Go outside today. Plant a garden. Take a deep breath. Honor God’s creation, for the first time or anew.
Amid unspeakable pain, suffering and death, all of nature is showing signs of healing, largely because humans – responsible for the care of God’s creation – were required to shelter in place.
People of faith are being called to both shelter in place and change the behavior that reflects how we have taken for granted and neglected our responsibilities of caring for God’s creation. We are being called to change our behaviors, to repent, by seeking ways to restore the land upon which we live, here, and around the world.
Sacred texts – Genesis 1.26-28 and 2 Chronicles 7.14 – offer a perspective about this journey of faith. There may even be others that better speak to this moment in our lives.
In the Genesis passages humans are made in the image and likeness of God and then given dominion and authority to care for God’s creation. Honest, sincere self-assessments tell us that we have neglected that responsibility. We have mismanaged the resources of creation – from the ways we pollute the air to how we have pillaged the soil and over-harvested the seas.
When we were required to shelter in place, God’s creation began to heal itself.
Air quality improved because our cars, trains, planes and buses were sheltered in place. The air quality in places such as Boston and Washington, D.C, register as the cleanest since NASA starting measuring air pollution back in 2005. Animal shelters are no longer killing hundreds of animals daily as human beings have found their hearts opened to adopting and bringing pets into their lives.
Here in Memphis, the first order to shelter in place was announced in a press conference on Tues., March 24. Shelby County Health Director Alisa Haushalter issued the formal health directive for most of Shelby County, including Memphis residents and businesses. Schools, libraries, museums and sports and entertainment activities from Beale Street to the FedExForum were cancelled.
By the end of March 2020, we were grappling with determining what was essential and nonessential to our lives. For communities of faith, mosques, temples and churches, this would be a decisive moment at the intersection of our faith and well-being.
People of faith traditionally gather for worship as an essential expression of faith. Limiting the numbers of those who gather and ultimately closing worship facilities sent shock waves throughout faith communities in Shelby County and across the nation. Faith leaders and parishioners sought direction on how to respond from sacred text.
Uncomfortable being seen as proponents of science over faith, clergy women and men found themselves at a watershed moment. For many, the Passover story of the Exodus would become a touchstone.
Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down.
The metaphorical message often drawn was that we would go inside of our homes and shelter in place as the death angel of COVID-19 passed over us, just as the Israelites. I knew there were inherent problems with embracing this powerful biblical story as our guiding message. For one, it is a gruesome, brutal, savage story of the loss of first-born baby boys and male animals at the hand of God, as punishment for the God-given hard heartedness of Pharaoh (Exodus 7.3) in not freeing the Israelites.
We hear the cries pain and loss:
At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.
Add to this our own reality check: We initially believed that African Americans were not contracting COVID-19, only later to discover that in fact we were being disproportionately, adversely impacted by the virus. We were dying at alarming rates. In this biblical story we would be the Egyptians!
I understand the intention, and every metaphor will collapse when pushed too far.
But please bear this in mind, sheltering in, listening to experts, following science does not have to conflict with one’s faith any more than taking your blood medicine means you don’t believe in Jehovah-Rapha. Closing worship facilities does not place the wisdom of human beings over the wisdom of God. For those who follow Jesus, the rock he describes in Matthew 16.18 was born of flesh and built of stone.
As stewards of God’s creation, in these particular times, we must act with the certainty needed to get to our goal, courageously dealing with things just as they are, resolutely facing – and surmounting – all dangers seen and unseen.
And when you need a reset, go outside. Plant a garden. Take a deep breath. Honor God’s creation!
(Dr. Rosalyn R. Nichols pastors Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church (DOC), 961 Getwell Rd. Visit https://www.freedomschapel.com/. Find Freedom’s Chapel on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/freedomschapel.church, IG and YouTube.)