I’d like to begin by reading again the first short passage from the book of Job that John read earlier: 

But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.  (Job 12:7-10)  

We are celebrating the Season of Creation over four Sundays at St Aidan’s, and our reason for doing this is to highlight the truth that we can learn about God and God’s ways through the whole created order – animals, birds, plants, fish, “every living thing.” Indeed, it has been said that there are two sources of revelation for us to understand God: Scriptures and nature.  

Yet as human societies have developed and industrialized, we have moved more and more away from a sense of respecting the earth, and knowing it, and learning the wisdom of God through it. Instead of remembering the call to tend the earth and take care of it, learn from it, see God present in it, we’ve focused more on controlling or even conquering nature, bending it to our will, using and abusing it – and we’ve forgotten the sacredness of all creation that God blesses and says is “very good.” In some ways we’ve forgotten where we belong.  

Go back to Genesis, to one of the two creation stories there, and you’ll see that the first human was named Adam – which means “from the earth.” God makes a human being out of the soil. A human from the humus. And then God breathes life into the human. It’s a profound symbol that we are made of matter and spirit. We belong to both earth and heaven. And all of creation is made and blessed by God, to live interdependently together in harmony. That was the original blessing. Everything belongs. Everything is of God, holy and revelatory. The smallest bug or flower or microscopic atom can reveal the wonder and majesty of God.  

That is still true. And we still know that to some degree. Perhaps we recognize and feel it most clearly when we’re outdoors in places of great beauty. But a lot of the time, for many of us, we live and act as though we’re separate from the rest of creation, as though it isn’t sacred, as though it’s just for us to use when we need it and enjoy when we have a spare moment. We’ve lost the sense that these creatures are our brothers and sisters, our neighbours on this planet, signs of God’s creative goodness.  

Now more than ever before in the history of humanity we need to recover that sense of the sacredness of creation, or much of it will be destroyed by our own doing as the climate is changed with catastrophic consequences. We need to remember that we are part of a complex, intricately balanced whole system, and, as the Psalm says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it.” (Ps. 24:1)  

Today we celebrate St Francis, who wrote in his great Canticle of the Sun a stream of praises to God for all of creation. And he referred to the elements and creatures as his siblings: Brother Sun, Sister Earth, Brothers Wind and Fire, Sister Moon…. That’s not sentimental language, it’s profound and important theology. We humans are part of the family of life on earth. And Francis concludes his prayer poem by saying that we should come before God “with thanks and great humility.”  

Humility – there’s that root word again, humus. We have humility when we come back down to earth; when we remember and accept our place in the perfectly balanced whole ecosystem that is God’s creation. And it’s there that we can regain a sense of truly belonging to the earth, and being related to all its creatures. We’re not tourists here: we come from the earth, and we return to it, as we recall every Ash Wednesday.  

Last Sunday Chris was leading the prayers, and I was startled and then delighted when he included prayers for “our neighbours the monarch butterflies and the salmon…”, praying for their wellbeing on their migratory journeys at this time of year.  Perhaps we should be doing that every week: praying not just for our human concerns, but for the wellbeing of the plants and animals, fish and waters, soil and air. And if we prayed for them regularly, perhaps we’d care more about them and treat them better.  

Some of us read and discussed a book this summer that for me was one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read. It was Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. She is a mother, a scientist and an Indigenous person belonging to the Potawatomi Nation. In the book she weaves together her personal experiences as a mother with her scientific knowledge as an environmental biologist and with the teachings of her Indigenous tradition. And all those strands come together to make a book of deep wisdom. It not only taught me about botany and biology and environmental conditions, but it also inspired me to want to learn more about the land and creatures around me in a personal, spiritual way.  

Kimmerer writes that we all need to become indigenous to the land again – to know it, to walk gently on it, to be able to name the plants and creatures on it, and to understand our place in the midst of it. So one thing I did on a retreat I took shortly after reading her book was to teach myself to identify the trees, plants and flowers around me –many of which I’ve lived among for decades, but not known the names of. The blanket flower, juniper tree, viper’s bugloss, buckthorn. As I learned their names I began to find myself greeting them by name on my walks, and offering thanks to God for them. And that gave me a sense of being more deeply connected to this land that I’ve made my home – more indigenous to it, and more grateful to the Creator for all that grows and lives on it with me, and reveals more of the face of God here on earth.  

How paradoxical that an Indigenous person is helping me by her teaching to live more connected to the earth, even though my white settler Christian forebears tried to sever her people’s connection to it. And how paradoxical that her book has enabled me to read my own Scriptures with a clearer lens as they tell of the glory of God and the goodness and sacredness of all creation.  

May we have the humility to listen to the animals, the birds, the plants, the fish, as they teach us. Amen.