The Call of the Earth

Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd                                                           April 19, 2020

I Peter 1:3-9


It seems as if we are engaged in a struggle between nature and humanity. For the first time in a very long time, nature seems to be having the upper hand. Forest fires didn’t slow us down, nor tornados or hurricanes. We waded through floods and crackled though droughts, but we kept going. It has taken a microscopic virus, invisible to the human eye, to finally stop us in our tracks. In a matter of weeks, that seems like months, the whole world has come to a standstill. And in this long pause, the earth is finally beginning to breathe again. What we all thought impossible has happened. As invoked by her painting entitled Nature’s Music, Karla Weir writes, “Even when the whole world is asleep, the earth is vibrant and alive, singing its lullaby to us.” Yes, nature finally has the upper hand. But it is not gloating over its victory. Rather, it continues to nurture us, so that together, as creatures of this earth, we can all thrive.

What has allowed such a turn of will, bringing a magnitude of cooperation, the cessation of at least some armed conflict, and the sharing of resources? Fear has been the driving motivation—fear of catching a lethal virus. Usually fear paralyzes and holds us captive to protective, selfish measures—and some of this has happened. But this time, goodwill has outpaced self-preservation. Many who were dying are now joining the earth in beginning to breathe again. What I did not think possible is now happening.

I say this not to minimize the suffering or dismiss those who have died. There has been tremendous cost, especially to those who have little money and resources to sustain them. And that’s where our scripture reading can help us. This letter was written to those who were suffering tremendously. The author tries to comfort them in their suffering, as they remember Christ’s suffering. The letter then encourages them to hold fast in their faith of the risen Christ. They are urged in the midst of their suffering to shift their focus to what is of lasting importance. Their reward lies not only ahead of them, but is experienced in the present through an inexplicable joy as they are reborn into a living hope.

As an Easter people who are reborn into a living hope, where do we find joy today? My heart sings when I hear of acts of compassion and kindness. And I rejoice when spring rebirths the flora and fauna. I take hope when I see signs that humanity, as a whole, may be shifting its focus to what is of lasting importance. The Pope said that this pandemic is one of nature’s responses to humans ignoring the current ecological crisis. He added that the outbreak offers an opportunity to slow down the rate of production and consumption and learn to understand and contemplate the natural world. We must take care of the now for the sake of tomorrow.

Last week, I was surprised to learn that the World Health Organization estimates that 7 million people die annually due to the effects of pollution. Yet it took a virus with a much lower death toll to call our world to a shift in focus. Maybe the message is finally getting through. Our Prime Minister and the European Union are both saying that they will make a greater investment in green technology as part of new efforts to create jobs.

A shift in focus requires what Mark Nepo calls the quarter turn. He refers to Helen Luke’s autobiography in which she describes a dream of an old friend who had died and was asked on the other side to weave a tapestry of her life. Helen couldn’t make sense of it until she gave the cloth a quarter turn. She writes, “Immediately I saw a beautiful and coherent golden pattern…In wonder, the pattern had emerged, to be seen in all its beauty by those who could learn to make the quarter turn.”

Mark Nepo uses this analogy of the quarter turn to describe a paradigm shift in our lives. It often takes a crisis for these paradigm shifts and for Mark, it happened when he was diagnosed with cancer. When he was struggling with an impossible decision of continuing with more tests or surgically removing a cancerous tumour on his brain, he experienced an early winter storm, much like the tree apocalypse we experienced last fall. On October 4, 1987, he awoke to snapped trees and branches lying beneath the heavy snow because they had not yet let go of their leaves. In that moment, he made a quarter turn. He needed to stop maneuvering his way through his cancer and let go.

Mark then refers to Phenomenon, a 1996 movie in which a gardener is frustrated by a rabbit eating its way through his garden. He builds stronger and deeper fences around the garden but nothing works. Finally one night, he simply opened the garden gate and sat on his porch to watch. Sure enough, he soon saw the rabbit leave his yard—the rabbit was wanting out, not in! The gardener had to make a quarter turn in his thinking before he found the answer. Mark Nepo concludes his article by writing that we need

to stay open to the view from all of life’s positions. When we fall down, we must see from there. When lifted beyond our hopes, we must see from there. And when we fall down again, we must not forget the view of the lift. And when we are lifted again, we must not forget the view of the fallen. No one view is complete or permanent.[1]

These challenging days are teaching us what is of lasting importance and how the health of our earth is intimately connected with our own health. We are making quarter turns of ahas from our new chesterfield vistas as we negotiate through unknown territory. For the sake of earth and all its creatures, including us, let’s not forget these quarter turn shifts in focus, for they are teaching us how to be reborn into a living hope for all of God’s creation.


[1] Mark Nepo, “The Quarter Turn,” Spirituality and Health (January/February 2020: 50-51)