Let’s go plant a tree

“Thank you, God, for photosynthesis.”

I don’t think I’ve ever named a physico-chemical process in a prayer before, but since doing so yesterday, I’ve been thinking, “why not?” We planted a tree on the church grounds, and dedicated it to God’s glory. Spring is coming early to this part of Montana this year, so we anticipated both Earth Day (April 22) and Arbor Day (April 29) by planting on April 17. It’s an ornamental plum tree, which will produce beautiful spring blossoms (but no fruit), and should be colorful in the fall.

Spring’s early arrival may be attributable to climate change, which is attributable to the increase in carbon in the air, which is attributable to many human activities. But trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and add oxygen, so planting a tree is a small step to mitigate climate change and keep the Earth in balance. In our conversation and in our prayer, we named numerous gifts of trees–beauty, shade, homes for birds and animals, clean air, and fruit—and thanked God for these gifts. Biblical writers drew similar connections. So have poets across the centuries. In the 21st century, why not use scientific language and understanding to praise God?

We live in a critical time, what many scientists are now calling the Anthropocene Epoch, so named for the rapidly accelerating impact of human activities on Earth’s geology and ecosystems. It is a time when all areas of human endeavor—science, technology, education, the arts and humanities, economics, business, agriculture, social sciences, government, politics, communications, and religion included—are being asked to contribute their best to the preservation of a viable Earth system, before we make what Pope Francis so poignantly calls “our common home” uninhabitable. No question about it, religion and science need to talk!

I am hopeful about the capacity of humankind to learn and change, to live more sustainably and to focus our finest efforts on preserving our common home. And to keep today’s hope alive, I will watch our new tree grow. Right now, it’s dormant, and likely in shock. Its bare roots are exposed to new soil. Its skinny branches quiver in the wind. Its tiny buds are tightly closed, awaiting sunnier days. But soon, it will acclimate to its new home and perhaps display a few blossoms. Leaves will open up, and the machinery of photosynthesis will start chugging along. I want to participate in that miraculous process. I intend to exhale in the tree’s vicinity, and inhale deeply, each breath a prayer.

For the trees, for the birds, for the air, and for the Earth. Thank you, God.

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