Last Sunday I heard something in the text from Genesis t as if it was a new thing. It was that God called Adam to till and keep his garden. God called human kind to be in partnership with him caring for his creation. Our creation story tells us something important about who we are called to be and what we are called to do. We are called to be partners with God in caring for the earth and its creatures.
To be in partnership with God means having a relationship with God that goes well beyond the superficial affirmation tumbling with little thought from the mouths of many Christians. It means, to use the words of the collect for Thursday prayers, “...in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight...”
That’s a working relationship that may or may not have emotional content, but always has the certain knowledge that we are in partnership with and ever walking in God’s sight. I’m reminded of the shock that people expressed when Mother Teresa wrote that she had gone for years without the experience of God’s presence. She may not have had an emotional experience of God’s presence, but I believe that she was never in doubt about her partnership with God, or about knowing, without feeling, that she was always walking in God’s sight. In fact, I suspect that, as in any partnership, even one with God, there were more than a few arguments between them.
Partnerships exist to do something, not nothing. The something in partnership with God is to till and keep his creation. Tilling and keeping means attending to what creation needs for it to flourish now and in all that is yet to come, not for the sake of the caretaker, but for the sake of creation itself including the caretaker.
I thought of that each morning during our Maui sojourn as I watched a man tending the koi pond on the condo grounds. He kept it clean, monitored the water quality, tended the plants, and fed the koi. It was his livelihood, but he did it for the sake of the koi, the water, and the plants, not for the sake of the condo tenants, although they too benefitted. It’s a small example, and like any analogy it has its flaws, but I think you get the point.
On a larger scale, we are called to care for the earth and its creatures not for own sake alone, but for the flourishing of creation. We alone, among all of God’s earthly creatures, are able to make decisions about that. Like other creatures, we need to use creation for our own survival, but unlike other creatures, we also desire to flourish in imaginative ways that both use and abuse the rest of creation. We alone are able to evaluate our choices, assess advantages against disadvantages, and consider the effects of our decisions on future generations of our own kind and of all kinds.
If the original sin of Adam and Eve was to eat of the forbidden fruit, the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, our original sin has been to be dismissive of that knowledge, preferring that which gives advantage to our selfish short term wants regardless of their effects on the rest of God’s creation. Moreover, we tend to thoughtlessly forget that we have any partnership with God, or that we are ever walking in his sight. I am not referring to the generic we, but to the specific we of Christians here and now, of you and me.
It’s not something we need to beat ourselves up about. It’s just something we need to recognize, remembering that we are to delight in God’s will and walk in God’s ways. What are God’s will and ways? To be in partnership with God as we till and care for God’s creation. Pay attention. Keep it simple.