Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It has been a blessing for me to have a few days away and to enjoy the great outdoors. As I’m sure many of you find as well, summer is a great chance to relax outdoors (except for the terrible heat!) and appre- ciate the beauty of God’s creation. In the hustle and bustle of life, particularly in New York, we can so often take that beauty for granted. And one of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors, is of course with a good book! In this time, I have taken a bit of my own advice and have been reading through the Lord of the Rings once again.
I always enjoy reading through the story, but this time something that has struck me in particular is J.R.R. Tolkien’s love of nature. He has a gift for describing the idyllic countryside and striking landscape. Heroes pass from one dramatic scene to another, and after a long adventure, they always look forward to returning to the comforts of home in a small peaceful town tucked in the countryside. And the enemy, well the enemy in the story so often seeks to destroy that peace and beauty. Industry and war turn the landscape dark and inhospitable.
Not to ruin the ending, there is a great victory for the good guys, but the story takes on a somber note. Tolkien speaks of the close of a more enchanted age where elves, dwarves, great tree men called ents, and hobbits, all pass from this world and pass out of memory. The woods, the hills, the mountains, the magic that fills them disappears. And how resonant with our age. We can think back to times where nature was something big and mysterious, where there were hidden forces behind every beautiful phenomenon. How different from today when science has managed to break down every miracle of nature into atoms and laws. In Tolkien’s story humanity takes the stage as the master of the new age, and how true that we too have now become masters of nature in our time. We feel the burden of responsibility for the world around us, knowing that technology and industry have the capability of doing great harm to the beauty of nature.
Maybe this time then, as we enjoy nature, we should consider what it means when in the Garden of Eden God says of Adam and Eve “let them have dominion” over all of creation. Part of being made in God’s image is that we have been given a share in the care of creation. Nature is not something bigger than us, there is no “Mother Earth,” but we are higher than creation and can both make it beautiful as in a garden, or ugly as in a toxic waste dump. Part of our responsibility as Christians, something urged powerfully by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, is to take seriously the charge of not being wasteful, of not falling prey to the culture of the disposable, of not seeing the world as something to be used, but rather as a gift to be appreciated and utilized with great care. Our heroic task then is to care for, of course, our brothers and sisters first, but beyond that the entire world around us, that it may be a beautiful testimony to God’s presence in all things.
Yours in Christ,