Creation, not “environment”

April 22, 2010

In his essay entitled, “Conservation is Good Work,” Wendell Berry complains about our use and understanding of the word “environment.”1

The idea that we live in something called “the environment”… is utterly preposterous. This word came into use because of the pretentiousness of learned experts who were embarrassed by the religious associations of “Creation” and who thought “world” too mundane. But “environment” means that which surrounds or encircles us; it means a world separate from ourselves, outside us. The real state of things, of course, is far more complex and intimate and interesting than that. The world that environs us, that is around us, is also within us. We are made of it; we eat, drink, and breathe it; it is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. It is also a Creation, a holy mystery, made for and to some extent by creatures, some but by no means all of whom are humans. This world, this Creation, belongs in a limited sense to us, for we may rightfully require certain things of it—the things necessary to keep us fully alive as the kind of creature we are—but we also belong to it, and it makes certain rightful claims on us: that we care properly for it, that we leave it undiminished not just to our children but to all the creatures who will live in it after us. None of this intimacy and responsibility is conveyed by the word environment.

I imagine, therefore, that Berry would approve of this 12th century prayer from St. Francis of Assisi. Perhaps we can make this our “Earth Day” prayer, understanding of course that as God’s image-bearing creatures charged with caring for this world, every day is Earth Day.

O most high, omnipotent, good Lord God, to you belong praise, glory, honor, and all blessing.

For our brother the sun, who is our day and who brings us the light, who is fair, and radiant with a very great splendor; Praised be our Lord.

For our sister the moon, and for the stars, which you have set clear and lovely in heaven;

For our brother the wind, and for air and clouds, calms and all weather;

For our sister water, who serves us and is humble and precious and chaste;

For our brother fire, by whom you light up the night, and who is fair and merry, and very mighty and strong;

For our mother the earth, who sustains us and keeps us, and brings forth various fruits, and flowers of many colors, and grass;

For all those who pardon one another for your love’s sake, and who bear weakness and tribulation;

Blessed are they who peaceably shall endure, walking by your most holy will; for you, O Most High, shall give them a crown. Praise and bless the Lord, and give thanks unto God, and serve God with great humility. Amen.2

1. Wendell Berry, “Conservation is Good Work,” in Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community (New York: Pantheon Books, 1993), 34.

2. The United Methodist Book of Worship (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1992), 507.

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