Dr. Mariamma Stephen

Faculty, IPC Theological Seminary Kottayam

‘Care’ was the core word in God’s first commission to man. God took time and created a world that he saw was good and then he made man and put him in charge of it all. “Replenish the earth, subdue it and have dominion on every living thing…..” Utmost care had to be taken in executing the task given to the created one by the creator. The opening chapters in the Bible give us a clear idea about God’s plan in creating ‘man’. Man was entrusted with the responsibility to dress the garden and keep it (Gen 2:15). God realized the gravity of the task given to him and came up with an appropriate solution by making him a ‘help meet for him’ (Gen 2:18).
The great advantage for the first ‘peasant couple’ was that the garden was already there and it saved their hard work of planting or sowing. The only task was to dress it and keep it and the reward was great ‘freely eat of all the trees as except the ‘tree of life’. Protecting the garden and enjoying the fruit was the example/or rather demonstration of what God intended as a pattern for the rest of the earth. As man multiplied and gained dominion over the rest of the vast land mass, probably this could have been expected of them as well, with an added responsibility of protecting it and handing it over to their progeny. Adam and Eve had the joint responsibility of tending and keeping the garden. The following chapters in the family narratives of Adam’s descendents do not clearly tell about women’s role in this but we see that some women stand out among them. Book of Genesis mentions in passing the shadow work of Sarah, who sojourned with Abraham, and also the role of Rebecca, Rachel and other women.
The type of work these women were doing reflects their close rapport with the environment and their role in keeping it fit and fine. The tent of Abraham by the terebinth trees of Mamre had the rare honour of hosting ‘three men’. The very fact that these three men chose the ground eligible to tread upon reveals certain credentials. The role of Sarah and the other women folk in keeping it clean and a ground fit for the three men – the Lord and his companions – to tread upon evokes various points to ponder. Later in Exodus we see the Lord giving orders on how to keep their camps clean to facilitate the movement of the Lord who protects them and defends them. Many other women in the Bible like Deborah, Jael, Ruth and Naomi, and the daughters of Shallum and so on are found to have operated in their respective spheres in close rapport with environment. Even Jephthah’s daughter sought comfort in the mountains to reconcile herself to the vow her father made to the Lord. We read that the Israelite women even made it a custom to go the mountains 4 days a year in memoriam, thus establishing a close commune with the environment.
Martin Holdgate in his ‘nine fold principles for sustainable living’ sets rules for caring for the earth. Respect and care for the community of life is the foundation for sustainable living. People in all walks of life should incorporate the common code of ethics in personal behaviour and professional conduct. All are equally alarmed at the shocking imbalance in nature and its consequences. Every one tends to blame each other for exploiting the bounty of nature.
A change in the personal attitude and practices to the environment is a welcome change. In order to incorporate this, it is advisable to create awareness among women. Women being the core force in shaping the direction and destiny of the family and thus the community and the nation at large, become the focal point of creating this awareness. It becomes all the more convenient to disperse these attitudes and values to each and every one in the family and thus the community. Women need awareness, empowerment, education and training in order to bring it to happen. Communities should be enabled to care for their own environment.
In order to remove the obstacles which are deeply engrained in the fabric of society, in valuing nature and its resources and preserving it for our progeny, a right change in the attitude of women is highly essential than the present. “The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world” will become meaningful and hopefully, our earth and its blessings to some extent. It is easy to lay down principles but to translate them into practice needs concerted effort.
The beatitude ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’ Mathew 5:5, can possibly be interpreted as those who are mindful of their human place in creation, with respect for other creatures and more than anything, due respect for the Creator and not those who take undue advantage, who overtly exploit it with selfish motives. The Christian concept of lowliness, humility, tolerance, forbearance, fruitfulness, magnanimity and charity find their manifestation in earth and its environment.
In ‘The Neethisara’ of our culture in describing the qualities of an ideal woman, a striking comparison is made with that of the earth:
‘ .. . . . kshamaya dharithri
salkarma naaree kuladharma patni”
‘Woman’ and ‘earth’ have so much in common – her nature, qualities, attributes, attitudes and so on. The ‘mother earth’ concept :
The ground from which all life sprouts
The ground from where all springs shoot
The trodden ground which tolerates any hardships
The tilled ground that yields to any amount of breaking
The solid ground which provides firm footing for all vegetation, tall and small
The cleft ground which buries all the ills and filth of man
The furious ground which erupts and slides occasionally unable to hold its sobs and sighs
…. all resemble the woman in her various moods and moves.
King Lemuel’s mother, a prophetess in her depiction of a virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 highlights a woman who works in perfect unison with the world around her. Not only does she maintain the warmth inside the home but also moves in perfect harmony with world outside. Planting a vineyard with the fruit of her hands shows her keenness in profitable labour and wise investment. Being sensitive to the needs of the world around her she leaves no stone unturned in her effort to make not only her life beautiful and fruitful but also of those around her. This she achieves because of her resourceful life style, channeling the bountifulness of nature or the environment. Women folk and especially the church at large should identify their role in maintaining and preserving it for their progeny.
Who can identify oneself with the earth and its environment more than a woman ?