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Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

June 3, 2010

12 Ways to Become Friends with the Earth

John Muir, the great U.S. naturalist and original advocate for our national park system, spent a lifetime delighting in and protecting creation and concluded that “knowledge alone will not protect nature, nor will ethics, for by themselves they do not arouse motivation strong enough to transform the exploitative patterns to which we have become accustomed. The protection of nature must be rooted in love and delight, in religious experience.”

The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a crisis that highlights the urgency of caring for the fragile relationship between humans and our needs and the earth. There is a great amount at stake in the issue as Thomas Berry described in The Dream of the Earth.

Of all the issues we are concerned with at present, the most basic issue, in my estimation, is that of human-earth relations. . . . Our ultimate failure as humans is to become not a crowning glory of the earth, but the instrument of its degradation. We have contaminated the air, the water, the soil; we have dammed the rivers, cut down the rain forests, destroyed animal habitat on an extensive scale. We have driven the great blue whale and a multitude of animals almost to extinction. We have caused the land to be eroded, the rain to be acid. We have killed ten thousand lakes as habitat for fish.

We are playing for high stakes, the beauty and grandeur and even the survival of the earth in its life-giving powers. From being admired and even worshipped as a mode of divine presence, the earth has become despoiled by the human presence in great urban population centers and in centers of industrial exploitation. . . .

Once a creature of earthly providence, we are now extensively in control of this providence. We now have extensive power over the ultimate destinies of the planet, the power of life and death over many of its life systems. . . .

No adequate scale of action can be expected until the human community is able to act in some unified way to establish a functional relation with the earth process, which itself does not recognize national boundaries. . . . Our challenge is to create a new sense of what it is to be human. It is to transcend not only national limitations, but even our species isolation, to enter into the larger community of living species (The Dream of the Earth, pp. 42-43, 50-51).

Share with your students these "12 Ways to Become Friends with the Earth." This material is taken from Activities for Catholic Social Teaching by James McGinnis.

1. See the faces of the earth. What are some of the earth’s “faces” (views—e.g., sunrise and sunset) that you enjoy? When, where, and how do you or could you see these and other faces of the earth more fully? Do you like photography? We tend to see more when we have a camera with us. And the pictures we take provide us with the faces of the earth we personally love and can be shared with others.

2. Learn her names and stories. What are some of your favorite species of animals, trees, flowers, etc., and how could find out more about them? How are you learning about the story of the earth and/or the universe as a whole?

3. “Commune-icate” with the earth. Do you have some special places you like to visit where you feel close to nature? What makes them special for you? How are you present to the earth in those places? What are you learning from the different species there? Could you visit them more regularly?

4. Touch the earth. What are some ways you can touch the earth more carefully with your hands and/or feet? Do you have or help with a garden? What opportunity do you have for hiking or nature walks?

5. Make amends with the earth. What are some of the ways you have hurt the earth and how can you more sincerely and effectively apologize and make amends for those hurts?

6. Eat with the earth. Have you ever thought of having a picnic with the earth, perhaps just you and the earth or you and another special friend? This would be a time when you would just enjoy and communicate with the earth. Where would be some good places for you to have these picnics? What would be appropriate foods to bring for such picnics? Some people like to bring fruit from the earth and some bread that they bake themselves, so that both are each contributing something to the meal.

7. Sing and dance with the earth. What songs and/or dances do you know that you can sing with the earth and/or teach others? What songs does the earth sing that you could listen to more carefully?

8. Praise the earth and her Creator. What Psalms, other biblical passages, and/or other hymns of praise do you or could you say regularly? You might even consider writing your own psalm, song, or love letter.

9. Exchange gifts with the earth. What gifts do you receive from the earth? What gifts are you giving or could you give to the earth? Lots of people plant trees as a way of giving something back to the earth. Can you do this or contribute money to help others do this? For suggestions check the website of Global Releaf:

10. Protect the earth; stand in defense of creation. What are you doing individually and as a school or faith community to protect the earth? Be sure to consider both lifestyle decisions and social change activities addressing political and economic institutions/policies that harm the earth. Check the web sites of groups like the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, and the National Wildlife Federation.

11. Make your friendship/commitment explicit. Write a letter of friendship to the earth in which you celebrate her, tell her what you like best about her, thank her for her gifts, apologize for hurting her, name how you will protect her more, and anything else you want to say. Create an “I Love the Earth” book of your photographs, postcards, and reflections.

12. Share your friend/concern with others. How and with whom could you share these items, become a public witness (“prophet”) on behalf of the earth? What about raising some of these issues at school and/or with your faith community, or perhaps an article for a school/church newsletter and/or a letter to the editor of your local newspaper? Share your “I Love the Earth” book with friends.

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