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Prodigal Son and the Earth

Ann Parker writes:

I wrote this after imagining an event for a church eco day which would include inviting local eco groups, transition towns, allotment holders etc to the church, bringing posters and information. Maybe art work of a sort as well and earth and water - things to link us with earth.

At Greener Churches day on June 6 th 2009 at Southwell Minster, Martyn Goss gave what I think was a quotation. That God made the universe before the planet earth, that the land and sea came before 'living' creatures, that the creatures were made before people - and that people were made well before God made the Church.

Thinking of an environmental day I thought of the waters of baptism and how the water was already here to baptize us before we thought we were making use of it for ourselves. This led to the following:


A certain man had two sons

The only Earth there is had several million species.

One day the humans of the species said to Earth, 'I'm tired of labouring in the fields. I want money, sex and power. An easy life. I've slaved for you all my life,' (in evolutionary terms Humanity was about 17 at the time). 'Now I'm going to enslave you!' Whereupon he dropped his spade, gathered some other humans to him and set off to build palaces, excavate great mines, cut down forests and leave trails of rubbish where-ever he went. (He was still too young to tidy his bedroom.) The rubbish rotted, polluted the rivers and spread diseases. It also spoilt the land for those humans still trying to live on Earth.

But Earth went on producing sunsets, glaciers, orang-utans, brilliant flowers, which anyone in their right mind would notice and want to stay and watch. But humanity never noticed and just went on covering Earth with theme parks and warehouses.

Earth continued to try to feed its species but it grew more difficult, for the topsoil was disappearing, rivers were drying up and many of its species had died.

One day Humanity realized that its wealth was running out. There was poverty, war, famine, climate change, AIDS. And it was getting bigger and closer.

In the parable of the prodigal son; the old story told to a small community 2,000 years ago, the wayward son comes to his senses and famously says, 'I will arise and go to my father's house.' And amid great feasting this is what happened. Everything went back to normal and they all lived happily ever after. Didn't they? There was also the elder son, of which more later.

In this global version of that story Humanity doesn't have an alternative Earth to go to.

Can we physically return to suffering Earth without mentally and spiritually returning to Our Father in Heaven? In repentance, for forgiveness, believing that he can guide us into a new mind set, into better ways of being.

The Communion service for Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions includes the words, 'which Earth has given and human hands have made'.

Focus - contemplate - listen to those words.

Individually. As a church - the Church has done little until very recently in speaking out about environmental damage. As communities, too often passive, in despair. 'What can we do?' And as officials with the power to change things, yet still making decisions with the same competitive, wasteful mentality, arrogant, damaging, enslaved to that false god called Progress.

The word regress is, I suppose, the opposite of progress and tends to be used when we think something has gone wrong. People are going the wrong way. Backwards. Showing signs of stress. But maybe regression can actually be a form of healing, of resting while a person takes stock before moving back into full life. Or changing direction altogether. If regression is a cause for concern what's progress for God's sake? That's not swearing. What, as we have come to know it, is progress, for God's sake? To re-gress, to re-pent, to realize we have made wrong decisions and so make better choices, to turn away from our sins, as the old prayer book language puts it. To repent as in turning away from our errors, lack of vision and our self seeking is not a bad thing.

'we have this bread to offer you

which Earth has given

and human hands have made.

It will become for us the bread of life.


Look at your hands as you hear these words. Probably - hopefully - they have made pastry, grown vegetables, reared children, made crafts. What else have your hands done to Earth. What have they helped to destroy? We have all bought convenience food rather than gone out of our way to shop locally. Most of us buy clothes from Clone city stores without worrying too much about slave or sweat-shop labour. Maybe some of us have done more damage than that. What are you, what are we going to do today, in the next hour to 'return to the father's house and say, 'Father- Earth - I have sinned against you'?

The Father welcomed the prodigal son with great rejoicing. Surely the neglected and abused Earth will be glad to do the same - to have us working together at last. But then there was that elder brother who wouldn't join in the feasting. He couldn't see what the fuss was about. He'd never done anything wrong. There has always been someone in any gathering who says, 'it's not my problem. It's not me, it's these others.'

Which brother are you?

Ann R Parker


© Ann R Parker. You are welcome to reproduce this for non-profit publications provided you credit the author. Ann would be pleased to know where it is used - email



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