Nature Heals the Broken Heart
by Patricia K. Tull
It has been a long year of returns falling short of efforts. I sometimes find myself wondering whether all that strategizing, advocating, teaching, and LED installing has helped to improve our environmental prognosis in any perceivable way. Just when we thought we were moving toward worldwide accord, our own nation’s government left its people, businesses, cities, states, and other nations to fulfill the Paris accords. In fact, my own state of Indiana, the one that burns more coal per capita than any other, has now upped the ante with new legislation discouraging rooftop solar. Evidence alone can’t keep us going, and it often doesn’t come when needed. But one thing can soothe the bruised environmental heart: love. More specifically, biophilia: love for nature and its processes, answered by gifts from life itself.
Once last summer I was taking a stretch break, tramping through a pasture under the heat. Everything was still. Then a scream six feet away shattered the air. A sapling shuddered and shook, and a wild turkey flew out, screeching as if I had shot it. Fluff balls that I at first took for mice, then realized were chicks, scurried into the weeds. The mother, still raging, fell to the path beyond me and did an unconvincing broken wing dance, obviously aiming to lure me away. Of course I did what she wanted, and regretted disturbing her family’s peace. But I also exulted in having made contact, in witnessing, for the first time, a big bird’s crazy bid to influence my behavior. I wondered if my own songs and dances, my own attempts to influence behaviors, are just as comically awkward.
Biophilia is fulfilled in smaller doses too, when we observe tree swallows dipping and diving, or swim out to snack on a branch of wild blackberries arching prettily from the pond bank, attend to the music of chirps and coos, or make a point of witnessing a rising moon or a newly fallen snow. Such gifts of serendipity make no demands and offer no disappointments. Instead, they come as grace, restoring balance to the hard work of environmental advocacy.
We aren’t often the ones to see our own results. So many times I’ve told stories, taught workshops, preached sermons, and handed out resources, only to believe I was simply heaping words upon distracted souls. But then I hear the pastors of two nearby congregations offering a roomful of listeners their own arguments for creation care and recognize that the message of earth care is indeed alive and well, and doesn’t depend on me.
Patricia Tull is A.B. Rhodes Professor Emerita of Hebrew Bible at Louisville Seminary, author of Inhabiting Eden: Christians, the Bible, and the Ecological Crisis, and recipient of the 2016 William Gibson Ecojustice Award.