By Lisa Steiner, Coordinator of Social Concerns for the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville and Ursuline Associate
April 22, 2020
Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. I do not remember the first Earth Day even though I was 10 years old at the time. However, our school celebrated Arbor Day each year, and so I do recall the spring that every student received an evergreen sapling to plant. I named my tree Sydney and I tended to him diligently. Many years later, the “For Sale” sign in front of our family home stood next to Sydney, who had grown and flourished while celebrating our lives along with his.
This year also marks the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical letter entitled, “On Care for Our Common Home.” Many people around the globe have found inspiration from his urgent appeal to love all creation. I am moved by the way Pope Francis frames our existence. He writes, “Human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor, and with the earth itself.” (#66)
How ironic that in the year 2020, we remember Earth Day and Laudato Si during a time of social distancing due to fear of spreading Coronavirus. As we seek God’s will in all things, our current reality reminds us that we must surrender our individual interests, schedules, and habits for the sake of a larger calling: Life.
Many have written about whether this pandemic is part of God’s ultimate plan. For example, could God be calling us to see with new eyes how people are destroying planet Earth? Or how the least of our brothers and sisters are suffering the most? Or even how Lent is supposed to involve personal sacrifice to grow closer to God?
I have been contemplating these questions. As Mary Oliver says from her poem Thirst: “Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart.” I do not know about you, but I am praying differently these days. I am doing less talking and more listening. I am learning to be mindful of the present moment. And I am discovering God’s lovely and perfect handiwork all around.
Spring 2020 has been so beautiful — trees and flowers blooming, birds chirping, animals scurrying. Has spring always been this beautiful and I just have not been paying attention? Now I have more than enough time to take a walk or sit under a tree. I can ponder and breathe, read, and hum and doze. I can be of service by doing nothing, simply by staying put and letting the world be. What a revelation!
Years ago, a teacher reminded me that in a piece of music the rests are just as important as the notes. In order to enter the song (not just sing the song), I must embrace its totality and let it change me. I find I am experiencing nature this season in a similar way. I am fully participating, consciously aware. As God reveals the presence and rhythm of life here on Earth, I am using my God-given senses to be in complete relationship with it.
Losing myself in the beauty of nature calms my mind and brings peace to my heart. It helps me remember there is a plan for this universe. Whether I am anxious or not, the sun will rise. Whether I check an item off my “to do” list or not, bees will make honey and fawns will be born. I am but a small part of this grand ecosystem. The Resurrection could not have happened without the Incarnation, thanks be to God!
Blessings to you on Earth Day. We do not know what the future will reveal, but we are called to honor today. Our Creator has graced every living thing with purpose and dignity, inviting us to be in right relationship with the world. God is God. We are not to fear but rather to open our hearts to the promise of peace. I will close with a favorite poem, The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
To read more reflections about the first Earth Day, please visit: