In the Spirit: The beauty and fragility of the Earth

BRYAN EATON/Staff photoEast Parish United Methodist Church on Lafayette Road in Salisbury.

For the beauty of the earth, For the glory of the skies,

For the love which from our birth, Over and around us lies;

Lord of all, to thee we raise, This our hymn of grateful praise.

Hymn writer Folliott Pierpoint wrote the words to this beautiful song in 1864. It is said to have been inspired by the view of his native city of Bath, England, on a spring day.

I doubt there is a believer alive, of any faith tradition, who has not at some point looked at the beauty of this Earth we inhabit and stopped to give thanks to the creator.

At times, it is simply overwhelming.

I often thought of this hymn while I was on a recent trip o Alaska, and also silently recited every day the opening phrase of Psalm 8: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”

The word “majestic” would not leave me. Alaska has been at the top of my “bucket list” for a long time, and to finally experience the beauty, vastness and rich indigenous cultures of the 49th state was a remarkable blessing.

From the cloud-covered peaks of Denali, to the blue-tinged ice of the glaciers; from the trees that are hundreds of years old yet only stand 3 feet tall, to multiple bald eagles soaring overhead, to say that I was in awe of God’s creation would be an understatement.

I am often “blown away” by the beauty of many parts of the Earth, including the place I call home, but what I observed during a four-hour tour through Denali National Park actually brought tears to my eyes. It is so immense!

The wildlife and the landscape are so unlike anything I have experienced. Adding to my sense of wonder were two things: Learning about the history and cultures of the First Nations peoples — of how sacred and life-giving the land has always been for them; and appreciation for those early visionaries from the Lower 48 who, upon seeing the area for the treasure it is, lobbied to have it set aside as a national park so that it would be preserved, free from humanity’s tendency to defile the Earth.

Yes, we do defile this beautiful planet far too often, and it was while viewing the glaciers that I was most aware of how much harm we continue to inflict on creation.

Glaciers are irreplaceable, yet they are disappearing at an alarming rate while some people in positions of power continue to ignore scientific facts. An article by Jenny Howard published July 25 in National Geographic cites a comprehensive study that reports “[a] new way of measuring how some glaciers melt below the surface of the water has uncovered a surprising realization: Some glaciers are melting a hundred times faster than scientists thought they were.”

“God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good!” (Genesis 1:31a, “The Message”)

God’s good creation has always been fragile. It is increasingly so, and it is alarming and sad to see firsthand how humanity has ignored our responsibility to be faithful caretakers of it. The tide seems to be turning, however, as far as acceptance of the reality of climate change.

My prayer is that people of faith and their faith communities will be ever more vigilant in adjusting how we use the Earth’s resources – including making some sacrifices that may be uncomfortable at first – so that future generations may see the beauty of the Earth and raise a hymn of grateful praise.

The Rev. Charlotte Hendee is pastor of East Parish United Methodist Church in Salisbury.

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