Feasting on God’s Gifts; Fasting in Sorrow A Lenten Devotional by Presbyterians for Earth Care 2012
The Passion Narratives of the Gospels; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
The life of trees is one way of understanding the Good Friday story. Recently, while cross country skiing among tall trees in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state I saw in the faces of on-coming skiers and in the wind driven waving of the trees the joy of enjoying the out of-doors. But I didn’t smile back, for I was pondering a book I had just read (i.e. Chris
Hedges’ Empire of Illusion), and if anything, I was frowning. But the smiles and waving trees made me think, “The trees have no worries.” So I began to focus on the waving trees and the smiling skiers and before long I was simply enjoying and smiling back.
“The trees have no worries.” Well, maybe they should. But, assuming they have no consciousness like our own, they simply live out their own genetic code and respond to the health of the soil, weather, animal life, and water that feed them. The most romantic picture is of trees that have a life course within a great forest that performs valuable ecological services, absorbing the carbon dioxide from human uses, and releasing fresh oxygen into the atmosphere. Trees, we are told, are the lungs of the earth.
Yet, there are other scenarios for trees. Land needs to be cleared for agriculture and trees are often sacrificed in this process. Trees are felled so that we might have fires around which to tell our stories, to keep us warm, and to cook our food. They may be sacrificed so that we have wood products to build our homes and offices, or to have paper. They may even be cut down to be weapons or in the case of Jesus cross, an instrument of repressive terror used by a great empire.
Jesus died on the beams of a tree that had been cut down and used by an empire to hold on to its power through violence and exploitation. He was non-violent. He challenged the distorted human mission that gave rise to empire. His death demonstrated human limit, and the limit of such empires.
In Lent the limits of creation are brought into stark relief. Especially on Good Friday we see the finiteness and vulnerability of life. And, we see how the quest for human power and glory often plays out in the exploitation of nature and people. That exploitation has ironically led to freedom of the most well off among us to enjoy the out of doors, to celebrate, to enjoy our simple oneness with the earth. Good Friday is a time to fast and ponder.
So before we celebrate what is to come in hope, it is a time to fast and frown.
There is a time to frown, and a time to smile, a time for serious concern, and a time for simple enjoyment. May we know on this Easter weekend both a frown and a smile, beginning with our serious reflection on Good Friday.
John Preston is the author of Wrestling Until the Dawn: The fight for biblical justice in a postmodern world, and is currently active in organizing his township's effort to ban hydro-fracking in upstate New York. He has been the PEC's northeast representative to the steering committee for the past almost six years.