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1When the Lord brought back those who returned to Zion, we were like those who dream.
2Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
3The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
4Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
6Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
Lent is supposed to be a time of mourning. It is a time of tears, as Christians confess personal sins and, just as importantly, our participation in systemic evil. Just like the people of Israel who had been carried away to Babylon, we recognize our bondage to the evil systems which rule over us. Environmentally speaking, this means we must confess our captivity to consumerism; we are in bondage to the burning of fossil fuels for transportation, to the use of non-biodegradable plastics on almost everything we buy, to the purchasing of food produced with pesticides, etc., just as surely as the Israelites lived in bondage to Babylon. We can no more exit our self- and environmentally-destructive economic system than Israelites like Daniel could have stopped serving the governmental system which held them captive.
The reality of our captivity seems pretty obvious to us, at least if we’ve spent much time thinking about it. What might be less obvious to us Christians is that we are also in exile from the land of God’s promise. We are not exiled from a specific geographic location, but, what is perhaps worse, we are exiled from creation itself. Think about your typical day. For those of us with cars, we do most of our traveling in air-conditioned vehicles. When we arrive at our destinations, we enter air-conditioned buildings, often with few windows. Even for people who walk, our cities have become vast concrete deserts. There might be sparse ornamental vegetation, in nicer areas, but in many places cockroaches and a few weeds are the only creatures that can survive there, save the rats. Just as the people of God were exiled from Israel, from the land which told them of God’s loving faithfulness, now we are exiled from creation itself.
But if we are in exile from creation and bondage to an environmentally destructive economic system, what hope do we have? What can we possibly do about our predicament? No doubt some action is appropriate; even in these barren circumstances we must sew some kind of seed for the sake our own survival. But perhaps the first action we must take is to mourn our desperate situation and to admit that we are profoundly in need of God’s salvation. We must weep out our need for God’s help, asking God to “restore our fortunes” These tears accompany our efforts; they water dry ground as we re-plant prairies with native grasses or as we establish urban gardens in degraded soil. We remember that God has saved us from captivity and exile before. It is not out of despair but out of hope that we mourn; our hope is that
“those who sow in tears [may] reap with shouts of joy, [and] those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”
We are nearly overwhelmed by the condition we find ourselves in, exiled from the beauty of your creation and captive to a way of life that is destroying the earth. In our privileged position, it’s easy to turn our backs on this truth. It’s easy to buy one more shirt, to watch more tv, to eat or drink too much, or to participate in any one of a thousand means our culture offers us to avert our attention from this dreadful, threatening reality. Help us not succumb to these temptations; deliver us from evil. Help us face our world’s environmental crisis and respond as you surely must respond; help us to mourn, for love for you demands suffering with your suffering loved one, the creation. But we ask for more than this. Make our tears worth something by using them to “restore our fortunes”, to “bring us back from captivity”. Then, with the children of Israel, we will proclaim “the Lord has done great things for us”. As you have delivered us before, let your children once more be filled with joy.
1. Familiarize yourself with the environmental health of your locality. What’s the air quality like? How clean is the water? What are the endangered species in your area? A few websites that might be helpful include:
2. Plant something. In rainy springtime, planting is itself an act of profound faith. One never knows what frost may come or if the ground will even be able to sustain life. But farmers, and most of us unwitting consumers, depend on the fact that some of those seeds will grow into the food we need.
3. Spend some time in a place where environmental restoration has happened. It is hard to pray in remembrance of deliverance, as this Psalm does, if one has never experienced it. Urban community gardens are especially hopeful examples.