Eco-Theological Reflection – The Holy Spirit Sustains and Animates Creation – and Urges us to Treat It Well

GreenFaith_Leaf_400x400Note: Many of us have been engaged in “greening” the church. Some of us studied Fletcher Harper’s book, Green Faith. Some of us have been using the devotions in The Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation, by Sam Hamilton-Poore. Others of us have studied the link between faith and science. And some of us are on the church’s GreenTeam, moving us through the process that will result in us achieving GreenFaith Certification.  This reflection by Fletcher Harper helps to tie all of this together.

~Connie Knapp, for the GreenTeam

(adapted from Rev. Fletcher Harper Executive Director, GreenFaith)




Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 

Genesis 1:2, New International Version

Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7, New Revised Standard Version

O LORD, how manifold are your works!

In wisdom you have made them all;

   the earth is full of your creatures.

Yonder is the sea, great and wide,

   creeping things innumerable are there,

   living things both small and great. …

When you send forth your spirit, they are created;

   and you renew the face of the ground.

Psalm 104:24-25, 30

As the fruits of the Spirit “incline us to “serve one another through love” (Gal 5:13), they may also dispose us to live carefully on the earth, with respect for all God’s creatures. Our Christian way of life, as saints like Benedict, Hildegard, and Francis showed us, is a road to community with all creation.”

From “Renewing the Earth,” US Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1991

Have you ever stopped to wonder what holds the universe together, what makes the earth function as remarkably as it does?

The scientific community teaches us that a dazzling array of physical forces provide the answer, giving the universe and the earth their structure and coherence. They teach us that the sun provides the energy for life on earth, that water and soil and air support the growth of all plants and animals, and that creation’s various parts participate in a vast, interconnected drama that has produced life in abundance. If you pause for a moment, the way in which the earth is structured and brings forth life – with each form finding its own place within the structure of the larger whole – is mind-boggling. For example, scientists have recently reported that as of 2009, the Marine Ocean Census had identified over 17,500 new species of marine life alone that live more than 200 meters underwater – so deep that light is no longer able to penetrate. One of their favorite finds? “Jumbo Dumbo” – a 6-foot swimming creature that propels itself by “flapping ear-like fins”, reminiscent of Walt Disney’s flying elephant.

Creation’s creativity, its raw abundance of life-forms, and the ways in which they combine to create thriving ecosystems, is a stunning and beautiful reality. Where scientists see physical and evolutionary forces at work, holding nature together and fueling its fruitfulness, Christians can see the work of the Holy Spirit – working through natural structures and processes while also serving as the source of these same structures, these same processes. Just as it does at the beginning of time (Gen. 1:2), the Spirit of God draws order out of natural chaos, creates structure and fruitfulness in the midst of bleak, sterile conditions, and makes a home for life in settings where survival might seem impossible.

These are the first two teachings, then, about the relationship of the Holy Spirit and Creation. First – the Spirit stands behind and within the structure – the deep architecture – of Creation, creating the foundation – the “natural laws” – on which everything rests – visible and invisible. And second – the Spirit animates Creation, gives it life, and impels its creativity forward. Psalm 104 says it best. After listing multiple forms of life – all made by God – the Psalmist makes the concluding statement, “When you send forth your spirit, they are created.” (Ps. 104:30) In Genesis 2, God “breathes” into the human creature, fashioned from clay, and it comes alive. This inspiration of God’s spirit is the first cause behind the emergence and development of all life.

There’s another teaching about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Creation – and it has to do with how the Spirit urges us to behave towards Creation. In Galatians, Paul writes that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. … And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Gal, 5:22-25) Christians traditionally have interpreted this passage as a guide for our behavior towards other people. Theologians now increasingly recognize this passage’s application to our treatment of the earth. This raises important questions. What would it look like for human beings to behave with love, joy, peace, and kindness towards Creation? How can our churches teach our members to act with generosity, gentleness and self-control towards the earth? These questions matter – and it’s important for churches to take them seriously as they seek to shape their members’ identity and lives.