It was Labor Day weekend. As a high school English teacher, I had a long to-do list before the start of the school year. But when couple of girlfriends invited me camping, I knew the list could wait: It would get done, because it always somehow got done. What I needed was time under a purple canopy of stars – a bite or two of soul “food” that only time in creation could provide.
Illustration by Adam Cruft
The four of us drove north from Santa Cruz toward the Tahoe National Forest: We followed Highway 17 to the 880, then onto Interstate 80. The cityscapes gradually turned into towering pines, the air thinning in our lungs. Then, just when we started to wonder if we really were in the middle of nowhere, we saw mile marker 18, the sign pointing towards Bowman Lake Road. After some bumpy terrain and unnerving potholes, we found ourselves setting up camp on cascading sheets of gray rock while the wind whipped over jutting edges, down into the cold mountain waters of the reservoir below. The memory alone is enough to make my back ache now, but the rest of me will never forget how divine our food tasted on that gray rock table, how the sapphire water kissed the horizon of trees.
Bowman Lake is a place I’ve returned to over the years. It’s a place where I always seem to meet God.
Many people experience a closeness to the Spirit with a Bible, pen, and journal at their side—but not all of us are wired to meet God in the same way. Some of us meet Him through music; others, through study. For me, it has always been while spending time outside—whether I’m hiking through the woods with my dog, camping for a weekend, or gardening in my backyard, I feel most alive, connected, and in tune with God when I step into nature.
Being wired this way, I cannot read Scripture without seeing imprints of creation and, subsequently, creation care. Just as “the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world, and those who live in it” (Ps. 24:1), we humans are commanded to care for God’s creation (Gen. 2:15). While many Christians have certainly embraced caring for the earth, a large number fail to make it a priority or part of their faith.
Raised in Oregon, I was taught to be mindful of the environment through everyday conversations at work, at school, and in our neighborhoods. All those people who appreciated the earth made creation care a part of our Christian community. We recycled on Sunday mornings and traipsed into the woods on Saturday afternoons; we biked together, and together we discussed how we might care for the place we called home. Being mindful of our environment was simply part of our identity as Christians and as Pacific Northwesterners.
But not everyone connects with God outdoors, and fewer have been taught that being a steward of the earth is an important aspect of following Jesus. Where do we start if creation care hasn’t been part of our ethos?
Theologian Walter Brueggemann answers this question with a passage from Isaiah 11: “A shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11:1-2). In this prophetic verse, the family of Jesse had become like a stump, “hopeless, sawed off, failed, disposed of, and without prospect for the future.” The image of a shoot growing from a stump must have been utterly shocking to them. After all, sprouts are new and unexpected; they represent new life and growth. But God called this supposedly hopeless family to, as Brueggemann says, “reemerge into the future to make a difference in this belated, lamented city.”
Maybe we start by reframing the question: Regardless of where you’ve come from or what your habits are now, what would it look like to embrace caring for the earth? Regardless of how much you connect with God in nature or how little you enjoy the outdoors, what can you do to help protect this gift entrusted to us? It could be as simple as starting a conversation after church this Sunday. You never know where it might lead—maybe even to sleeping on a granite slab for a long weekend, the wind blowing through the canyon like the life-giving breath of God.