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Rev. Peter M. Wallace Headshot

BP Oil Spill: Is the Earth Bleeding for Our Sins?

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I love the water. Oceans, lakes, seas, rivers, creeks...like many, I experience peace and serenity, even security, in the presence of water. The Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific, the South China Sea; from thunderous waterfalls in the Brazilian countryside to a mirror-surfaced lake in North Georgia, from the Ohio River of my hometown to the James River of my childhood family vacations: all are part of my experience of God's creation.

Water may speak of peace to me, but it also signifies power. I am nothing in it. One time when I was almost seven, my family vacationed on a Florida beach. I was playing in the waves not far from the shore when suddenly a rogue wave grabbed me and threw me all over the place under its smothering grasp. I felt like I was drowning, until suddenly I was slammed onto the hard sand of the beach and managed to crawl out.

With such a scary experience when I was a kid, it makes me wonder why I crave the water so much these days, why I feel so centered and peaceful and alive when I gaze on a body of water and walk by it and play in it.

I think it goes back to our human origins, and to the fact that water speaks both of the power and the care of God in creation. God calls life out of the primordial seas and establishes and oversees it all. I am a part of all this -- an infinitesimal part to be sure, but still a part. And all of it, the psalmist says, is God's.

The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers (Psalm 24:1-2).

This reverie came to me after watching, as I sometimes obsessively do, the live pictures of the Deepwater Horizon oil leak-the endless gushing of crude into the waters of the Gulf, whose beaches I have reveled in walking so many times. Seeing that unearthly phenomenon, realizing it could continue for weeks or months, and witnessing the encroachment of the oil onto marshlands and beaches certainly makes me feel powerless. "Small" even.

I appreciated President Obama's 17 references (by New York Times columnist Gail Collins' count) to God, prayer, blessings, or faith in his Tuesday night Oval Office address. Clearly, we need to bring our faith fully into this crisis. This earth is God's; we are caretakers of it, and we are not doing a very good job.

A lot of old church hymns focus, rather graphically, on the blood Jesus shed on the cross. Here's part of one by William Cowper:

"There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel's veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
E'er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die."

This flowing, plunging, streaming image seems to fit here. The unending current of oil gushing from the well -- it's as though the earth is bleeding for our sins. But in this case, it's not atonement, it's just death.

Now, I have a problem with atonement theology. All I know is that in Jesus' case, after he lost all that blood, there was a resurrection. We need a miracle this time, too.

For all people of any faith, perhaps this miracle starts by seeing ourselves anew in the great cycle of life, realizing the part we play in the creation song of God. And then getting involved in our faith communities' or other organizations' efforts not only to clean up the Gulf, but to really, finally, get serious about caring for God's earth in specific, sustainable ways.

The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it -- the world, and those who live in it -- for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers (Psalm 24:1-2).

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