It is a very good thing to celebrate Earth Day. Any time people are encouraged to spend time outdoors is an opportunity for breathing and healing. Being outdoors can be a mystical experience, quite beyond a “task oriented” proposition. Earth Day then, need not be a call to action, for example, environmental clean-up. Earth Day is an invitation to community – the earth community – and community is an invitation for joy. Earth Day is about falling in love, or falling in love again.
This does not mean that the specific celebration of the Earth – this year on April 22nd – is not without its limitations and its challenges.
Earth Day, now closing in on its 50th birthday, is considered the largest secular observation in the world. But to call the celebration secular is to dismiss what lies at the very ground of the Earth Day observance; the earth is sacred, period, and any celebration of the earth is a sacred observance. To love, and to fall in love . . . this is what makes this celebration sacred. To fall in love with the land, and the waters, the air, and all creatures, rocks, trees, and even the tomatoes you dream of setting in the ground in a few weeks (if you live in northern New England), is to know the world as sacred. No sacred observance requires a god to render it sacred; sacred is the reality.
The downside of the Earth Day observance held just one time per year runs the risk of letting people off the hook. This is not unlike wearing an “I voted” sticker when leaving our polling places, and believing that our civic responsibility for the year has been met. In the same way that we vote every day simply by the decisions we make, Earth Day must be every day. Each of us needs to be engaging Earth on a daily basis and in a non-exploitative way; with that daily consciousness comes the possibility of a both/and adventure – both quiet and activism. A walk in the woods, picking up plastic trash, planting something new, or simply sitting outdoors, listening in gratitude, sensing the breeze as it ruffles hair and kisses cheeks. Earth Day is every day.
There is often pressure on Earth Day to “fix things”, an observance designed in such a way that humans can do something specific on one specific day, under the guise of caretaking or stewardship. This can be a problem. The concept of caretaking is a human-centered concept, and disavows the life sciences – including such as ecology, biology, and astrophysics – sciences that remind us of our interconnectedness with the earth community, and our interdependence with every life form, not in a “care-over” – translate “power-over”– way, but in a way that serves for health in a systemic way, and recognizes a servant role of humans.
I use the word “systemic” to remind each of us that the planet is far more than the environment around us humans. A more complete understanding includes what one writer calls “the whole enterprise.” And, on the “every-day-is-earth-day spectrum we humans are not only about the business of cleaning up. If we could come into right relation with the whole of creation, the cleaning up would begin to take care of itself.
Coming into right relation is about love. When Wendell Berry accepted the National Endowment for the Humanities Award a few years ago, his talk was entitled, It All Hangs on Affection. The Earth Day invitation is to fall in love, to fall in love again.
Only when we understand Earth (Gaia) as a self-regulating system with the capacity to heal, will we understand that it is not our advanced technology that will turn this devastation around; it will be the transformation of self-interest, power-over, greed, and privilege, to become a part of, and not above and set apart from, all creation.
It will be about falling in love. The Earth Day invitation is to fall in love, again and again.