earth Day and this is our Psalm. Do we believe the Psalm or are we resisting it? I wonder why?


1 Taken from THE EARTH BIBLE PROJECT, Norman C. Habel, Series Editor, Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press. Published in Canada and the USA by The Pilgrim Press, Cleveland, Ohio.

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