We are restoring all that is broken. Seeking health, holy, hale, whole, wholeness.
Reflections written by Kuki Rokhum and Jon Owen.
By Kuki Rokhum
I was wearing a mask even before COVID-19, because of the pollution.
Here in Delhi, every year, at this time of year especially, we have terrible pollution. You can’t even see outside sometimes.
But at the beginning of COVID, the world stopped everything: the crazy mad human activity came to a standstill. And because human activity stopped to a great extent, the earth rested; the air became cleaner. And so, here in Delhi: clear skies, beautiful birds, green trees – and I'm seeing birds that I've never ever seen before in my life – a purple sunbird sitting on a branch and then the grey Indian hornbill is sitting on another branch as well. We don't see that regularly, but we saw all of that during the lockdown. Creation was like: “Whof … finally, we can breath.” In some ways COVID was like an enforced jubilee, in which people had no choice but to stop activity and to be generous. I thought, this is jubilee, and perhaps it is possible. Perhaps it is possible.
Why does God care so much for the earth – you know, for the dirt – that he said: “Let it lie fallow, it should rest”? Human beings need rest, and God resting on the seventh day has given the model we need to follow. But why did God say that the earth needs to rest as well? We cannot just keep taking from the earth without giving back to it. Otherwise, we will squeeze it of all its richness and goodness.
As people start to look for and work towards a “new normal”, my biggest question is: what is normal? Pre-COVID times normal? I don't think so.
In creation, I think God made everything in a perfect balance; in a perfect cycle. But as human beings, we have disrupted that balance: we have tilled the soil – so much so that all the goodness that is in it has been stripped away. The jubilee teaching (Leviticus 25) is a wonderful reminder by God that not only should there be an economic balance between those who have and who have not, and that opportunity to redeem, to become a little bit more equal – but an opportunity for the earth to rest as well.
As people start to look for and work towards a “new normal”, my biggest question is: what is normal? Pre-COVID times normal? I don't think so. You look at the number of species that have gone extinct. The forests that have been decimated: is that the normal that we are going to go back to? I don't think so. We need to go back to a normal that God would approve of, where not only human beings, but the whole of creation flourishes. And that is so important, because human beings cannot flourish or thrive without the rest of creation.
At EFICOR, the relief and development organisation I am part of, we've done a lot of creation care workshops, challenging people and saying: “This is very much part of what God wants us to do. He created it. He has given us a mandate, as human beings: a mandate of stewardship, of preparing for creation.” And sometimes it's very difficult to say, “Okay, what steps do I take?”
One of the areas that we've been able to challenge people on is waste. You know, waste is something that was never there in the beginning when God created everything – and human beings have an amazing capacity of creating waste: waste that will live on and on and on and on and on, even after we are dead and gone.
Consuming less is one way that every one of us can give the earth a rest. People can think “I don't have farmland to lie fallow for a year or whatever, I live in an apartment, I keep plants in pots, is that okay? What do I let rest?” But we are choking the earth with our waste as well. Use less: that is how you can give the earth a rest, because our consumption habits are forcing the earth to try to produce that.
Disasters are increasing. Is it becoming hotter? Yes, it's becoming hotter. Are the monsoons more erratic? Yes, it's ever-more erratic. You ask everybody from a farmer in the village, to a person who works in a job in the city, and who sits in your training: everybody will tell you that things have changed. You'll be doing a workshop, where we say “between your childhood and now, what is the difference?”. And usually everybody agrees that there's a huge difference: things have happened, and these are not good things. And so, when you do that, you open people's minds. I've been encouraged by people being so open to it, saying: “Yeah, things have changed, and we need to do something about it.”
What we have seen through these COVID times is that we are really a global community: what affects part of the global community is able to affect all parts. And what I do, and what I do not do, makes a big difference in the lives of other people, not just around me, but globally as well. That impact can be negative – it is possible to spread disease; it is possible to spread hatred; it is possible for negativity to flow globally. But this also means that the message of hope – the message of the goodness of God, the message of what is possible – can also spread and affect and infect lives. As Christians, I think we shouldn't just relax, hoping for God to come soon. As people of the kingdom of God we need to act – we need to do whatever we can. The Good News of the Kingdom of God can spread and can make a difference. So, let's not just sit back, but let's do our part, whatever little it is. Because that will make a difference.
By Jon Owen
Jon Owen has a unique view of how restoring and healing connection to the earth can be. Here he shares his reflections from the Wayside Chapel in inner city Sydney:
This past year has presented us with a real challenge in connecting with God, ourselves, others and nature. Restrictions have been placed on us, limiting our opportunities for face-to-face connection with others, our ability to explore nature and even to leave our houses at all.
One of the images that came to me as I was reflecting on this is the image of a tree. I’ve just read a beautiful book, Reforesting Faith by Matthew Sleeth, who points out that the Bible begins with a tree and ends with a tree. Trees represent knowledge, love, life and healing for all nations. Every major character in the Bible is associated with a tree. Jesus said: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (John 15:1). And the Psalms encourage us to be like “a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3). God calls us to be good stewards of creation. So how can we get rerooted with and through nature?
We live our lives in busy, built up cities, and spend the majority of our time inside. We need to get outside, escape from the cities, look up at the stars and reconnect. There’s nothing better than getting out in nature, to be with friends, but also to spend some time in silence. It helps us get out of our heads. It gets us out of thinking purely about ourselves and our own concerns. These are the things that we begin to obsess over.
At Wayside Chapel, we have a little oasis of trees and nature, three floors above the chaos of the urban jungle. Our 200 square metre community garden is filled with over 50 varieties of organic fruit, herbs and vegetables. There are rainwater tanks, solar panels, worm farms, a compost system and beehives. In this community space, people who are facing disadvantage can work together with local residents, sharing skills and supporting each other to nurture a vast array of plants.
So many of our people, sleeping on the streets and living on concrete, are disconnected from the earth. We see that there is a real healing and spiritual moment that occurs when they place their hands in the soil.
Here in this community garden, we encourage people to develop a relationship with nature, with a tree. That is a very healing thing. It’s a very grounding thing as well, as we realise that this is where we have come from and this is where we will return. We see that the journey of connection is one of depth.
When was the last time you dipped your toes in the soil? Doing this helps ground us, reconnect us and reorientate us. We say around here at the Wayside Chapel, particularly for those who are sleeping rough, that putting your hands in the soil is the equivalent value of 10 sessions with a psychiatrist.
Go and put your hands in the soil. Go and hug a tree. It’s the most spiritual thing you can do to connect yourself with God. Let's get out into nature. Let's marvel at God's work. Let's take in God’s creativity. Let's be in awe of the beauty in this beloved world. Let's connect with the creator through his creation.
We long for a new normal. A new and better normal, where all creation flourishes. Where the skies are clear, the rivers flow cleanly and the birds of the air can be seen again.
We confess that we have constantly fallen short of our own hopes and dreams in stewarding what you have entrusted to us.
Forgive in us what has gone wrong. Restore in us what is wasted. Reveal in us what is good. Turn us back to you, and your ways and nourish us with better food than we could ever buy.
As Kuki Rokhum reminds us ‘Waste wasn’t part of God’s plan’. Yet we know that plastic pollution scars landscapes, fills our oceans and harms the health of the world’s poorest people. This week’s Reset Faith practice considers how we live with less waste as we seek to be better stewards of God’s creation.
Ideas for Small Groups and sharing the Reset Faith journey with others.
Transformation happens in community. Share the Reset Faith journey with friends, your small group, your tribe. Share a meal, speak honestly, pray together. Be changed together.
Kuki Rokhum is the Director for Training and Mobilisation with EFICOR, one of Tearfund Australia’s long-standing partners in India. Kuki has worked with EFICOR since 2002.
Jon Owen is Pastor and CEO of Wayside Chapel in Sydney.