Last night my wife and I were visited by a fairytale.
Most evenings we make a small pot of coffee and enjoy the dark hot drink while re-watching episodes of our favorite show on Netflix. It is how we both relax after a long day at the office for me and after a long day of nursing school for her.
It was about 8:30 at night. The sun had set and the steamy Mississippi sky outside the kitchen window of our apartment was spangled with a thousand distant suns playing hide-and-seek in the boughs of the oaks. I was just filling up the electric kettle with water from our Brita filter when I heard it – a scream that made my spine tingle. It cut through the peaceful night like an assassin’s dagger.
My hand hovered over the switch of the kettle as I listened. The scream came again – and again. It wasn’t a woman or child as had been my first thought; it was too repetitive, each scream exactly identical to the one before and in a sort of rhythm. I grinned as I realized what it was. I called my wife into the kitchen and told her to listen. As if on cue, the screams began again.
Anna looked at me, puzzled. “Sounds like a woman in pain.”
“Nope,” I said. “That’s a panther.”
It may sound awkward to put it that way, but we were fortunate that night. Panthers are rare in Mississippi. Years ago, most folks denied they even lived here, but you would hear rumors and legends about so-and-so’s uncle seeing one while hunting deer, or maybe you would see a strange print while playing in a dry creek-bed. Panthers have an almost mythical quality to them. Being visited by one last night was an appropriate way to begin Earth Day, celebrated annually April 22.
Earth Day in most conservative Christian circles is nothing if not controversial. I have heard people mutter about it being a holiday for hippy liberals and California Democrats. While there are indeed agendas that use Earth Day to hawk their anti-human worldview, I believe Earth Day is, at its heart, a very Christian concept.
“Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good,” says the first chapter of Genesis. A good God made a good earth. He filled it to bursting with good things. Around every corner and under every blade of grass we find a billion more things that proclaim the glory of its Creator to anyone who will listen. It is a good place for His creation to prosper in and to set a stage for the story of His grace shown to the fallen race of mankind. It is a good thing for God’s children to celebrate and be caretakers of God’s good earth.
I remember once as a teenager walking in the woods praying, annoyed at the sounds of motors and country music coming from properties close by. I thought to myself that in a perfect world the only thing that would be heard would be the sounds of nature: birds, insects, wind, and leaves. Then I realized I was mistaken. I remembered Tolkien’s Rivendell and Lothlorien, and silvery elven songs drifting through ancient trees. I remembered descriptions of heaven, where angels and saints sing without ceasing. I realized that in a perfect world, nature would only serve as an accompaniment to a greater theme: the songs of the happy subjects of the High King of heaven.
I understand the hesitancy of Christians to partake in Earth Day or to attempt to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle. But it is a shame that so many are convinced that simply because those who do not believe participate in something means that the Church should surrender it and have nothing more to do with it. Did God not make this earth? And is it not a good earth? Who better to come together in celebration over this good earth than the children of the One who created it?
We, humanity, are every bit a part of nature as that herald of the wild my wife and I had the privilege of listening to last night. We are appointed by the Creator to steward His world and care for it, not out of some devotion to Mother Earth, but because we love Him. To celebrate God’s grace found in creation and to learn how to better care for it is nothing less than appropriate.