JOIN ME IN your imagination for a few minutes in the high Andes. The bamboo that arches over us here—like the tree that arches over your yard or nearby park—is at this very moment taking the carbon you and other creatures are breathing out. It then reforms this carbon into carbohydrate, powered by solar energy and hydrated with water (photosynthesis). It is making sugar from that CO2. The plant then uses this sugar to provide the energy and materials for making all sorts of new substances.
For example, if I take a leaf from a plant (such as lettuce or kale) and chew and swallow it, it is transformed within me to produce materials for sustaining my life, powering my walking and speaking and writing. And from its use I release carbon dioxide, returning through this gas the very same carbon the leaf had absorbed through the stomatal pores on its surface and incorporated into the leafy food I ingested. To complete the remarkable carbon cycle, the carbon I breathe out is eventually taken up again by green plants that in turn produce food for humans, bugs, birds, and batrachians! (Let’s hear a doxology!) Without green plants, all human life perishes—and most other animate life as well.
Plants accomplish a myriad of activities out of our sight. Beneath lawns and gardens, forests and prairies, roots are moving water from the soil, pulling it up through stems into the leaves and back into the atmosphere. All forests, all trees, all vegetation—great movers of water—are constantly returning to the atmosphere water that had fallen as rain. It rises again and again within the thin fabric of the biospheric envelope and condenses into those white clouds you see above to fall down again to water the earth.
Living and working mindfully and carefully within the biosphere, we come to understand that we must not break that cycle of water; we must work to restore the places where it has been broken. We do this because it is God’s gift to sustain all the earth’s creatures over which we have the mandate of stewardship, our oikumenical work. When we receive it gratefully and properly, this is a gift that keeps on giving.
Previous generations did not have our knowledge and understanding of how delicate our biospheric home really is. But we have no excuse. We know, and we know more each passing day, what we are doing to the magnificent membrane of life on God’s earth. And, coming into our own as the children of God, we can respond to the groaning of an abused creation by nurturing it carefully. Creation, we know, will welcome its reclamation by the meek of the earth. It will welcome the coming of the children of God (Romans 8:18-25).
From Song of a Scientist: The Harmony of a God-Soaked Creation, by Calvin B. DeWitt, copyright 2012. Used with permission of Square Inch (SquareInchBooks.org).