The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
What We've Got
A local non-profit agency has a prominently displayed sign: "It is true that we do not fully appreciate what we have until it is not there. Toilet paper, for example."
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In the United States, the Thanksgiving holiday is fast approaching. For all of us -- anywhere, and anytime -- gratitude and appreciation are essential elements of a solid and sustaining spirituality. In our hyper-commercialized world, where advertising constantly stirs up dissatisfaction, we need to be very intentional about nurturing an attitude of gratitude.
I won't belabor the consumerism point, but ... as many commentators have observed, the creep of "Black Friday" shopping into Thanksgiving Day itself is a troubling trend. This morning's Denver Post had a self-promoting announcement that did not fill me with joy:
We'll be STUFFED this Thanksgiving. 6 DAYS until the BIGGEST Newspaper of the year! Packed with holiday savings, inserts, coupons and fantastic store sales!From my faith perspective, a two inch thick newspaper filled with ads does not seem like a good way to start a day of appreciation. In the face of an advertising onslaught, a spirit of gratitude takes work.
I must confess, though, that I cannot put all of the blame for my shaky spirituality on consumer culture. My job immerses me in bad news of environmental problems and difficult struggles for justice. My family and friends would probably confirm that my mood tends more toward "somber" than "celebrative." An ongoing sense of crisis does not inspire gratitude, either.
So, a week out from Thanksgiving, let me offer an invitation to a spiritual discipline that may be helpful.
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Joni Mitchell wrote the song "Big Yellow Taxi" in 1970. She wasn't referring to toilet paper with the refrain, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."
The opening lines of the song are: "They paved paradise put up a parking lot." She explained:
I wrote 'Big Yellow Taxi' on my first trip to Hawaii. I took a taxi to the hotel and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart ... this blight on paradise. That's when I sat down and wrote the song.
When you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, then the discovery of loss kicks us into grief and anger. So let me suggest that we can deepen gratitude by discovering what we've got before it is gone, and then helping to ensure that it is never gone.
I'm not thinking about the tragic and exhausting situations of on-the-edge-of-gone, like the northern white rhinoceros, a species with only two breeding males left. Gratitude comes when we discover something beautiful and precious that we hadn't known, that is alive and vital, and that engages us in a relationship of delight, wonder and care.
An article (not yet on-line) in the most recent High Country News -- an excellent publication "for people who care about the West" for which I'm grateful! -- profiles a Montana man who is doing innovative work on "biomimicry" to enhance wetlands. Natural wetlands act as landscape sponges, filtering sediment, nutrients and waste from rainwater and snowmelt. They are a lively habitat for all kinds of life, one of the world's most productive eco-systems. His company engineers floating wetlands that restore these vital services for impaired waterways.
I find gratitude when I re-discover the wonders of wetlands as essential parts of a thriving Earth, and when I learn of people doing careful work to protect and restore these natural systems. I'm inspired to skip the mall, and take my binoculars to a nearby wetland for an hour of nature study and relaxation.
Tim Lydon, in a Thanksgiving season Writers on the Range column, lifts up gratitude for protected wilderness areas in this 50th anniversary year of the US Wilderness Act. As many of us know -- from personal experience, or from beautiful photos -- the 109-million-acre wilderness system is a blessing to humans and to the ecosystems that are preserved. Lyndon writes, "But while giving thanks, we should also acknowledge that our wilderness system is still a work in progress. Many good wilderness proposals are stalled in Congress, and as climate change ramps up, we need to encourage ideas that increase connectivity between wild places."
My gratitude is renewed when I recall the days and weeks I have spent in permanently protected wilderness areas -- a treasure that "we've got" and that isn't going away. And that gratitude leads me toward education and advocacy, acts of caring for wild lands. Genuine thanksgiving leads to engagement.
Wetlands and wilderness are two themes that enhance my sense of thanksgiving this week. I invite you to be attentive in the coming days to vibrant treasures of God's creation that are new to you, or that you might re-discover.
Consider a place, a species, a natural system, especially one that is close to your home or close to your heart -- but that you have not thought about much recently. This week, find a treasure that is not at great risk, and take some time to grow in awareness and understanding.
As with Joni Mitchell's lament, there are far too many treasures that are gone, or profoundly threatened. We mustn't forget those. But our work of caring for creation also needs to be inspired by joy and gratitude. Remember what we've got, right now, that is beautiful, life-filled and life-giving.
This Thanksgiving, be moved to thanks with things that don't come from a store, that are ongoing blessings within God's wondrous creation.
NOTE: As is our tradition, the entire staff of Eco-Justice Ministries will be taking the Thanksgiving weekend off. The next Eco-Justice Notes will be sent out on December 5.
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Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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