“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.” — Walt Whitman, preface to Leaves of Grass, “This is What You Shall Do.”
In Whitman’s famous counsel on living he begins with “love the earth and sun and the animals….” The command to love the earth isn’t just for the earth’s sake. Loving the earth does something to us. It grounds us, centers us in our created-ness, and reminds us of the interconnectedness between all that lives and breathes and grows. Loving the earth keeps us from getting so stuck on ourselves that we forget anything else exists. And loving the earth quickly moves into how we interact with each other, which I think is very intentional on Whitman’s part. How we love the earth and how we love each other are intertwined. If I can’t see the glory of God in the prairies or oceans, how can I see the glory of God in you? If I can’t see the awe of the neighbor kid’s life, how can I see the awe of an acorn becoming an oak tree? And maybe even more radical, if I don’t believe God created a great poem within my very flesh, can I believe that God is a poet at all? I invite you to spend some time today with Whitman’s, “This is what you shall do.” Notice how it begins with love: for the earth, for each other, and for ourselves. May it be so.
Let us pray:
Good and Gracious God, we give you thanks for the gifts of creation. Make us wise stewards, compassionate guardians, and powerful advocates for all that you have made. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.