Genesis 1: A Call to Clean Up our Act!

Genesis 1: A Call to Clean Up our Act!
by Rev. Karen H. Webster
Executive Director of  Healthy Seminarians-Healthy Church Initiative
GreenFaith Fellowship Class of 2015
Healthy Seminarians Healthy ChurchI originally wrote this theological reflection and litany for the “Healthy Cleaning Matters” seminar that we, the Healthy Seminarians – Healthy Church Initiative, held at Columbia Theological Seminary in March 2015. Since we invited folks from the seminary community, local communities of faith, the neighbors living around the seminary, and some of the local schools, I tried to select a piece of scripture that both spoke to the magnificence of God’s creation and would also be sensitive to the potential religious diversity of those attending the seminar. My hope and prayer is that this piece can be used in a variety of settings (worship, education, etc.) to bring about an awareness of why healthy cleaning matters to us as individuals, our communities, and God’s creation.
Healthy Cleaning Matters
As generations of faithful people have done, we will be using Genesis 1 as the foundation for this reflection on the environmental harm our modern day cleaning practices have done.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” Water is a precious resource given to us by the grace of God. Unfortunately, many conventional cleaning products contaminate the water we need for drinking, for bathing, for recreation.
Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”
We have been given light so that we can see the beauty of creation and the smiles on people’s faces, but light also draws our attention to dust balls, to pollen, to the dirt that gets tracked onto our floors and carpets. For those of us who are responsible for cleaning our houses, our congregations, our schools, we want something that is convenient, effective, and affordable, all of which conventional cleaning products appear to be; but, in reality, the negative impact they have on our health as individuals, communities, and creation has a hidden cost far greater than we understand.
Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.”
The sky that God gave us provides the air we breathe. Unfortunately, conventional cleaning products contain air containments that cause asthma and allergies, as well as a host of other health problems.
Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. God called the dry ground “land” and the waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good.”
The land and seas, the places where humans, animals, and sea creatures build their homes and live are being increasingly crowded by the many plastic bottles that contain the many products, including those for cleaning, that people use. Yes, some of the bottles will be recycled, but many of them end up in the landfill or garbage patches in our oceans, where it will takes years for them to break down.
Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
Then God said, “Let the land sprout with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. These seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.” And that is what happened. The land produced vegetation—all sorts of seed-bearing plants, and trees with seed-bearing fruit. Their seeds produced plants and trees of the same kind. And God saw that it was good.
Many of the seed-bearing plants and trees that God created for our nourishment have taken root in soil that has been contaminated by household and commercial cleaners. When we eat these plants, we are exposed to the toxins they grew in.
Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.” And that is what happened. 16 God made two great lights—the larger one to govern the day, and the smaller one to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set these lights in the sky to light the earth, to govern the day and night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.
Days, months, and years are how we mark our lives, watching children grow, celebrating milestones, and simply enjoying ordinary and special times alike. However, many conventional cleaning products take an exceedingly long time to break down, which means that until people stop using them, their toxicity is constantly increasing in our air, water, and soil.
Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.” So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.”
When God said, “multiple,” God did not intend for that to describe the number of aquatic life and birds that are being sickened and killed as a result of the chemicals being released through the use of conventional cleaners.
Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
Then God said, “Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind—livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.” And that is what happened. God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to produce offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good.
And just like the fish and birds, animals, too, are being sickened and killed by the chemicals. And, when humans eat the animals that have ingested the toxins, people are exposed to high concentrations of the contaminants, which, in turn, makes us sick.
Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” So God created human beings in God’s own image.
God made us in God’s image and entrusted the earth and all that is within it to our care. This stewardship is an honor with terrific responsibility. Fortunately, over the last several years, new cleaning products and techniques have been discovered, and effective methods once used by previous generations have been remembered and reclaimed, all of which serves to make “greener/sustainable” products convenient, effective, and sometimes even more affordable than conventional cleaners. When we make the switch to healthier cleaning products, we can all breathe a big sigh of relief (figuratively and literally), because many of the health problems that are impacting us as individual, communities, and God’s creation are reduced. Yes, the detrimental impact of conventional cleaning products can at times seem overwhelming, but if we work together, we can make a positive difference in our homes, communities, and the world around us.
To which we can all say…thanks be to God! Amen.