Tuesday, April 30, 2024

From My Nature Journal on Earth Day: “…That Nothing May Be Lost”

I don’t want to make too much of it, but it seemed more than a coincidence. It was Earth Day, and I had been thinking a lot about that as the holiday approached. I was doing something completely common that day, practically an everyday experience, reading and thinking through a Bible passage. On that particular day the text happened to be an account jammed with familiarity, the Gospel text of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand, perhaps the most well-known miracle story in the Bible, one that many others and I recall from our earliest childhood days. 

But the story clips along familiarly. Late in the story Jesus has already done the unbelievable, the people have all been fed, and near the close of the account, as it is told, Jesus does a very pedestrian thing: he asks his helpers to gather up all the leftover pieces, “…that nothing may be lost.”  That phrase hit me in a curious way. I’ve seen it a million times, but perhaps never on an Earth Day. 

Consider this image of a vast number of people the likes of which you and I have only seen at a professional sporting or entertainment event. They eat until satiated, the account says. That’s a lot of food. But with all these people there is no doubt an enormous mess to clean up after lunch – fish bones, utensils and receptacles of sorts -- work done with twenty thousand or more oily hands (the text says ‘five thousand men;’ women and children would have at least doubled the number), fully two hundred thousand greasy fingers. And Jesus asks that the leftovers not be forgotten. I’m not sure what would have been done with them that day. The text doesn’t indicate it, though I have personally witnessed a feeding ministry in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where edible table scraps were gathered in large plastic buckets after hundreds had been fed, and then made available to the latecomers. Hunger is hunger.

But, “…that nothing may be lost,” Jesus said. 

Now, that was not a philosophy that would be new to Jesus. In numerous places he teaches about the value of lost things being found. Lost things are worth going after. Especially lost people. “I have come to seek and save the lost,” he even lovingly said. It seems his philosophy with people was the same as his philosophy with food scraps. Still, it was delightful to me on that Earth Day to reflect on the fact that Jesus was concerned that no food be wasted. 

So very much is lost in our consumer culture, so very much wasted. What if we lived by the philosophy that nothing of true value be lost? Yet, wherever humans have seemed to set foot, God’s creation almost always has degraded. 

God’s creation in its natural state, untrammeled by people, has an uncanny way also of not wasting anything. Poet, naturalist, author and innovation consultant Janine Benyus is the creative mind behind the philosophical concept of ‘biomimicry,’ defined as ‘the practice of learning from nature, then imitating what we find.’ It is a fascinating subject. (More can be found here.) But here is the crux of the concept in Benyus’ own words:

Nature runs on sunlight.

Nature uses only the energy it needs.

Nature fits form to function.

Nature recycles everything.

Nature rewards cooperation.

Nature banks on diversity.

Nature demands local expertise.

Nature curbs excesses from within.

Nature taps the power of limits.

In short, Benyus insists, nature ‘relentlessly creates conditions conducive to life.’ 

So does God, in lots of ways. And there’s no question in my mind whether or not God intended that very same thing with his creation. I believe God did. You and I, as co-sustainers with God of God’s good earth, are stewards, an old word that means we care for something as if it were our own, with the commitment to return it in as good or better of a condition than when we received it. 

It is not too late. Whether it’s Earth Month or not, take hold of the miracle that is creation. Honor it. Cherish it. And work to see that we lose nothing.

~~ RGM, April 24 2024