Rachel Crandell Christian Science Sentinel, August 22, 2003 

God's control of the environment
by Kim Shippey

Environmentalist, teacher, author, and photographer Rachel Crandell likes to quote something once said by Felix Houphouet-Boigny, former president of Ivory Coast: "Man has gone to the moon, but he does not yet know how to make a flower, a tree, or a bird song. Let us keep our dear countries free from irreversible mistakes which would lead us in the future to long for the same birds and trees."

“ People of faith have much to contribute to the healing of our planet,” says Ms. Crandell. “If we are to retain control of our natural resources, the world has need of our prayers. I love to think of prayer as spiritualizing my thinking about whatever presents itself as out of whack, unwise, diseased, violent, polluted, unjust—and seeing through the problem to the truth of being.”

We chatted informally on the phone while Crandell was waiting at a small airport in Alaska to board a bush plane that would fly her to Arctic Village, Alaska, where she was due to meet with the Gwich’in People.

“ I think about our world a lot,” Crandell continued. “I belong to lots of environmental organizations. I read articles about threats to the viability of the planet, fears of what global warming could bring, deforestation, soil erosion, displacement of indigenous people, overpopulation, introduced species invading native ecosystems. It can get discouraging if I accept that there is another power apart from God.”

We agreed that we couldn’t possibly cover all the issues Crandell had mentioned, and that we should concentrate on her special interests— rainforests, indigenous peoples, and food resources.
As a Christian Scientist, Crandell says she turns regularly to the Bible for spiritual answers to environmental issues. “I’m often helped by the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis,” she says. “He was unjustly attacked by his brothers, thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, then falsely accused and put in prison. But we never read anything about his holding vengeful thoughts or wanting to get even for the injustices done to him. He eventually became the second in command of all Egypt, solving their environmental problems and feeding the nation.

“ I love to think of Joseph as a model for me to follow. He began by asking God for answers, not blaming anyone. Joseph was willing to listen to God, and through God’s wisdom and guidance, he was given the ideas, opportunities, and the authority to solve the country’s crises and benefit everyone—including his own family.

"’ How about me?’ I think. ‘Am I ready? Do I love enough, trust enough, listen enough to follow Joseph’s example? Can I forgive the farmers who show poor judgment when they spray crops on a windy day? Or loggers who clear-cut forests? Can I trust God so completely that I stop fearing for the world’s trees?’

“ My prayers are wrapped in the answers to questions like these. When situations arise that seem to be evil or just wrong, I try to see them in a spiritual light and gain a totally new perspective—the view that God would have of the situation.”

Soon, we got talking about John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, who once wrote, "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." “How true,” comments Crandell, “and not just the plants and animals that Muir was talking about, but the impact our actions and choices have on the rest of the planet—the air, water, and climate.”

Ms. Crandell, the teacher, delights in posing a statistical question to her classes: “Did you know that the average food item in America travels 1,300 miles to get to us?” She then refers them to Barbara Kingsolver’s book of essays, Small Wonder (HarperCollins), in which the author reports that Mr./Mrs. Average in the US eats ten or more items per day or more. In one year, each person’s food will have traveled five million miles by land, air, or sea. Picture a truck loaded with apples, oranges, and iceberg lettuce rumbling to the moon and back ten times a year just for you! Can we afford to keep doing it the same old way? Kingsolver asks.

“ Our convenience-driven habits,” says Crandall, “have pushed us to a rate of extinction that today matches what it was about 65-million years ago when the dinosaurs went extinct. I don’t think people will ever find peace of mind until they understand the spiritual nature of creation more clearly and come to know God as the source of all good. I love what Mary Baker Eddy said about this: ‘Spirit diversifies, classifies, and individualizes all thoughts, which are as eternal as the Mind conceiving them; but the intelligence, existence and continuity of all individuality remain in God, who is the divinely creative Principle thereof’ (Science and Health, p. 513).

" That is spiritual sustainability," says Crandell, “and it’s with us right here, right now. God’s work is already done. Every single idea of God is distinct and complete. We don’t have to fear for any form of life.”

Crandell has visited the tropical rainforests of Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Borneo, and the British Virgin Islands. In 1997/98 she took a sabbatical from teaching that made it possible for her to live for five months at the edge of the Jaguar Sanctuary with her Maya friends in a village in Belize.

She slept in a hammock in a palm-frond house they built for her, washed and bathed in a creek, hauled wood from the forest, caught fish in a trap, dug cassava with a machete, and learned to carve in slate and make tortillas “very round.” It was here that she gathered material for a book for children, Hands of the Maya (Henry Holt and Company, New York).

On one occasion she was delighted to be able to help the leaders of the village in a six-year-old land dispute over six acres of forest the local government wanted to bulldoze and use for housing. The villagers had worked hard to keep the forest intact and were using it as a medicinal garden for the community.

“ I prayed many nights,” said Crandell, “to know that the land commissioner was not in control. God was. And that my Maya friends could not be deprived of what was rightfully theirs. Deep down I knew that we were dealing not with land but with spiritual ideas. As Mrs. Eddy wrote, when we discover man in God’s image and likeness, ‘We see that man has never lost his spiritual estate and his eternal harmony’ (Science and Health, p. 548).

“ I shared these thoughts with several villagers,” continued Crandell, “and suggested they avoid inflammatory rhetoric in responding to angry newspapers articles written about them. Instead, I said they might try to concentrate on fact not opinion. I reminded them how mad they got at overheated, inaccurate accusations against them, and encouraged them to write an article that was simply ‘true.’ The local paper ran that article in its entirety, and within a few days the land commissioner had agreed that all six acres be retained by the villagers.”

Crandell describes tropical rainforests as her favorite places to be. “When I look up the trail into the forest and see the zillion different textures and colors, and the tangle of vines and fallen limbs, it just takes my breath away.

“ Everything in the forest looks like chaos,” she says. “But every single organism is doing its right job—every decomposer, every epiphyte, every stoma on every leaf is doing the job it’s supposed to do. And because of that, this incredible life is existing, feeding and caring for the soil, soaking up water and making oxygen for us. The whole process fits.

“ If we take out even a tiny piece—get rid of the spiders because they’re icky, or mosquitoes because they bite, or whatever—we change the companionship that goes along with all these life forms working together. I mean, if you were to take apart a wristwatch, and you decided this little spring was too curly, or this little knob served no purpose, and you decided to pitch them, you’d never be able to put the whole thing back together and make it work again. As biologist Aldo Leopold once said, ‘To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.’ It’s the same with ecosystems.”

Crandell points out that scientists have described almost 1.7-million species on our planet. Yet it’s predicted that there are anywhere between ten million to 100-million species, almost all of which are not known, named, or studied. The web of interconnectedness is so complex and so far from being understood, that we need to be careful not to disrupt or eradicate these species before we know their function.

“ It would be awful not to be able to hear those bird songs mentioned by Houphouet-Boigny and not be able to recreate them,” she concludes. “So it’s up to us—in whatever ways we can, humanly and spiritually—to be guided to make wise decisions about our human actions, and to change the path we’re set upon, which is largely the wrong direction.

“ I’m encouraged, however, to see that many people in the world are starting to make a U-turn. They are aware of the dangers of over-population and the destruction of irreplaceable resources; they are beginning to do what they can about recycling; and they are marketing recycled products more vigorously. Yet there are so many, many more things we can do that would push us faster toward solutions.

‘” I’m just grateful that I’ve been able to learn firsthand to trust that powerful Bible statement, ‘I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me’ (Isa. 45: 5). During almost 40 years in environmental work, I have seen such reassuring evidence that the one omnipotent Father-Mother God is loving and sustaining Her creation.”

Reprinted with permission. Copyright ©2003 Christian Science Sentinel. All rights reserved


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