Column: The Sabbath effect
One of the best ways to honor and protect God’s precious creation is to relax and enjoy it, in the tradition of Thoreau, who found his spirituality in nature —“My profession is to always be on the alert to find God in Nature, to know his lurking-places, to attend to all oratorios, the operas of nature.” Revel in the magnificence of our mountains. Closely consider the skillful navigation of a dragonfly. Marvel at our smallness and seeming insignificance in the complex web of life.
If we were indeed cast out of the Garden of Eden for not listening, what we most need to do now is be still and listen.
When we rest, we actually give the earth a rest as well. Our constant busy-ness takes its toll. NASA scientists have detected a “weekend effect.” They can tell from space where in the world Sabbath is being observed, because air pollution rates go down in observable ways. Nitrous oxides, byproducts of fossil-fuel combus-tion, go down on Friday in Islamic countries; down on Saturday in Israel; and down on Sunday in the U.S., Europe and Japan. The less people drive, and the less industry produces, the cleaner the air. Every gallon of gas used generates about twenty pounds of CO2.If you choose not to drive one day a week for a year, that could save over half a ton of CO2. Multiply that by the number of people in our congregations!
In 1986, the United Nations Environmental Programme initiated the Environmental Sabbath as a time for people of faith to renew their relationship with the forces of creation, by combining a knowledge of the earth sciences with spiritual values in order to transform our relationship with Earth from one of destruction to one of redemption and rejuvenation.
Amazing, isn’t it —how long we’ve been aware of environmental concerns, and yet we’ve been so slow to do anything dramatic policy-wise to improve. In a study of the American public published in American values in American Culture(1995), Willet Kemptar and his researchers found a significant disconnect between participants’ environmental values and any changes they made toward sustainable lifestyles and environmental protection actions. Apparently it is difficult for many to leave behind our Puritanical underpinnings, i.e., “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Stopping long enough to think about how well our actions match our values is a worthy respite in and of itself. As Wendell Berry, the well-known environmentalist, put it in his article, “Start Small and Close To Home,” “The right thing to do today, as always, is to stop, or start stop-ping, our habit of wasting and poisoning the good and beautiful things of the world, which once were called ‘divine gifts’ and now are called ‘natural resources.’” Natural resources that we feel we are entitled to use until they are gone.
Kris Holt is a freelance writer and a member of Prescott United Methodist Church’s Church and Society Committee.