“Never, ever, throw anything in the water,” my father taught me when we were out fishing, pop bottles and sandwich wrappers all over the bottom of the little skiff. “Never, ever, throw cans out a car window,” my mother warned as I finished the last of an afternoon snack in the back seat. These other messages were the descant against which I lived my young life: Don’t ever hurt an animal. Don’t ever keep more fish than you can eat. Don’t ever use more of anything than you need. Don’t waste anything. Don’t ever dig up flower gardens. Don’t ever trample down small trees. Don’t ever hurt a baby bird.
Why? Because, that’s why. Because making a garbage heap out of the water and the woods, my property or nobody’s property, destroyed the beauty and goodness of creation. Because destroying another being just for the sake of destroying it took life in vain. Because creation was good and each part of it had its own purpose that’s why. Because we were to walk through life on tiptoe, as part of creation, not as predators with swollen bellies and bloated souls. We were to learn from animals and care for flowers, to have enough and never too much. We were meant to leave the world better than we found it. This was more than the kind of paltry stewardship that conserves so we can continue to be rapacious. This was a way of life that held more than humanity sacred. Those lessons ring in my heart until this day, more loudly than ever before.
God, the Creed insists, created the earth. The earth, like us, in other words, breathes the breath of God. The simplicity of the statement overwhelms. What is it that has been created by God that does not reflect the presence of God? What is it, created by God, that can cavalierly be destroyed without remorse, without awareness of the divine life within it? If God is really God, that is. The Upanishads teach:
As the web issues out of the spider
And is withdrawn, as plants sprout from the earth,
As hair grows from the body, even so,
The sages say, this universe springs from
The deathless Self, the source of life.
—from A Passion for Life by Joan Chittister