I recently finished reading The Overstory, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Richard Powers. I like to think I am able to find suitable, at times, even eloquent, words to express how I am feeling, but this is all I got:
Wow wow wow. This book—omg. It’s so much, so rich. I can’t even. Every sentence is a literary masterpiece; every character becomes a friend. Highly recommend—I will never be the same again, in such a good way.
This 500-page masterpiece is meant to be read slowly, to be savored. The novel weaves together the stories of nine characters, their relationship to trees and their awareness of and desire to stop the destruction of forests. The characters, each with a short story of their own, are the backdrop of a narrative that is less about them and more about trees. The Overstory was a reminder of how destructive humans have been and how significant non-human elements are to the survival of our planet.
I was invited to write an essay for the SoulCollage® newsletter, SoulCollage® Community Update, to commemorate Earth Day 2016, reflecting on how creating with images of nature can cultivate a sense of gratitude for God’s creation and, ultimately, impact how we protect our earth’s resources. With a newly heightened awareness of the magnitude of environmental threats and the importance of human behavior, I share the essay below:
As Earth Day (April 22) approaches, I’ve been noticing that images of nature appear in nearly every one of my SoulCollage® cards. Plants and animals, water and fire; the diamond and the rough ground-rugged, rocky, sandy, earthy. Trees-naked and blooming, knotted and gnarled branches. Streams or floods of light and all things celestial-moonrises, sunsets, stars, planets, wide-open sky. And every color of the rainbow-red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, and each color in between.
These SoulCollage® pictures have been calling me to stand up, pay attention, listen, prayerfully consider, and take action. They have encouraged me to reflect on my role in creation – how I enrich, nurture and care for our earth and all that draws life from it.
I Am One Who innocently, carefully, lightly treads through my part of creation, where I have been planted. I am as little as the lily pads and as vast as the stars and planets. I am a part of the whole, keeping balance on a very small twig of space and time. I am embraced, protected, held up by the wings of love.
We think of fairies as little nature spirits, without realizing that as human beings, we are ourselves nature spirits! It is nearly impossible to separate ourselves from our environment. We breathe the exhalations of trees. Our bodies go through similar seasons of new cells birthing, old cells dying and being shed. Our bodies are in a constant process of re-creating, living and dying, using the minerals, water, and earth from plants and animals and returning again to dust.
Spending time in and seeing the beauty of nature has been for me the first step to taking action to protect it. I see myself as responsible to and for the small space in which I live. My seemingly insignificant efforts-planting flowers and trees, recycling paper and plastic, remembering to take my own bag shopping, using energy-saving light bulbs, buying gifts that are consumable, not buying products that use excessive packaging -can have an impact that reaches far beyond my little place and time. My physical body is not the whole of creation, but my spirit is vast, and my actions leave an impression.
The images of nature hold meaning for my life. When I see a tree, I also see growth, changing seasons, pruning, the effect of time. I see roots intermingled, each tree surviving and thriving because of the other. I connect to my process of self-discovery and growth, my inward journey that is beautiful and painful, at times agonizingly slow and, at the same time, too quick.
I Am One Who believes in the divine birthing of our planet and the life-force that is poured out for us by our mere existence in this dynamic, evolving, growing, breathing earth home. I Am One Who exists as part of this environment, receiving the mysterious flow of energy and outpouring of nourishment with open hands. I bow my head at the splendor of shades and shapes, the rebirth of nature through the sacred spirals of the seasons, the purpose and patterns that are sometimes evident and always sought after.
I believe we are dying inside when we don’t spend time in nature, whether in stillness or activity. If we don’t get outside and enjoy nature, we don’t realize it is hurting and needs our care. We run the risk of seeing earth as existing only to meet our needs, rather than seeing our role as caretakers of the earth.
“Unless we begin to align ourselves with nature, nature will be endangered and our own lives with it. Our own souls with it, in fact. We are here as part of creation, not as consumers of it. We are here to care for this planet, not to exploit it. We are here to find our proper place in it, to grow with it spiritually as well as physically.”
-Joan Chittister, Author, Two Dogs and a Parrot: What Our Animal Friends Can Teach Us About Life.
I Am One Who, in darkness, is breathed into being and held in the light. Leaf or life-all is dependent on the Light.
Creating with images of nature can influence our sense of gratitude for God’s creation, our sense of oneness with nature and, ultimately, how we respond to the call to conserve and save our earth’s resources. My SoulCollage® cards have heightened my awareness for my role, no matter how insignificant or great, in the care of creation. This earth is my home. I have been brought into being to do my part.
So how am I going to celebrate this Earth Day? I will spend time in thanksgiving, honoring that in God’s world every day is Earth Day. I will remember my place on the planet, my role in respecting the earth. I will take a walk. I will look up at the sky. I will touch the ground. I will enjoy the many colors of creation, particularly the spring purpling. I agree with Alice Walker: this is where our contribution begins – noticing.
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”
– Alice Walker, The Color Purple
A few years ago, I challenged readers to share their love of nature using images and creativity for a project that my daughter and I collaborated on titled, “Soul Collage® and the Environment”. Inspired by The Overstory, I am resurrecting the challenge.
Our planet needs all of the love, prayer, and protection it can get. Consider sending positive energy and intention into the universe through the creative and prayerful practice of Visio Divina or Soul Collage®. Create a card that represents the environment and/or how you feel about how humans interact with the environment. You may take the prompt in whatever direction you choose.
After you create a card, share a post in the comments section or email a photo to firstname.lastname@example.org with a few sentences that explain what your card means to you. With your permission, I will share reflections from submissions through Earth Day April 22, 2020.
Feel free to share this post FAR and WIDE!
This planet needs ALL of us.