A United States freeway may seem an unlikely place to reflect on love, but each spring, I get that familiar wrenching of the heart that signals to me that I’m witnessing a lack of love.
Each spring, my resources of joy are replenished by the sight of the greening earth, lush with grass, garlanded in wildflowers – signs to me of the miraculous beauty of Earth, the inherent goodness of Creation, and the love of my Creator. I feel blessed. I feel loved when nature provides this for me to see:
But each spring, I also watch the response of man to these abundant gifts of living beauty. Where the asphalt ends, on the margins of the freeway, be the area ever so polluted, so smoggy, so littered, so dirty, nature forgives, year after year, with grasses and bouquets of tiny flowers. Here is man’s response to the gift:
The brown strip at the edge of your local freeway is the result of herbicide spraying. Machines travel the roads, releasing a poison that literally turns life into death within a matter of days. The green plants strangle, turning a sickly orange-brown as they wither. This happens every year. Look for it.
And it isn’t just local and state governments that respond with poison to the new spring growth. Take a walk in your neighborhood on a spring day, and you will see your neighbors scurrying about with their tanks of Round-Up, poisoning the plants on their individual plots of land. They spray the little seedlings in their driveways, seeking a lifeless look. They spray the gutters and ditches, sending the poison along these waterways into your local drinking water supply. The chemicals in the spray sicken the sprayer and all of his neighbors, causing birth defects, organ damage, and sometimes, death. Everywhere you turn, in the spring, someone is responding with poison to the green gift of life.
Within weeks or months, nature tries again. More seeds sprout in the poisoned places as nature tries, once again, to give the gift.
“Here,” says Creation. “I have grass for you. I have flowers for you. I will cover the loose soil with growth and hold it together so it does not blow away in a dust bowl. I have seeds for you. I have nuts and fruits and vegetables for you and every living thing. Here they are. These are for you. Take them.”
This offer of nature is more infinitely abundant than all the groceries your loving father ever bought and all the dinners your loving mother ever prepared. But it is the same kind of love, I believe. It is the Earth’s love for us; the Earth providing food for all the children who live here.
Long ago, all people drew life from this abundant love. Before farming, before irrigation, the rain that fell and the plants that grew wild on the land were man’s portion. Now, only wild animals still live this way. And when I see the deer and the wild turkeys eating on the margins of the roads, where the poison has been sprayed again and again, I am so sorry. When I see farmers and ranchers spraying the boundaries of their properties, poisoning their crops and animals, I am so sorry. When I see the spring grass and flowers withering away, I see our failure to respond with love to the love we’ve been given. If your friend gave you a bouquet and you responded by throwing it in the trash, then you would be responding in this same loveless way.
Today is Good Friday. In the Christian calender, this is a day of remembrance of the death of a young, Jewish man known as Yeshua, or Jesus, of Nazareth, who was executed by his local government about two thousand years ago.
When I see the withered grass, I think of Jesus. I think of this simple, compassionate young teacher talking about love in a time and place in which village people stoned their neighbors to death while the aristocracy attended public events at which victims were torn apart by captive animals. Imagine if all of those gruesome things acted out on today’s TV and movie screens were actually happening, in your downtown, with public approval, and you will have a pretty good idea of the lack of humaneness that was prevalent in Jesus’ time.
Jesus believed that everyone’s responsibility on Earth was first, to love God, and second, to love everyone else. Imagine a spirit like that blossoming forth from such horrifically violent times. He was, to put it gently, distinctly odd. He was the kind of ‘odd’ that changes other people’s lives. The fact that there is still a Christian belief way in 2013 is a testament to how profoundly this one person’s life affected the future.
But not everyone responded to the gift of this humble Jewish teacher’s suggestions with interest or love two millennia ago. Some people, instead, responded bizarrely to this young man’s teachings about love by publicly executing him in a horrifically graphic manner.
In more recent times, we saw a similar bizarre response to the teachings of brotherly love and compassion from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead of responding with joy to his message of humaneness, some people shot and killed him. They treated Mohandas K. Gandhi in the same, bizarre and backward manner.
So, I think about Jesus when I see the withered grass on the sides of the freeway. Something beautiful is happening – this flourishing gift of grass, of flowers, of oxygen, of life – and some people respond to it with an urge to kill. I am deeply, deeply disturbed by this trait in mankind. This response of death to life.
How do we heal? How do we heal man so that he can respond appropriately to the presence of life in the spring? I am certain that the answer is love.
Every child should be taught to love and revere the greenness of Earth, because his life depends on it. No child should grow up to be given the job of poisoning himself, his neighbors, his water, his food supply, his soil and the air he breaths with herbicides and pesticides, as a government job or as an act of yard work. This is not sane. Our caring about it can change this.
If, in our competition with the rest of Creation, we must have roadways, then isn’t it enough that we’ve covered large parts of the planet with asphalt? Must we also poison the borders where the asphalt ends? No. There is no reason for this. We can replace the herbicides with grass cutting machines. Special types of fencing exist that prevent plants from growing on margins. Our communities could invest in these. True, we would still be preventing the growth of plants, but at least we would have stopped being poisoners. Our response to life would have improved dramatically.
Please, look again at the photograph in this article of the beautiful wild iris. Can you see these flowers as a gift of love? Can you respond to them with a feeling of cherishing and gratitude, in your own, unique heart? What would your response look like, if you acted it out? Would it be the dead, orange-brown of the poisoned roadside? Or would it look like the green hills, rich in grasses blowing in the fresh wind, shining in the sun and full of living joy?
If you would like to, please join me in an act of faith today. Pray these words, or use your own.
Oh, my Creator,
I believe that men can stop poisoning this Earth you gave us.
I believe that men can feel such great love that they will never poison anything again.
Please, fill all men’s hearts with this love.
Please, Great Spirit, turn men’s backs on herbicides and pesticides so that they will never use them again.
Please, help us to heal our poisoned lands and our bodies.
Heal our hearts with love.
Wishing you all a blessed Easter season and deep joy in the coming of Spring.