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Department: Christian Ethics

Creation Gratitude

An Ethical Devotional

Fowler, Marsha D.

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doi: 10.1097/CNJ.0000000000000812
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A flock of international, national, and local media has noted a precipitous rise in birdwatching. With families sheltering at home, birdwatching provides a challenging, fun, and inexpensive diversion. The United States is home to 1,107 species of birds; approximately 20,000 bird species inhabit the world. As the Audubon Society notes, this gave Noah a headache:

If the story of the Biblical Flood took place today, and Noah were a modern taxonomist, [it] might have ended very differently. When instructed by God to load two of every creature into the ark, Noah would have to push for a few more details: “What exactly do you mean by ‘kind’ of creature?” he would need to ask The Almighty. “A biological species, or a phylogenetic species? Does your list of creatures include subspecies? And what about distinct population segments?” (Waters, 2016, para 1)

After the dove flew from Noah's ark, creation gained a rainbow of bird species to delight the eyes and ears. Birdwatching reminds us that the created world is one of beauty and wonder for us to enjoy.

This terrible viral pandemic has been an opportunity to heighten our gratitude for God's creation. Basking in the warm sun or the moon's silvery glow, reveling in the smell of a redwood dell, enjoying nectar from the tip of a honeysuckle, the feel of salty ocean spray tell us that creation is a divine gift. The six days of creation beckon us to gratitude by taking a devotional journey. On the first day of creation, God speaks light and darkness into existence.

God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:3-5, NRSV)

On your first day, sit outside and enjoy daylight shades of light and dark, the dappled light beneath trees, the gleam of light on snow, leaves, windows, its warmth on your face. God created a world of vibrant colors given in light. Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, who gives us the energy of light by day and rest of darkness by night, and colors that bring joy.

On the second day, God speaks the sky and the waters into existence.

God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome.... God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. (Genesis 1:6-8, NRSV)

Go outside and look to the sky and see the colors—is it bright blue or dark gray? Can you smell the air? Look at the clouds and their shapes, whether they are pure white, wispy, or ominous. If you can see water, look at how it flows, moves, ripples, rushes, or crashes. If not, take a glassful and taste and feel it and know that 80% of you is this. Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, who gives us bright sky by day and rainwaters for life.

On the third day, God speaks the earth, seas, vegetation, and fruit into existence.

“Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.... Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so.... And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. (Genesis 1:9-11, NRSV)

On the third day, let your bare feet feel the earth. Is it warm, cold, mud, dust, clay, sand, loam? Sweep the flora with your hand. Does it leave a fragrance? Savor the sweetness of a piece of fruit. Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, who gives earth and all its wonders, and plants of every kind for our nourishment, use, and enjoyment.

On the fourth day, God speaks and there is the sun, moon, stars in the sky, and seasons.

“Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars....And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. (Genesis 1:14-19, NRSV)

Close your eyes and take in the season with all your senses. How do your senses know what the season is? What memories are evoked? Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, who gives us seasons for the rhythm of our lives and for our journey through the number of our days.

The fifth day, God speaks into existence sea creatures and birds and living creatures.

“Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind... And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. (Genesis 1:20-23, NRSV)

On the fifth day, listen for birdsong, bird chatter, bird calls, bird alarms. Then look for the birds who signal the seasons. Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, who gives us a melodious, natural world.

The sixth day God commands into existence wild animals, cattle, creepy-crawlies, and humankind.

“Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.”...God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind....Then God said, “Let us make humankind....” (Genesis 1:24-26, NRSV)

On the sixth day consider animals that may have been part of your family, or kept in a field, or seen in the wild. Think, too, of a person who has influenced you for good, and give thanks. Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, who gives humanity animal companions, and who has given us persons who have guided, comforted, and nurtured us.

And at the end of the sixth day, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31, NRSV)

God's good creation is not simply an enjoyment—it is for our gratitude, joy, and health. In recently published research we learn that:

More than 50% of people now live in urban areas.... Urbanization is associated with increased levels of mental illness, but it's not yet clear why. ...[W]e investigated whether nature experience would influence rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self), a known risk factor for mental illness. Participants who went on a 90-minute walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment. (Bratman et al., 2015, p. 8567)

Gratitude is a moral principle (duty) that receives too little attention in the bioethical literature. It is generally buried beneath the biomedical principles articulated in the Belmont report (National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, 1979) and in the work of Beauchamp and Childress (2019). These “hidden” principles, however, are particularly important to the practice of nursing, individually and collectively. Within the Christian life, gratitude is not simply a moral obligation; it also serves to acknowledge our createdness, dependence, and interdependence and is, thus, essential to the moral life of faith.

References

Beauchamp T. L., Childress J. F. (2019). Principles of biomedical ethics (8th ed.). Oxford University Press.
Bratman G. N., Hamilton J. P., Hahn K. S., Daily G. C., Gross J. J. (2015). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(28), 8567–8572. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1510459112
National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. (1979). The Belmont Report: Ethical principles and guidelines for the protection of human subjects of research. https://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/regulations-and-policy/belmont-report/index.html
Waters H. (2016, December 15). New study doubles the world's number of bird species by redefining ‘species.’ Audubon. https://www.audubon.org/news/new-study-doubles-worlds-number-bird-species-redefining-species
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship