Thinking again – ‘Walk lightly on earth like other guests do’

British economist and writer Barbara Ward (1914-1981) – a woman of faith – had an international reputation as a promoter of sustainable development long before it became more widely accepted. We have forgotten, she said, how to be good guests and “walk lightly on earth like other guests.” It is true that we are more aware of the issues today, but the challenge we face is enormous and time is short.

This is an important issue for the farming community with its unique role in caring for the land – a responsibility often complicated by the demands of the rest of us for quality, cheap and plentiful food.

Teagasc – Authority for Agricultural and Food Development – ​​is a national body that exists to provide support and advice in these matters. Its website has an interesting piece that highlights the importance of the countryside’s edges as “important habitats and networks for nature that provide corridors for wildlife movement and a place for native flora to flourish.” He goes into some detail on the benefits to bird and insect life that play a vital role in keeping the land healthy and productive.

There is an interesting connection between what Teagasc is saying and tomorrow’s reading of the Book of Leviticus. This third book of the Old Testament is largely, but not entirely, concerned with the regulation of religious ceremonies in the Temple in Jerusalem. Tomorrow’s reading, however, deals with the management of the land and, in particular, the edges of the field: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the edges of your field or reap the ears of your crop.” . Thou shalt not lay bare thy vineyard, nor gather the fallen grapes of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord thy God.”

Twenty-five hundred years ago or more, Leviticus, like Teagasc, was concerned with the edges of the field, but with a different purpose, namely, the right of the poor and foreigners to a fair share. This was not an open invitation to be generous or kind, but an instruction to observe basic human rights. This is important as we contemplate the food shortages resulting from the war in Ukraine, a major grain producer.

We in Europe can complain about price increases and possible shortages, but for the poorest of the poor, especially in Africa and Asia, who cannot afford the higher costs, this can mean starvation and death. Gandhi said that it shouldn’t be like this: “Earth provides enough to satisfy all men’s needs, but not everyone’s greed.”

Reading Leviticus tells us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

In reading the Gospel, Jesus adds an extra dimension to this ancient commandment, saying: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. As I loved you, so you must also love one another.”

This is close to what we read in Leviticus, but notice the addition of “as I have loved you” which for him meant giving his life. It was a total donation; tokenism would not. For the follower of Jesus, saving the planet and caring for the “poor and foreigners” requires a fundamental change in the way we live.

In his book Less is More, Brian Draper echoes Barbara Ward’s idea of ​​walking lightly on earth: “If you walk barefoot on wet sand, you might see your own unique footprints for a short period of time. And then, before your eyes, they begin to disappear, leaving no trace, in the end, of where you’ve been. The tide will always return. The sand will always change in the end. And that’s how it should be, isn’t it? We were not created to step on the ground and take what is not ours, but to live with it, deepening the relationship we have with each other, with Spirit, with ourselves and with creation.”

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