Reflections for Earth Day (Dr. Alice Anderman) 04/26/2020

This year Earth Day was observed in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. 

This pandemic has brought pain, suffering, and death to people around the world. 

Last Wednesday Earth Day was 50 years old. Some of us may remember the 

first earth day. I was in my first year of teaching art to elementary students. The kids 

were really excited about Earth Day. At the beginning of my class on Earth Day we 

talked about the earth and how we could care for it. Some kids talked about planting 

seeds and crops (rural area in PA); others talked about cleaning up the earth. Then we 

all went outside in the school yard and picked up stuff – trash, sticks, stones, etc. Back 

in the classroom my young artists made sculptures from our outside treasures. The 

stuff in the yard was transformed into works of art. The kid’s sculptures and stories 

became a special memory for me of the first earth day. 

50 years later I learned something new (may have just forgotten) about the first earth 

day when I looked at the video on a church email, “When the Earth Moves.” The 

founder of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson, was from Wisconsin (my new state). He served 

as US Senator and as Governor of Wisconsin. He designated Earth Day as a time to 

come together to face our greatest environmental challenge: the care for the earth and 

for each other. 

Tia Nelson now carries on her father’s work to address the many crises of 

climate change today through her work with Outrider Foundation located here in 

Madison. Their goal is to unite parties and communities to take responsible actions to 

care for the environment and all living beings. 

Earth Day today has more challenges than the the first one 50 years ago. Who 

would have imaged in 1970 that Venice would be close to destruction, that more 

severe hurricanes, tornados and other weather disasters would leave communities in 

shambles and people homeless as in Puerto Rico, that the icebergs and ice caps 

would be melting, or that pollution would cause many more health related problems. 

The list goes on. There is much work to do today. 

This year Earth Day was observed in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. 

This pandemic has brought pain, suffering, and death to people around the world. 

Many feel exiled, forgotten, exhausted, and confused. Questions abound – who, when, 

what, how long? Why? 

We turn for help to the story of Job, one of the books of wisdom literature in the 

Old Testament. These books are filled with wisdom for everyday living. The book of Job 

may have been written during the time of exile when the Hebrew people were in 

Babylon. We can easily identify with exile. We feel exiled in our own homes, living in a 

time of unknown fear and suffering during this coronavirus pandemic. 

Job’s suffering was through no fault of his own. His story does not explain the 

mystery of suffering or justify God’s ways with humans. Rather, it probes the depths of 

faith in the midst of suffering. 

Remember the story. Job’s friends questioned his faith and why he served God 

while he was experiencing great suffering. They couldn’t understand how Job could be 

faithful while suffering so much. Our reading today is Job’s answer to his friend 

Zophar’s arrogant questions. 

“Can you find out the deep things of God? 

“Can you find out the limits of the Almighty?” (Job 11: 7) 

Job answers: 

“Ask the animals and they will teach you; 

the birds of the air, and they will tell you; 

ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; 

and the fish of the sea and they will declare to you. 

Who among all these does not know that the hand of God has done this? 

In God’s hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every 

human being.” (Job 12: 7-10) 

We suffer today. People suffer from the coronavirus and from lack-of-care-for- 

the-planet diseases; asthma made worst by polluted air; more destructive hurricanes; 

rising sea levels. Job reminds us that even in the midst of suffering God is here. 

What else is Job teaching us? The life of every being is in God’s hands, and God 

is with us constantly. How we care for each other and all God’s creation matters 

because both we and all creation are God’s. What we do matters. 

What can we do to show our gratitude and care for all creation and each other? 

A few years ago Dave and I traveled to Peru and visited Machu Picchu. Before 

our guides and other native people would take a drink, they poured part of their drink 

on the ground. It was their way of giving thanks to the earth for all the earth provided 

for them. With every drink they gave a tribute of gratitude to the earth. What can we 

do? We can respond with our expressions of gratitude. 

Another story takes place in Provence, a region in southeastern France. [The 

Man Who Planted Hope and Grew Happiness, Jean Giono] 

In 1913 a young man traveled alone on a hiking trip through Province France. He 

ran out of water in a desolate valley where only wild lavender grew. There he met a 

middle aged shepherd who took him to a spring so the young man could get a drink 

and fill his water bottle. The young man asked the shepherd why he had chosen such a 

lonely life. The shepherd told him his story. After he was widowed and feeling great 

sorrow, he decided to restore the ruined landscape of this isolated and largely 

abandoned valley by cultivating a forest He planted acorns that he collected from miles 

away. He made holes with his straight iron staff and then dropped an acorn in the hole. 

Sometimes he planted a beech or birch seedlings in the holes. 

The young man left the shepherd and a few years later went off to fight in WW1. 

In 1920 the not so young man, still shell shocked and depressed from the war, returned 

to the valley where he had met the shepherd years before. 

The valley was now filled with young saplings and new streams filled with fish. 

Animals and birds were all around. A valley that was near death was now full of life. The 

soldier was filled with happiness and hope. 

This may not be a true story but it has truth and hope in it. We could make one 

like it happen. 

Looking back 50 years from now what will we remember about this Earth Day? 

Everything we do – small actions like pouring water from our cups to show our 

gratitude to all creation, to big projects like reclaiming barren land to new growth – they 

all matter. What we do matters; youth and adults walking together around the Capitol 

to take a stand for care of creation; teaching our children about the natural world they 

live in; learning how to recycle.; growing gardens and feeding others; working to 

prevent climate change; planting acorns on a global scale. 

This 50th Anniversary let’s remember: Everything we do matters! 

Amen. 

 

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