The woods of my childhood were the cathedrals of my youth. I spent countless hours in the patch of woods near my house climbing trees, building forts, living a secret life of adventure away from grown-up eyes. This was my hide-out from mean kids, my sanctuary from a chaotic home life, and the sacred space where my friends and I would meet for days of unstructured, imaginative play.
Then one day the bulldozers appeared. Yellow tape cordoned off the trees silently awaiting their execution. My friends and I watched in horror as the wooden sentries of our youth were ripped up from their roots. In less than a day our childhood had been razed to a flat, brown expanse.
As a young person, I mourned these nature-losses in isolation. Adults’ total disregard for the “feelings” of the trees and animals had caused me much pain and sobbing sadness as a naïve child. I instinctively felt an intimate connection between the natural sacred places and my own small self, a connection that felt deeply violated whenever I helplessly witnessed the destruction of these wild landscapes. I was angered and frustrated to tears that I could do nothing to anticipate or speak out against the planned decimation of my favorite wooded places, much less prevent their deaths.
When I would try to talk to the adults in my life about my concerns, it was gently explained to me that the needs of those who owned the land superseded the needs of the land itself, not to mention the needs of a little tomboy seeking solace. No argument I could make for the “rights” of the land and its nonhuman occupants withstood the argument which ended all discussion: money. End of conversation.
Coinciding with this arc of strengthening ecological awareness was another arc intersecting and intertwining along the way. It was the arc of my theological awareness and sense of call to ministry. After becoming an ordained minister I found ways to integrate my Earth-concerns with my ministry through preaching, teaching adults, youth and Confirmation students, and through my initiation and implementation of an Eco-ministry committee within the church. It was a natural move, then, to formally join these two arcs into one as I began doctoral studies at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.
I am convinced that it is now time for the speechless little girl standing at the edge of the forest facing the bulldozers to speak, indeed, to preach, to offer her voice to speak for and with the trees, the wildlife, and Earth herself. And more, to educate others in the art of conversing with the natural world and engaging in theological reflection within that context, so that a Word may be preached which proclaims God’s liberation for human and non-human alike. It is with this conviction - that preaching can help give new life to God’s Earth, and that God’s Earth can give new life to preaching, that I undertake my work.
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