While COVID-19 makes our in-person services challenging, Knox is providing podcast services. Not everyone can access these, though, so we are also posting my sermons on our Knox Talks blog. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
This particular sermon was part of our service to bless our gardens and bicycles.
A year ago, pandemic restrictions had driven us indoors. People were only able to go through parks quickly and were ticketed if they stopped even briefly. Cyclists and joggers were watched carefully and pedestrians were suspected of malicious lurking. With COVID aforethought, playgrounds were closed off with emergency tape and parents became desperate to keep their kids busy, especially those in apartments with no backyards to enjoy.
Our community garden, like all the other ones in the province, was shut down and our garden committee was instrumental in persuading the Ottawa Public Health committee to push to have guidelines created that would allow the gardens to re-open on the grounds that gardens are essential, providing local organic food and a way to develop and maintain good spiritual and mental health.
Their leadership bore fruit (to coin a phrase); the gardens re-opened across the province and since that time there has grown an understanding that outside activities are good, with much less transmission of the virus and much more room for activity and mental health than any number of Zoom meetings or online activities, as long as people are sensible and take the precautions we are now used to.
Do you remember in those early days, the way people talked about how much cleaner the air was, with the reduction in air travel and with fewer cars and trucks on the road? Air quality was distinctly improved
and I remember people remarking on the irony of how it took a pandemic to help us make progress towards our climate goals.
The new understandings about how safe it is to be outside and how many benefits for our bodies and minds exist has flipped things around since last year. Instead of being driven inside, we’ve been driven outside. People who would normally travel to other countries
or even other provinces have had to find places to go closer to home, as have all those people who might have gotten together in someone’s living room or in a restaurant.
From a selfish perspective I find myself grumbling about how crowded
the Conservation Areas have become. There are two not far from where we live and we have had them as wonderful dog-walking places with very little competition for years. Now there are so many more people there on the weekends, the parking lots are packed
and there are dozens of people enjoying the mosquitoes (I mean, enjoying nature). There’s no way to pretend anymore that we have the place to ourselves!
But actually, that’s great news. People have been driven outdoors to re-discover creation, to re-connect with the earth, from which we come and to which we will return. It has become almost impossible to live in an abstract, Ivory Tower and I think we are all better for it.
The image of the Garden of Eden we are given in our Genesis reading
is an ancient vision of paradise. It gives us a picture of what could have been: humans in harmony with nature.
Of course, we know the story: the vision gets broken; the humans are driven from paradise and we end up in conflict with nature. But that vision of what could have been has never gone away and still informs our hopes for the future.
Every window box of tomatoes or balcony herb garden; every backyard vegetable or flower garden; every community garden speaks to this vision and reminds us of our deep rooted connection to this world.
Our cyclists understand this as well. The experience of travelling without using fossil fuels, of zipping through the fresh air feeling the wind (okay, I admit it, I like to ride fast) is so much more satisfying than driving a car.
It concerns me that the conversation about reducing our footprint has become quieter over this past year. More people are shouting about economic impact, about getting all the transportation industries up and running again. Instead, we should be reminding ourselves of how much healthier people are.
Our lesson from Nahum is a bit of a joke. Originally it was a threat against the city of Nineveh, but that image of chariots racing through the streets should be familiar to anyone who rides a bicycle in the city. Flashing chariot wheels and barely-controlled horses are a picnic compared to some of our drivers!
Having a reduced number of cars competing for space during commute times makes everyone safer, not only from collisions, but by reducing the nasty stuff coming out of exhaust pipes – something else you notice up close and personally on a bicycle.
Our concern about the pandemic should not push our concern about our environment to the side. Instead, the fact that we have been driven outdoors could be exactly the kind of trigger we need, as a whole society, to remember the beauty of God’s creation: to remember our connection to the air, the water, the plants and animals; to keep us from the kind of disconnected, abstract rabbit hole that is always a risk in a world that spends so much time in a virtual reality.
Actual reality is good. It is very good.
One of the unexpected blessings of this pandemic may be our re-discovery of this knowledge. Being driven outside may give us the kind of experience that will allow us to change; to carry the healthier behaviours we are learning into the post-COVID world we are hoping for.
So as we bless our gardens and our bicycles in this service, let us be thankful that in the midst of an international disaster God is able to give us these kinds of reminders. God is able to plant these seeds of wisdom, these seeds of hope, these experiences of a better way of living that will inspire us in the future.