Bishop Mark Hanson: When Creation Speaks to Us


Can we listen to others as we discover responsibility?

As I read"Environmental urgency" in the July issue of The Lutheran magazine, I asked my wife Ione, "What do you think I could write about creation that would be hopeful and helpful?"

Immediately she responded: "Creation speaks to us without words." 

I should not have been surprised to hear this from a spouse raised on the prairies of western North Dakota, someone who asks for silence whenever we begin to drive west of the Missouri River. She is beholding shadows dancing on the buttes, badlands emerging, crops ripening and now the rapid changes in silence brought by the increased activity of expanding oil production.

What do you hear when you just listen to creation? Do you hear creation telling us of the wonder of God's grace? 

When we listen to creation, we hear that God continues to create life. "O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. ... When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground" (Psalm 104:24, 30).

When we listen to creation and hear of the giftedness of life, something happens. Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler described it this way: "The change in the spirit of our minds must come about by putting the grace of God behind the eyes with which we look at the world and into the hands with which we touch the world" (Gravity and Grace, page 20).

Creation speaks to us of beauty. One great loss is when we fail to have moments of awe in response to creation's beauty because the pace of our living and our preoccupation with what we need to do next gets in the way.

Creation speaks of simplicity and complexity. Often a child's delight reminds us of its simplicity - discovering a caterpillar, chasing a butterfly, splashing water, smelling a flower, crying over the death of a pet hamster. As we grow older, we become aware of creation's complexity, how life is woven into complex webs of interdependence. Choices we make each day have consequences for life forms now and in the future.

I wonder if we hear creation crying out for mercy. The same creation that speaks of God's bounty and beauty can groan under the weight of our consuming. Yet too often creation's voice is drowned out by the rancor of our debates and disagreements, and it tragically suffers in silence. Can we find ways to listen not only to creation but also to one another as we discover how to live responsibly as stewards of God's goodness in creation?

Often what stands in the way of productive partnership in caring for the creation is our moralizing debates. When dominated by suspicion and recrimination of others, they keep us locked into cycles of hostility and withdrawal and paralyze us. Yet, when we listen to creation, it speaks of our unity. No matter how rich life's diversity and how deep our differences, there is only one creation. 

In listening to creation and one another, we can also give account for the hope that is in us. Our hope is in Christ, through whom God is at work to break down the walls of hostility that divide us and reconcile humankind with the message of forgiveness. The new creation we are in Christ is not an escape from the physical world we inhabit. This new creation is God's work among us to make the creation whole and good - right with God and with itself.


When you listen to creation speaking without words, what do you hear? Do you hear creation calling for your love? Could it be that the neighbor we are called and freed in Christ to love includes all that constitutes the wonder, beauty, simplicity and complexity of creation?

Rather than begin our conversations on the environment with condemnations and judgments, what if we invited each other to reflect on how we show love for the creation? God loved the world in Christ's self-emptying, God's humble relinquishing of power. What would such self-emptying love toward creation mean for us?

Shhh. Are you listening? Creation is trying to speak to us. What do you hear?

Taken with permission from the July issue of The Lutheran magazine.