Category: Pondering Peace

Gratitude for the Goodness of the Earth

By Rev. Ruth Rosell, Ph.D., Director of the Buttry Center for Peace and Nonviolence, Central Seminary

This Thanksgiving I am grateful for the goodness of the earth.  As human beings we are utterly dependent upon the earth, its many creatures, and its ecological systems for the sustenance of life.  I am grateful for the trees and all vegetation that continually renew the air needed to breathe, taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen that for us is the breath of life. I am grateful for the marvelous array of fruits, vegetables, and grains that trees and plants produce, using the energy of the sun. I am grateful for the soil of the earth, teaming with countless organisms that contribute to the its health.   I am grateful for water bubbling up from the earth and raining down from the sky.  These very basics of life – air, water, and food – by which life is sustained minute by minute and day by day are all gifts of the earth for which I feel deep gratitude.

I am grateful for the towering trees that shelter and provide relief from the blasting sun on sizzling summer days.  And I’m grateful for the sun that grants warmth on frigid winter days and provides enough energy to meet all the world’s needs.  I am fascinated by the many animals and diverse array of birds observed on my daily walks through our yard. Squirrels scamper straight up trees and jump great distances between branches.  Woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jays, and many other small birds dart around in the sky with amazing aerial skills.  They each have a place in the ecosystem.  I have even grown to appreciate those creatures that I have some innate dislike for – the bees that I naturally fear but now recognize as essential pollinators for my food and so now welcome, the large yellow garden spider that I wanted to kill but now realize my garden is lucky to have, and even the long black snake that occasionally sunbaths on our lower deck rails but also likely eats the moles that used to dig up our lawn.  “All creatures great and small… Twas God that made them all.”

There is much that I don’t understand about the ecosystems that support life, but I am learning more about the climate and the crucial role that a relatively stable climate and weather system play for the flourishing of life. I find myself treasuring more dearly the simple but life sustaining gifts of the earth as it becomes more apparent that the climate crisis threatens them.  I find that my gratitude and joy in nature is tinged with a grief for what is being lost and what may come.  It feels a bit like the way people may feel who begin to truly appreciate and live life more fully when they receive a cancer diagnosis that makes them unsure of how long they will enjoy life’s simple pleasures.  As one who looks the reality of the current climate crisis in the face, I need often to simply bask in the wonder and pleasure of this earth and to relish its goodness.  As I gaze at the lake during my walks, I feel the tension of work and the anxiety of life relax away.  “You lead me beside the still waters; you restore my soul” (Ps. 23:2-3). For this gift of renewal and soul restoration I am grateful.

Like many others, I have often found nature to be the place where I experience most intensely the presence of God.  The pounding of ocean waves and the majestic rise of towering mountain heights elicit awe and wonder.  The evening sunset with its glorious colors splashed across the clouded sky holds me captive for long walks.  The inky black night skies from which stars sparkle from the vastness of the universe hints at how much more exists than I can even imagine.  “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork” (Ps. 19: 1).  We live and move and having our being in God, who is both transcendent and radically immanent.  With awe and wonder come gratitude – gratitude for the amazing interrelated and interconnected web of life that sustains us, gratitude for the goodness of the earth, and gratitude for the Source of Life who is within it all.