Earth Day is upon us, reminding me of an insight shared by Abraham Heschel, a beloved humanitarian and Jewish theologian living in the last century. Heschel was once asked what he felt was most lacking in humanity in our time. He paused and reflected, and then, making up a word as poets and theologians sometimes do, he said, “Creatureliness.”
That word holds many meanings within it—humility, human fragility, solidarity with one another, and with nature. It suggests both awareness of a life source within us, and of the life source within every other creature, no matter its position in the food chain. It invites us to understand the delicate status all humans share with each other regardless of position in life, ethnicity, beliefs, or belongings. Maybe most of all, creatureliness suggests how vulnerable we are, and how reliant we are on both nature and each other. Our vulnerability as a species is something so much easier to understand now, with a virus having threatened us in such harmful ways over the course of this past year. We are not, perhaps, after all the regal inhabitants of this castle called earth, but guests, keepers, stewards in intricate covenant with all things living now, before, and beyond our time.
Several months ago in a worship service Jason Davis mentioned that the birds’ singing seemed more vibrant during the “Covid quiet” of that time—or that humans were creating less of our usual noise from industry, commerce, and transportation.
Since he made his observation the world has grown louder again as vaccinations and Covid fatigue conjoin to bring us closer again to our usual full propulsion. But as things grow louder can we bring with us from our Covid experience something of the awareness of our own fragility, and that of every other person on the planet? Can we bring with us a deeper sense of the gift of nature to our own lives, and our utter reliance up-on the planet earth for our own existence? From there, it seems it would be another short step to praising the Creator for all creatures great and small.
Grace and peace.