All Souls Kansas City

April 26: “Earth Day, Past and Future” with Rev. Kendyl Gibbons

Click here to start at the sermon.

Click here to start at the sermon.

Burn some plants your ancestors burned when there was fear in the air.
Those of us who have forgotten the tradition of making amulets
Turn to hoarding hand sanitizer and masks. We look for someone to blame.

Late in his life, the 19th century Unitarian philosopher, Henry David Thoreau –
he of Walden Pond fame —
took on the argument about spontaneous generation.
The idea, as far back as Aristotle, held that certain life forms
could arise without parents of the same species.
Certain plants could arise from dust or soil; maggots could be produced by rotting flesh. This theory arose because these life forms came into being
without observers being able to identify any kind of precursor seeds or eggs.
Today, we know that it takes a fly only the briefest second to leave eggs in any meat,
and that some plants produce seeds so tiny — invisible, in fact, to the naked eye –
that they have a special name; we call them spores.
Mosses and mushrooms are good examples of these kinds of plants.
In those days 200 years ago now, scientists like Louis Pasteur
were just beginning to do the kind of careful experiments
that would prove spontaneous generation false,
but the theory had been around for 2,000 years, so it was an uphill struggle.

Thoreau, for his part, was not a lab scientist, but he was a keen observer of nature,
who thought that the world operated according to logical laws.
He wrote, “Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up
where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed.
Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”
Things have causes, he says, and causes have consequences.
The universe is not arbitrary.
We are right to expect wonders wherever we know a seed has fallen.
Wonders — or terrors.
Another word for seed, or egg, is germ. And that too is a cause that has consequences.

It is perhaps totally appropriate that we are observing a pandemic quarantine
on this 50th anniversary of the celebration of Earth Day.
The more interconnected we become, globally,
the more we are affected by everything that happens in every corner of our blue planet. The interdependent web of all existence for which we as UUs proclaim our respect,
unites us with the distresses and diseases of all the world;
there are no people so far away that what hurts them leaves us unscathed.
There is no form of special exemption in our theology;
we are all vulnerable together as human beings,
and the laws of nature make no exceptions for particular faiths.

There was a time when we did not understand the nature of germs, and seeds.
A time when people thought that plants came up out of nothing;
that there could be an epidemic ‘somewhere else’, that would not affect us, here.
There was a time when we thought the earth itself was invulnerable, too.
That we human beings could do whatever we want, take whatever we want,
destroy or spoil whatever we want, and nothing really bad would happen.
Consequences without causes, and causes without consequences.

In 1962, eight years before the first celebration of Earth Day,
Thoreau gained a contemporary counterpart,
when a woman named Rachel Carson published a book entitled Silent Spring.
Though far from the first scientist to be concerned about the long term results
of American agriculture’s increasing dependence
on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and weed control,
Carson popularized the notion of an ecological impact sequence
that could result in mass extinctions, taking song birds as a case in point.
Hence the ‘silent spring’ envisioned in her title.
Thoreau had argued that the earth contained no consequences without prior causes;
Carson proposed to the cultural imagination that there were no causes
that did not bring consequences upon the earth.
Within less than a decade,
an international holiday would be established to call attention to this reality,
and urge greater intention and care to the impact of people’s actions on the planet.

Each one of us is the living consequence of a long chain of causes;
the desires and aspirations, the wisdoms and follies of our ancestors.
Each one of us is here because of what the generations who came before us
learned and achieved — the famines and plagues they survived,
the cures they discovered, the machines they invented, the lands they loved,
the communities they cared for that cared for them, the knowledge they gained,
the justice they sought, the hope they kept alive during the hardest times.
We also inherit all that they failed to honor and preserve;
the ancient wisdom that they lost, the greed they embraced,
the destruction they wrought and the harm they caused.

Today it is our turn to decide what kind of stewards our generations will be to the earth.
We understand now, as no generation before the present could have,
the damage that we are capable of doing.
In 1972, two years after the first Earth Day celebration,
the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft sent back the first photograph
taken of the Earth from outer space.
In that ten years, between the publication of Silent Spring,
the inauguration of Earth Day observances,
and the distribution of that first breath-taking image of our planet,
the collective consciousness of the human race changed.
We know a thing about who we are, and how vulnerable all of us are,
and the Earth itself is, that our forebears could not have known.
In case we are trying to forget, half a century later, the coronavirus is an urgent reminder. We are all connected, people and planet.
There is nothing that happens without an egg, or a seed, or a germ — a cause.
And there is nothing we do that does not have its consequence to this world,
people and planet both.

50 years ago, our friend Jan Grebe was teaching Environmental Studies at Avila University. She and some of her colleagues offered a full, day-long series of films, seminars,
and other events in observance of that first Earth Day,
concluding with the reading of
a Covenant and Celebration for A Small but Important Planet, by Harold Gillam. It is remarkable how resonant these images and aspirations remain
to this very day.

By this time, your plant-it planet earth should have been soaking for about half an hour or so. Now you can take it out of the water, and place it in your container of soil.
If you place that container where it can get some sunlight, and keep it moist every day for a couple of weeks, it should start to germinate.
This is the one I started about 15 days ago.
Sprinkle a thin layer of soil on top of the paper, to help the sprouts take root.
When your seedlings start to put out their third or fourth sets of leaves, you can separate them from each other, and plant them in your yard, or a bigger pot, and see what kind of wildflower they become.
When your planet is safely in the soil, let’s speak together the final words of Harold Gilliam’s first Earth Day poem
Now we will join together to conclude the poem with the words on your screen::
For all these we give thanks –
For the turning planet,
For the flowing waters,
For the moving air,
For all plants and trees,
For all creatures that move upon the land,
Through the waters and the air.
We celebrate the nourishing earth:
Our home, and the abode of our children forever.

And now, let’s lift our voices together in our closing hymn.

Covenant and Celebration for a Small but Important Planet by Harold Gilliam

Today we celebrate the earth.
We celebrate the seas that gave birth to life.

We celebrate the green plants that gave us breath.

We celebrate the waters that flow upon the land
And the air that envelopes the planet.

We celebrate the ocean, fount of all life.

We celebrate the microscopic diatoms
That float in the green waters
And create life-giving oxygen.

We celebrate the great whales as they rise and sound
In their hemispheric migrations,
And shoals of salmon that cruise the far seas
And come home again for the act of procreation
In the streams of their birth.

We celebrate the ground swells that rise into ridges,
Curve concavely into white churning thunder,
Bursting on the headlands, spreading on the beaches.

We celebrate the bays and estuaries and marshes
Where the waters of the land meet those of the sea,
Where life emerged into the sun
And made its first halting advance on the shore.

We celebrate the great storms
Born of the impact of warm and cool air masses
Far out on the moving ocean
Lashing to coasts with rain
Washing the cities, making fertile the valleys,
Whitening the mountain slopes
And the high granite ridges.

We celebrate the seasons
We shall observe the vernal and autumnal equinoxes
We shall hold high festival at the winter solstice
When the sun begins its long return northward
At the summer solstice, when the sun is at climax
The days are long and bright
And the currents of life are at the flood.

We celebrate the sunrise
And the dew of morning on the grass.

We celebrate the coming of night
And the rising of the constellations.

We celebrate the grassy prairies and the dry plains
And deserts where life is thin
And the ribs of the earth show through.

We celebrate the migration of the flocks,
And the rhythms that send them down the continents
From artic to tropics and back again with the sun.

We celebrate trees
Each wind-sculptured cypress of the ocean shore
Each redwood of the ferny coastal canyons
Each laurel and oak and shining-leaved eucalyptus,
Each maple and aspen and high-pointed fir.

We celebrate the rich valleys
Where grapevines grow in furrowed fields
And peaches ripen to sweetness in the summer sun.

We celebrate the bending grasses and the grains,
The chaparral on the hillsides,
The acrid odors of sage and manzanita,
The ferns of damp canyons
And mesquite of inland deserts.

We celebrate the poetry of the earth.
We see perfection
In the parabolic flight of a single white egret
In the flock of a million shearwaters
Skimming the offshore waves,
In the trajectory of a mountain waterfall,
In the symmetry of an oak leaf.

We celebrate the soil, its millions of living organisms,
Its microbes and minerals,
Its fungi and worms and bacteria
That nourish the living plants
Providing food for animals and people.

We pledge ourselves to the defense of the earth
Of its air, of its waters,
Of the life that moves upon it,

We shall defend it from the assaults of machinery
From the noxious gasses, the toxic wastes,
The subtle poisons…
From ourselves.

We shall come to the earth
Not with devices of destruction
But with respect and humility
To guide our machines reverently upon the land.

We pledge ourselves to preserve,
From encroaching pavement and omnivorous bulldozers,
The soils of which our food is grown,
The wild beaches of the ocean shore
And of rivers and lakes
Some forests where the whine of the chain saw
Will never be heard, some valleys
Where animals graze undisturbed in the sun.

We shall respect the processes of the earth
The long cyclic chemistry that restores the soil
And renews the waters
And replenishes the ambient air.

We shall abet the forces of renewal.
We shall conserve the precious materials of the planet.
We shall waste nothing.
We shall return organic materials to the soil,
Recycle the metals and the paper and the water.

We shall preserve ample areas of our land,
Around our cities as well as in far places,
Not for development or exploitation,
But for the replenishment of the species.

We shall learn from nature
Its rich complexity and diversity, its checks and balances,
Its perennial search for new possibilities,
So that we may perceive beauty beyond our making,
Feel a sense of community with all living things,
And create a society in harmony with the earth.

We shall take time from frenetic urban pursuits
To contemplate a cloud, a tree, or leaves of grass;
To behold creation as it takes place before us each day,
So that we may know wonder and exaltation
And join together in celebration of the fellow creatures
With whom we share this planet.

We cherish the hope that humans
may lay down their arms and join in reverence for the earth
To build anew the habitations of the human spirit.

We sing with the Psalmist:
“The heavens declare the glory of God:
And the firmament showeth the handiwork of the Almighty.”

We join with the Taoist poet:
“I shall dwell among green mountains…
My soul is serene.”

We invoke the prayer of the Navajo:
“That we may walk fittingly
Where birds sing, where the grass is green,
Our mother the earth, our father the sky.”

For all these we give thanks –
For the turning planet,
For the flowing waters,
For the moving air,
For all plants and trees,
For all creatures that move upon the land,
Through the waters and the air.
We celebrate the nourishing earth
Our home, and the abode of our children forever.