Updated: May 7, 2020
Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a day to celebrate the earth and recommit ourselves to loving it rather than exploiting it. If the earth could communicate through social media I’m sure it would say, “Happy Earth Day to Me! I really mean it!” #imsohappyicanbreatheagain.
The global pandemic caused by CoVID-19 has shut down businesses, decimated the airline industry, separated loved ones from each other and pushed our healthcare professionals to the brink of physical and emotional exhaustion. The impact on those who have lost loved ones is incalculable.
The silver lining in this plague of near-biblical proportions is the relief to the earth. In northern India, citizens are amazed at the view of the Himalayan Mountains they haven’t seen in 30 years. Six months earlier the air in New Delhi, with its 20 million citizens, was unbearable. After the March lockdown people can see the mountains and breathe the air. Politician and author Shashi Tharoor wrote that the "blissful sight of blue skies and the joy of breathing clean air provides just the contrast to illustrate what we are doing to ourselves the rest of the time."
The poetic vision of Isaiah comes to mind, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. (Isaiah 55:12)
When I was young and more polemic than poetic, I would use this text as a means to demonstrate that the Bible wasn’t meant to be interpreted literally. It was my way to undermine the argument of Bible-toting zealots who wanted to require a literal reading of Scripture. “You don’t really believe the trees and fields can clap their hands do you?” I would retort with condescension known only among the young. But now that I care less about engaging in polemics and more about seeing the poetic vision of Isaiah, I am more sensitive to the earth. I’ve come to believe the earth can sing and clap and dance when it is happy and unfettered by the oppression of toxic pollutants and consumer-driven humans. The goats have a chance to go shopping in Wales. The monkeys are dancing in the streets of India. And the bears, bobcats and coyotes have been freed from their perpetual quarantine in the Rocky Mountains.
Can you hear the earth singing with a bit more joy these days? Can you feel the vibrations of the trees clapping their hands as a front of clean air settles into their forests? Can you see the smiles on the faces of the wild flowers bursting in vibrant colors of fuchsia and chartreuse ?
On this Earth Day 2020, when we are confined to our homes and derailed from our frantic pace of living the good life, perhaps we can join the earth in its moment of joy. In our season of social distancing, perhaps we can discard our ecological distancing. Come closer to the earth, really close. The earth is dancing with a lilt in its step it hasn’t felt in a long time. I’m not asking you to pray or give or serve or stop doing anything. I just think it might do us good to join in this dance, clap our hands and sing with an earth that is feeling a reprieve from its relentless toil. Perhaps the kingdom of God is like a dance with trees that clap their hands.
Happy Earth Day, earth!