Jess Morthorpe invites us to pause, acknowledging that all creation is God’s, and calls the Church to rediscover a deep sense of connection to land.

WEEK 4God's Beautiful Land

jason-john.jpg Jess Morthorpe is director of the Five Leaf Eco-Awards, an ecumenical environmental change program specifically designed for churches and religious organisations. Jess also serves as a Ministry Consultant with Uniting Earth.

I’ve moved several times in my life, and while I enjoy the connections this has given me with different places and people, sometimes I wonder what it means for my sense of place, my deep sense of connection to land.

One place I did feel this most was at the Greenhills Centre in Canberra, on the land of the Ngunnawal peoples. Working on environmental initiatives there, I learned every part of the block, the history of its management, and how it connected to the larger landscape and ecosystems within which it is set. I liked to sit in certain places and just ‘be’ with the land – many years before I first heard the concept of mindfulness and deliberately being present. I still wonder sometimes if the seedlings we planted are still there, if the thistles are still trying to take over, if the little ruins have decayed further.

"The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land." – Leviticus 25:23-24

The Bible strongly links land with community. Each tribe of Israel was allocated specific geographical areas (Joshua 13-22). They did not own this land, for it is God’s (Leviticus 25: 23-24), but it was allocated to them, and provision made that even if they lost it through poverty or misfortune, the land would be returned to them every 50 years during the celebration of the Jubilee (Leviticus 25: 13-17). As land was the main source of wealth at the time, this also strongly enforced equality. The rich could only get so far ahead when they would have to return the land to the poor at the end of each cycle. Land has agency, it acts and reacts (Leviticus 18:28), and it has rights (Numbers 35: 33-34; Leviticus 25:2-5; Exodus 23:10-11), even the wild animals are provided for (Leviticus 25:7). The land’s protection is mandated by God (Leviticus 26:3-4; Deuteronomy 20:19) and there are consequences for disobedience and abuse (Jeremiah 12:4; 12:11; Hosea 4:1-3, Psalm 107: 33-34; Isaiah 5:8-10; 24:4-6; Jeremiah 3:2-3; Revelation 11:18).

Western culture and its practices separate us from our connections with the land, and often prevent us from developing the deep sense of place described by Biblical Writers. Yet we can learn much from First Peoples around the world about what it means to them to connect with their ancestral lands and places. Such learning also helps us to understand more deeply the suffering created when they are forcibly removed from these lands or threatened with having to leave them by governments or climate change.

“We practise Kanyini (a law and principle of connectedness) by learning to restrict the ‘mine-ness’, and to develop a strong sense of ‘ours-ness’” — Uncle Bob Randall, Elder of the Yankunytjatjara people.

I wonder how our lives might be changed by applying an approach like this? If we truly embraced the idea of all land belonging to God, and that we merely borrow it. The idea that everything we get from the land is a gift, and they are gifts that come with deep responsibilities on us, in terms of how we manage these resources, preserve them for future generations and prevent harm to God’s creatures through our use of them.

Our stewardship prayers in church claim that all we have is God’s - but how deeply do we believe this? How is it transforming our attitudes to money, land and possessions?

We need to remember that nothing is ever really ours. We need to change our thinking, our language, and our relationship with Land, and with all of God’s Creation, to love and cherish it alongside our God – for now and always.

WEEK 4Daily Bible Readings

Take time each day this week to explore what the bible says about God's beautiful land.

Sunday Genesis 2:8-9 - what does God do?
Monday Deut 8:7-10 - what does a good land look like?
Tuesday 2 Chronicles 7:14 - what’s the relationship between people and land?
Wednesday Ex 23:10-11 - how were they to care for the land?
Thursday Isa 35:1-2 - what does salvation coming to the land look like?
Friday Isa 51:3 - how does God heal land?
Saturday Ro 8:19-21 - what are the lands longing for?


This reflection by Jessica Morthorpe is part of our Season of Creation series celebrating God's Beautiful Earth. You can signup for weekly emails sent each Sunday during September, or follow along on Facebook and Instagram.

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