The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:12)
In A New Heaven, A New Earth: The Bible and Catholicity (Orbis, 2016), Dianne Bergant, CSA leads us to new ways of understanding and talking about the Bible, God, creation, and humankind. She reads and interprets the Bible through the lens of catholicity, that is, a consciousness of the wholeness that pervades all life. In each chapter, she examines an aspect of the natural world, determined by the biblical text itself. In Chapter Two, Bergant concentrates on the land and its abundant harvests, which play a prominent role in the Historical Books of the Bible: Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings.
According to Bergant and other Biblical scholars, the people of ancient Israel viewed the land as a gift from God, especially when they were landless nomads. Once they settled in the land, they considered land an inheritance for which they were responsible and accountable to God. Moreover, they interpreted the loss of the land as punishment for their disregard of their covenant commitment. Though the land was considered a gift from God, conditions were set for the people’s continued enjoyment of this gift.
Bergant continues, “The idea of the land as a gift from God corresponds to the contemporary idea of creation evolving out of the graciousness of its divine source. A gift is never earned; it is freely given as an expression of love. All that it requires is that the one receiving the gift accept it with gratitude, acknowledge and value it for what it really is, and show respect for it and for the giver by using it as it is intended to be used.”
Viewing the land as gift means that we should not assume that we enjoy exclusive proprietorship with unrestrained exercise of authority over the use of the land. From Bergant’s perspective, land is not given to individuals but to communities of people, who together are both responsible for its flourishing, and accountable for it to God.
Reading Bergant’s work, particularly at this time of harvest, prompts me to reflect on some key questions:
Q1. How do I show my gratitude for the gift of land and its fruitfulness? In what ways do I use the land as it is intended to be used, and in what ways do I show disrespect for the intrinsic value of Earth?
— from Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers
we appeal to your tender care
that even as you temper the winds and rains
to nurture the fruits of the earth
you will also send upon them
the gentle shower of your blessing.
Fill the hearts of your people with gratitude,
that from the earth’s fertility
the hungry may be filled with good things
and the poor and needy proclaim the glory of your name.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Q2. If all people need land upon which to live and from which to draw sustenance, what does it mean for exiles and refugees to be landless? What are the effects on their social stability, sense of identity, and connections with the land? What is my responsibility with respect to their plight?
A Prayer for Refugees
— from Catholic Relief Services
God of our Wandering Ancestors,
Long have we known
That your heart is with the refugee:
That you were born into time
In a family of refugees
Fleeing violence in their homeland,
Who then gathered up their hungry child
And fled into alien country.
Their cry, your cry, resounds through the ages:
“Will you let me in?”
Give us hearts that break open
When our brothers and sisters turn to us
with that same cry.
Then surely all these things will follow:
Ears will no longer turn deaf to their voices.
Eyes will see a moment for grace instead of a threat.
Tongues will not be silenced but will instead advocate.
And hands will reach out—
working for peace in their homeland,
working for justice in the lands where they seek safe haven.
Lord, protect all refugees in their travels.
May they find a friend in me
And so make me worthy
Of the refuge I have found in you. Amen.