The Goodness of Creation

The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh; 1889, oil on canvas, 73.7 x 92.1 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh; 1889, oil on canvas, 73.7 x 92.1 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In The Starry Night, perhaps Van Gogh’s most famous and beloved painting, he has poured out his feelings of awe and wonder at God’s creation. He depicts The Starry Night as a swirling mass of deep blue space punctuated by blazing stars. This violent energy erupts above a peaceful, idyllic village with the cypress tree at left twisting upwards to connect the earthly and heavenly realms. Be sure to click on the painting to look closely at the larger version. You can see the details of Van Gogh’s brush strokes heavily loaded with pigment, his delicate yet confident outlines of the buildings, and the harmonious half circles of the trees that both echo and yet contrast with the drama of the whirling sky. By placing the cypress tree in the left foreground Vincent has drawn us into the scene, giving it an immediacy that it might lack otherwise. This picture gives us a sense of eternity and of our smallness in the vast infinitude of creation.

I thought of this painting today when I read the lectionary, which includes a lengthy passage from the opening verses of the book of Genesis.

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth,
the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss,
while a mighty wind swept over the waters.

Then God said,
“Let there be light,” and there was light.
God saw how good the light was.
God then separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”
Thus evening came, and morning followed–the first day.

Then God said,
“Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters,
to separate one body of water from the other.”
And so it happened:
God made the dome,
and it separated the water above the dome from the water below it.
God called the dome “the sky.”
Evening came, and morning followed–the second day.

Then God said,
“Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin,
so that the dry land may appear.”
And so it happened:
the water under the sky was gathered into its basin,
and the dry land appeared.
God called the dry land “the earth,”
and the basin of the water he called “the sea.”
God saw how good it was.
Then God said,
“Let the earth bring forth vegetation:
every kind of plant that bears seed
and every kind of fruit tree on earth
that bears fruit with its seed in it.”
And so it happened:
the earth brought forth every kind of plant that bears seed
and every kind of fruit tree on earth that
bears fruit with its seed in it.
God saw how good it was.
Evening came, and morning followed–the third day.

Then God said:
“Let there be lights in the dome of the sky,
to separate day from night.
Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years,
and serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky,
to shed light upon the earth.”
And so it happened:
God made the two great lights,
the greater one to govern the day,
and the lesser one to govern the night;
and he made the stars.
God set them in the dome of the sky,
to shed light upon the earth,
to govern the day and the night,
and to separate the light from the darkness.
God saw how good it was.
Evening came, and morning followed–the fourth day.
Genesis 1:1-19

Some of you may be old enough to remember seeing this image of the Earth taken from space on Christmas Eve by the crew of Apollo 8, the first NASA mission to orbit the moon in 1968.

Earthrise - taken by Apollo 8 astronaut, William A. Anders, December 24, 1968.

Earthrise – taken by Apollo 8 astronaut, William A. Anders, December 24, 1968.

This photograph has been credited with starting the ecology movement of the 1970s. The contrast of our life-giving planet with the desolate surface of the moon was a stark reminder of the need to preserve Earth’s precious resources. Seen from the perspective of space, Earth appears tiny and vulnerable and in need of our care. Similar to God’s response in the lines of Genesis, upon seeing this view of the earth, we saw that it is indeed good.

Pope Francis has repeatedly reminded us that we are called to be stewards of creation and he is expected to publish an encyclical on the environment in June or July this year.

“God works, continues to work, and we can ask ourselves how we should respond to this creation of God, which is born of love, because he works through love…We are the lords of creation, not its masters.” Homily of Pope Francis, Feb. 9, 2015

In addition to noting that climate change is an issue that profoundly impacts the poor, the pope has also emphasized that we have created a ‘culture of waste.’ Our unfettered capitalism and rampant consumerism have far reaching consequences that harm the planet and other human beings. The issues are so complex and so entrenched in our society, that it is easy just to feel overwhelmed and throw up our hands in despair. But we must prayerfully admit our responsibility and consider how we can make a difference. Each of us can make small changes that will, collectively, over time, create great change.

As I began to pray over this issue recently and to consider how I should respond, one of the first things I began to notice was how much food I waste.  Pope Francis writes, “Consumerism has induced us to be accustomed to excess and to the daily waste of food, whose value, which goes far beyond mere financial parameters, we are no longer able to judge correctly. Let us remember well, however, that whenever food is thrown out, it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor, from the hungry!” As a single person who lives alone, I often have leftovers that become science experiments in my fridge, or I buy larger packages of produce than I can eat before they spoil. Once I became aware of it, I resolved to shop smarter and to buy and cook only what I can eat. This simple awareness has already made a big difference. I also need to recycle more and buy fewer ‘disposable’ products. All those various cleaning/sweeping/mopping products are convenient, but the products and their packaging are wasteful — couldn’t I just use rags and an old fashioned mop instead? I am also wrestling with my addiction to bleach cleaners — bleach cleans well but it is poison to the environment.

Another area that I’ve considered is my lust for new technology. God knows, I love my iPhone, perhaps too much! I always eagerly await the day my cell phone contract allows me to get a discount on a new phone upgrade. Then I was dismayed to learn that the components of my cell phone and other electronic devices are made from minerals that come from desperately poverty-stricken and war-torn nations like the Democratic Republic of Congo. People are murdered, enslaved, and raped to obtain these minerals. They’re actually known as ‘conflict minerals’ because of their disturbing origins. What can I do? First of all, I can keep my old phone longer. Just because I CAN upgrade doesn’t mean I must. Second, I can send a message to major electronics companies asking them to source conflict-free minerals like Intel has done. Lastly, next time I upgrade, I’ll consider changing brands to one that has made an effort to switch to conflict-free minerals.

Like many of you, I’m sure, I love wildlife. I’m especially fond of pandas, elephants, gorillas, and orangutans, all critically endangered species. So I’ve made it my business to become more informed on some of the issues surrounding their preservation. This isn’t difficult, I just follow organizations on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram. You can do this for any cause you’re interested in, and it’s a great way to stay up-to-the-minute with their latest news and issues. I donate the little teensy bit that I can, and I’m trying to reduce my consumption of products that contribute to the decline of these irreplaceable creatures, like those containing palm oil, for instance. Deforestation due to palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia not only contributes to global warming, it is decimating the orangutan population. Along the same line, I would never buy ivory because the population of African elephants could become extinct in our lifetime from their wholesale slaughter to obtain ivory.

I’m a graduate student so I don’t have an investment portfolio or IRA, but if I did I would have a careful look at the companies my investments were funding. Companies like the British oil company Soco, which is attempting through bribery and corruption to gain drilling rights in Virunga National Park, a pristine wilderness area that is home to Mountain Gorillas, possibly my favorite animals on the planet (thank you, Dian Fossey!). Watch this trailer for “Virunga” and then look for the film on Netflix, it’s fantastic!

Since I can’t paint an awe-filled masterpiece of the starry night sky like Van Gogh’s, these are some of my personal responses to the love of God’s good creation and the call of Pope Francis to be better stewards. I would love to hear what some of you are doing, so please leave a comment sharing with me how you are called to make a difference.


2 thoughts on “The Goodness of Creation

  1. Susan says:

    I also live alone and used to waste food, but have become more aware and now buy only what I know I will finish eating. To buy a whole chicken to roast used to be a waste, but now when I do that I immediately debone and freeze more than half of it into portions which I can defrost when I need them. Result: only the bones get thrown out because all the meat is eaten.

    I also began recycling some years ago, and it has made a huge difference to my garbage output. It takes me a while to fill a bag with plastics and even longer to fill one with paper and cardboard, but at least these things are no longer going out every week into a municipal dump or a landfill that clogs up the earth.

    I know it’s only a small contribution from one person, but I believe that every little bit helps. Now I am trying to encourage better recycling practices in my workplace, but it’s a bit more complicated. I must try harder…

    Thank you for your inspiring blog!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. jane arney says:

    Reblogged this on Infinite Windows and commented:

    This seems appropriate to reblog on Earth Day, albeit a bit late in the day.


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