“But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being. “
At the Earth Care Retreat in April, 26 of our members journeyed through the Tacoma traffic to find ourselves on the deep low tide of Pacific Beach. As always, it is awe inspiring, moving, and beautiful. We were ready for the rain and wind, but instead the sun beamed down on us, browning our noses and gladdening our hearts. Each person, from the largest to the smallest was armed with black plastic trash bags, and we set out to collect marine debris – fishnets, floats, gloves, boots, rope and line, and broken styrofoam. Amongst it we found countless plastic single-use water bottles and caps, lightbulbs, the occasional piece of Japanese tsunami debris, and piles of plastic shotgun shells. I wondered as I approached each clump of seagrass that looked clean of garbage if maybe this one would be plastic-free, but there was always something to pick up. Even if someone else had just walked the same area cleaning, there would still be something to find. I found myself thinking about birds, and how if telling what was garbage and what was not was difficult for me – someone who knows what all this junk is, how hard would it be for a hungry animal to discern good from garbage?
This year there was a different element to the cleanup, as a juvenile grey whale had beached itself at high tide and died two days before the cleanup. It was perhaps 25 feet long, and mostly intact. My first thought, as well as everyone else who heard about it, was “Did it die of starvation? Of eating too much plastic?” And we don’t know. It looked healthy enough. My guess is that it was just young and came too far in during high tide and couldn’t get back out to sea. But that thought – “Is its belly fully of plastic?” … And its presence on the beach. … And the amount of garbage we picked up. All of these thoughts were heavy and gave gravity to the beautiful day on the beach.
Our folks joined the good people of St. John By the Sea Presbyterian church on Sunday, and Pastor Jan Van Pelt used the above reading from Job to celebrate Earth Day and the good work of the beach cleaners. Her reflection really made me mindful of our calling not only to care for the earth and its inhabitants, but also to listen to them. Take the time. Reflect on the interconnectedness of creation and creatures and humans, and our responsibility here. How much has our need for convenience started to pull apart the web of creation? I pondered the tonnage of water bottles on the beach, and I thought about my own busyness and when I let convenience win over intentionality.
I pray that as we make daily choices, we can remember to ask the birds- and the whales- to remind us of the task which God has given us – to be stewards of the Earth. To care for the least of these. And maybe the most direct thing God said to me this weekend – Gretchen! Quit using plastic as much as you can!
What is God saying to you?
Pastor Gretchen Mertes
More pictures below… full disclosure, there are more images of the beached whale, so proceed at your own discretion.