Monday, March 9, 2009
To Sit With A Tree
By Chris Olson, Outreach Coordinator
The United Church of Christ's website describes Lent as "a season of self-examination, prayer, fasting, and works of love." For Lent this year I am focusing on works of love, specifically towards the environment. I decided to do a personal book study of Women Pioneers for the Environment by Mary Joy Breten. The book profiles 42 women who, through their passion and acts of love, helped start, support, or push forward the conservation movement in the 19th and 20th centuries. Each week I will read a couple chapters and then set time aside for an intentional act of love for the environment based off of the profiles of the women I read about. In her Preface and Introduction, Mary Joy writes "Women's concern for the health of the planet dates back centuries. For example, Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), a German nun, writer, artist, and mystic, forewarned about the ecological peril now facing the earth. From the beginning of the more recent environmental movement, women have been the force driving grassroots activism. Women...stepped out of their traditional, subservient roles and created profound changes that help ensure the fundamental right of all living things to a healthy world."
The first chapter, entitled "Tree Huggers and Tree Planters", profiles six women including Amrita Devi, Colleen McCrory, Judi Bari, Harriet Bullitt, Kathryn Fuller, and Wangari Maathai. Luckily for me, Wangari Maathai is one of my environmental heroes so I was incredibly excited to read more about her. In 1977, Maathai started the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, a movement now made up of over sixty thousand women who grow and plant native trees to reforest and rejuvenate the Kenyan countryside. Maathai was the first woman in East or Central Africa to earn a doctorate, become an associate professor at the University of Nairobi, or head a department at the university. From 2003- 2007 she served as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in Kenya's ninth parliament. In 2004, Maathai and the Greenbelt Movement were awarded the Nobel Prize.
I had the good fortune of meeting Wangari a few years ago (check out the picture!!) and hear her speak about her experiences in Kenya over the past 30 years. She told a story that had a powerful effect on me as a college student trying to figure out how to make a difference in the world, yet seeing the often hopeless headlines and news reports about environmental destruction. I will summarize it for you. There was a beautiful forest that one day caught fire and the fire raged out of control across the land. All the animals in the forest fled to edge and stood watching the flames, feeling overwhelmed. Except one animal, a tiny hummingbird, decided to do something so it flew to the nearest stream, picked up a tiny drop of water in its beak, flew back to the forest, and dropped it over the fire. Back and forth it flew as fast as it could while all the other animals, such as the elephant with much a bigger trunk to carry water, stood watching and discouraging it saying, "What can you do? The fire is too big. Its hopeless." The little hummingbird simply said, "I'm doing the best I can."
Our small (or big) acts of love are the best we can do in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation, but it is our faith in our Creator, our planet, and the millions of acts of love from individuals around the world that fill us with hope and renew our efforts when we feel discouraged. This week I am going to take time to sit in silence, solidarity, and meditation with a tree. Maybe that sounds silly but how often do we take time to simply sit with some of the most amazing life forms in all of creation: living, growing, respirating trees. I'll let you know about my experience next week and in the mean time you can watch a video of Wangari Maathai telling her hummingbird story by clicking on this link or the picture of Wangari and I above.