Rio Reflection: Human Vocation

Gen 2:5-15

In the day that the Holy God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Holy God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground—then the Holy God formed the human one (adam) from the dust of the ground (adamah), and breathed into human nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living being. And the Holy God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there God put the human whom God had formed. Out of the ground that the Holy God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

Then the Holy God took the human one and put that one in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.



God of human and humus, you created us as part of creation. It is a gift that we are made of dust, always connected to this world in which we live. We praise you for the community we can have with each other, with all the earth, and with you. Help us always to be mindful of your artistic shaping of humankind that we may make of our lives an artwork of beauty and kindness. In Christ, encourage us to take our human vocation seriously and to live responsibly as disciples for the glory of your name. Amen.


Rio Reflection:  Human Vocation

Being made of dust and having been given the breath of God, the human one was placed in the garden to till and to keep. How do we embrace this human vocation? What do you do in your personal life to till and to keep? In your church? In civil society and public policy? In global eco-justice arenas?


At Rio+20, I am reminded of the joy that comes with living our human vocation. There is joy when the wisdom to remain connected (or to reconnect) with the earth is taught by indigenous peoples. There is joy when people prepare food for attendees out of local foods, natural ingredients and whole grains. There is joy when participants walk, dance, or ride bikes through the People’s Summit. There is joy when young adults showcase their energy, knowledge, and passion as they teach eco-justice workshops. There is joy when long celebrated eco-theologian (Leonardo Boff) makes his way forward to speak to the ecumenical crowd gathered under a tent, first thing in the morning.


We can be filled with joy and find a huge blessing when we realize that God has given us a vocation that helps us to remember who we are, and who God created us to be. We can remember with fondness, rather than threat, that we are made of the same material “stuff” as the rest of creation—the dust of the earth. We can welcome with gratitude, rather than intimidation, that we have a responsibility and role to play in this earth, to till and to keep.


The original Hebrew word for “till” also means to “serve” in most other contexts. We are called to interact with the earth in a humble posture (serving), in a way that brings things to life (tilling). This morning Leonardo Boff encouraged us, more than once (along with Deuteronomy 30:19) to choose life, to choose for life, to make conscious the move away from things that lead to death. This is part of our Christian calling, our basic human vocation.


Tilling does not mean putting a price tag on all parts of nature and deciding how much they are worth to trade between countries. Tilling does not mean commodifying things like water, which people need to live as a basic human right. Tilling does not mean extracting minerals and fossil fuels from the earth or damming waters in violent, unhealthy ways (whether in La Oroyo, Peru or in the mountains of Appalachia or in the Brazilian Amazon or in any other part of the world).


Tilling means, rather, that we follow Jesus’ example:  wrapping a towel around our waist, we can go forward to wash the feet of creation, to lovingly tend those who we are called to serve. It means to give voice to the voiceless, to be an advocate, to listen, to respond, and to attend with care.


The verb “to keep” in this Genesis passage is the same one used for keeping covenant or keeping Sabbath. This reminds me that our work to keep the earth is indeed for our own well-being. It keeps us in proper relationship to God and to others. It keeps us balanced in body, mind, and spirit. God intends our wholeness when we live out our vocation.


 Keeping the earth does not mean lowest common denominator, stand back and see what happens. It does not mean holding things steady as other forces seek to destroy life. There is an active, actual, “I’m going to refuse to let go” quality of this keeping. There is something of value here and I am going to keep it that way, to not let anyone or anything hurt it.


Some of us may do this keeping through acts of daily care, through public policy advocacy, through the arts, or through Christian eco-justice theology and worship. We hold tightly to the preciousness of creation in order to keep it, to be in covenant relationship with Creator and creation. Many of these activities serve as a spiritual discipline of sorts, a way of loving, honoring, and respecting God and God’s creation.


We also keep the earth through a demand for a more rigorous, enforceable establishment of certain uncompromised rights. Conversations here in Rio consider: what are basic human rights (is water a luxury, a commodity, or a basic right?), are women’s rights connected to human rights, to earth rights (women delegates, NGOs, grassroots activists each in their own way these last few days have expressed protests against compromising on women’s rights, particularly the deletion of the portion of the Outcome Document that names reproductive rights), and what are earth rights (is there a way to determine these and to hold harmful corporations accountable for their infringement of these rights).

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Leonardo Boff and others here at the People’s Summit are concerned that while there is an awakening of consciousness (within Christian circles and others) that we are called to care for creation, that we have not made much progress in the last twenty years since governments gathered here in Rio in 1992 for the original Earth Summit.


The state of the world’s waters, forests, and vulnerable communities show that life is still being attacked in the very fundamentals. Boff states the fact of our dependence on the earth (and we have this creation story to remind us that we are made from this very earth, we are human of its humus). Boff also assures us that the earth does not, in the same way, depend on us. It could go on without us.


While we have waged war on the earth and created conditions to undo certain aspects of life (a role that only the God who created should have), we must decide to live, we must decide on the side of life. Surely, as we embrace our human vocation to till, we are being called to create good conditions for life to flourish. As we realize the courage and strength and will power of our human vocation to keep, we realize that no “Outcome Document” can stop us from doing the things we know we must to do to care for God’s earth. Whatever the official outcome of Rio+20, we have our original vocation that was given us by the One who creates, redeems and sustains all of life. This vocation can set the agenda, even if Rio+20 does not have much helpful to add.


In the end, it is the changes we make out of love, Boff says, that are the changes that matter. Yes, we learn from suffering, but we learn even more from love.


Let us then indeed make changes out of love, finding joy in recommitting ourselves to our human vocation.



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