Earth Day is coming and people of faith around the world already are preparing. Today, we’re reminded that this is truly a global spiritual concern.
Even the Quran calls humanity to reflect:
“It is God who spread out the Earth and firmly placed the mountains and rivers and created fruits of every kind, two by two. God causes the night to cover the day. Truly, there are signs in all of this for people who pause and reflect.” (Quran 13:3)
“Certainly, even greater than the creation of humanity is the creation of the heavens and the Earth — and yet most of humanity does not know this.” (Quran 40:57).
If you don’t know the face of the woman smiling at you today — study this face now.
This is the face of awe-inspiring perseverance and faith that humanity truly can preserve this world God has given to us. It’s Dr. Wangari Maathai of Kenya, the first African woman in the world to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
She founded the Greenbelt Movement, which inspired Kenyan women to plant more than 30 million trees — renewing the Earth but also providing shelter and fuel and habitat for the food needed to sustain healthy communities.
Click on the cover of her book, “Unbowed,” to jump to our bookstore to read more about her memoirs.
Today, another inspiring woman — Sister Mary McCann of the IHM Sisters — offers us an inspirational Earth Day challenge, based on the life and work of Dr. Maathai.
(Jump back to Monday’s story, if you missed it, for an introduction to Sister Mary McCann and the remarkable IHM Sisters.)
Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was asked why she thought her leadership in the planting of more than 30,000,000 trees since 1974 by indigenous women in her native Kenya had earned her the prestigious award for peace.
Her response was enlightening.
On a planet where the human population is exploding and natural resources are shrinking, violence and war are often about access and control of natural resources.
Normally, the poor and disenfranchised of the world are the losers; huge corporate interests and powerful nations are the winners. Her tree-planting activity not only reversed environmental degradation, it restored human dignity, created jobs, provided food for the poor. It had everything to do with enabling peace.
In Kenya, the rural indigenous population depends on the fruit of trees as a food source and on lumber for firewood. Corporate conglomerates cut down forests for lumber and wood-related products and to create space for agriculture and livestock grazing.
Maathai, a professional biologist, saw the horrible costs of deforestation: desertification of huge tracts of land; soil erosion; loss of diversity of species; muddied rivers rushing downstream taking the precious topsoil with them; hungry, malnourished rural families.
Her response was local, nongovernmental, inclusive of people and increasingly effective over time.
She overcame derision, opposition, and imprisonment by Kenyan officials. She created conditions whereby rural women — those most negatively impacted by deforestation and most disempowered in Kenyan society — could plant trees native to Kenya.
They continue to do so with great pride — restoring the forests and creating sustainable food and fuel sources for their families and future generations. Under Maathai’s leadership, poor women are restoring the earth in their homeland.
Maathai’s story is important because it is good news for the trees, for women, for the poor, for justice and peace — which, by the way, are manifestations of the vision and four principles of the Earth Charter (written long after Maathai began her work).
Her story also is important because it shows us the power of one woman acting locally, in the place she loved, for the trees and the people she loved, with the education she had, paying attention to the needs which presented themselves, and giving herself over to the need that was calling out to her.
Her story enlivens hope for all of us.
AND so ends, Sister Mary McCann’s reflection.
Visit the IHM site to learn more about these remarkable women.
Visit Dr. Maathai’s Greenbelt site to learn more about her work.
Click on the book cover above to learn more about her memoirs, which are not only deeply inspiring for individual readers — they’re also great for group discussion.
If you haven’t read the Earth Charter, check it out. The site also offers lots of other materials that may be helpful to you this week.
AND, DO NOT MISS TOMORROW’S DEBUT of our special Passover series. Passover begins at sundown Saturday — but, like our coverage of Earth Day, we’re starting early with our series of Passover stories, because now is the time that families are collecting thoughtful materials in preparation for Seder conversations.
Tomorrow, you’ll meet “The Adventure Rabbi” — a perfect transition from our Earth Day reflections into this ancient season of reflection on the spiritual power of liberation.
If you’re getting hooked on Sister Mary McCann’s pieces — we’ll provide more tomorrow about her inspiring reflections.
PLEASE, take a moment to tell us what you think. What are you doing for Earth Day? What will you be talking about, praying about — doing? And, as we enter our Passover series with tomorrow’s unusual story — tell us what you’re thinking. Click on the “Comment” link at the end of the online version of today’s story. Or, you can Email ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm directly.
OR, click on the “Digg” link below and add a very brief “digg” comment — even a phrase — to this story’s listing on Digg-It, which will tell even more folks worldwide that it’s worth reading: