Sharing Interfaith Prayer as We Care for God’s Earth

At the March 9th “Ground for Hope” interfaith environmental gathering in Louisville, KY, leaders of local faith communities created and led a beautiful shared prayer time. With each person speaking from his/her authentic place of faith, we heard and shared the ways we believe, look to holy scripture, hear the Divine voice, and embrace our connection to the world around us as part of our faith. I was very moved, heartened, and grounded by this prayerful sharing that started off our day. We were grounded in hope as we then moved into workshops and discussions of exploring the hard realities of the state of the world. Remembering God’s goodness and the beauty of God’s creation, being centered by prayer and chanted song, feeling more aware of God’s holy, mysterious presence with us to open our day together, I was more able to see signs of hope and to share commitments to action. I am grateful for all those who came together to share their tradition and to live out their faith.


Here are the pieces that were woven beautifully together to create the rich tapestry of our interfaith prayer time:


GreenFaith Ground for Hope Interfaith Prayer Service

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Louisville, KY



Welcome Joe Phelps, Pastor of Highland Baptist Church


Invocation Camille Adams Helminski, The Threshold Society, Sufi community


We begin in the Name of God, the Infinitely Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful


It is said that the Prophet Muhammad used to hear rocks speak, even before the opening of his prophethood, and that Saint Francis and the Prophets Solomon and David spoke with the birds. Many of the saints and Prophets have been highly sensitized to the voices of the natural world.


In the Mevlevi litany, a remembrance prayer of the Sufi tradition of the mystic poet, Jalaluddin Rumi, it is said:

“O my God! . . . You are Most Holy and Pure. Everything is praising you—The darkness of the night, the brightness of the day, the rays of the sun, the light of the moon, the gushing of the rivers, the rustle of the leaves of the trees, the stars of the heavens, the soil of the earth, the rocks of the mountains, the sands of the desert dunes, the waves of the seas, the creatures upon the land and within the sea, all proclaim Your limitless glory.”


            (As it says in the Qur’an):

Limitless is He in His glory,

and sublimely, immeasurably exalted

beyond anything people may say.

The seven heavens acclaim His/Her limitless glory,

and the earth, and all that they contain;

and there is nothing that does not celebrate His immeasurable glory—

but you fail to grasp the manner of their glorifying Him!

Truly, He is forbearing, always ready to forgive!

[Surah al-Isra’, 17:44] (Translation from The Light of Dawn, Daily Readings from the Holy Qur’an by Camille Adams Helminski)


(so) Be constant in your prayer

from the time when the sun has passed its zenith

until the darkness of night,

and always be mindful of its recitation at dawn:

for see how the recitation at dawn

is indeed witnessed by all that is holy.

And rise from your sleep and pray during part of the night,

as a free offering,

and your Sustainer may well raise you to a glorious station.

And say: “O my Sustainer!

Cause me to enter upon whatever I may do in a true and sincere way,

and cause me to complete it in a true and sincere way,

and grant me, out of Your grace, sustaining strength!”

And say: “Truth has now arrived,

and falsehood has withered away:

for, witness, all falsehood is bound to wither away!”   

[Surah al-Isra’, 17:78-81] (Translation from The Light of Dawn, Daily Readings from the Holy Qur’an by Camille Adams Helminski)


So we invite you, in attunement with the whole of this beautiful creation,

to join us in offering praise and gratitude to the Source of Life (joining in the refrain “to our Creator, may we join our thanks and praise”):


Benedicite Aotearoa (adapted for the occasion) 

1       O give thanks to God, our Creator, who is good:

              whose love endures for ever.

2       You sun and moon, you stars of the Kentucky sky:

                  to our Creator, may we join our thanks and praise.

3       Sunrise and sunset, night and day:

             to our Creator, may we join our thanks and praise.

4       All mountains and valleys, grassland and forest, rain and mist and breeze:

             to our Creator, may we join our thanks and praise.

5       You oak and pine, dogwood and mountain laurel, moss and ferns:

             to our Creator, may we join our thanks and praise.

6       Bass and bluegill, mussel and mayfly, redworms and turtles:

             to our Creator, may we join our thanks and praise.

7       O Rabbits and cattle, squirrels and dogs, horses, bees,

                      cardinal and sparrow, turkey and hawk:

             to our Creator, may we join our thanks and praise.

8       Native peoples everywhere, those who have loved the land and those who are just awakening, those who have explored, and settlers of farms and towns,

                     all who have gone before and are with us now:

                  to our Creator, may we join our thanks and praise.

9       All you saints, people of Spirit, and keepers of this land:

             to our Creator, may we join our thanks and praise.

To Our Sustainer, may we join our thanks and praise. Amen.



Reading from Genesis Joe Rooks Rapport, Senior Rabbi at The Temple



Reflection Patricia K. Tull, A.B. Rhodes Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Seminary

See text below*




Closing chant  Camille Adams Helminski


Sufi/Islamic chant:


Alhamdulillah! (All Praise to God)

Ya Hayy! Ya Hayy! (O You Who Are Ever-Living, O You Who Are Ever-Living (Pouring Life))



Closing prayer Sunder Iyer, member, Hindu Temple of Kentucky


Bhumi-Mangalam,  Udaka-Mangalam,  Agni-Mangalam, Vayu-Mangalam,  Gagana-Mangalam,  Surya-Mangalam,Chandra-Mangalam,  Jagat-Mangalam,  Jiva-Mangalam, Deha-Mangalam,  Mano-Mangalam, Atma-Mangalam,Sarva-Mangalam-Bhavatu-Bhavatu-Bhavtu…

May there be peace in earth, water, fire, and air, the sun, moon, and planet, in all living beings, in body, mind and heart. May that peace be everywhere and in everyone.





*                *                *                *                *


*The Bible and the Earth

Patricia K. Tull


Genesis 2: 7-10 & 15 (read by Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport, Hebrew and English)

Then the Eternal God formed Adam, [the first human being] out of the dust of Adamah [out of the earth herself], and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life; and Adam became a living soul. And the Eternal God planted a garden eastward, in Eden; and there God placed Adam, the work of God’s hands. And the Eternal God planted, Adamah, the earth, with every tree that is pleasing 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. And a river flowed forth out of Eden to ever water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became four great streams…. And the Eternal God placed Adam in the garden of Eden to guard and to serve her.


It’s a joy and privilege to spend a Sunday afternoon here together in this most hopeful of month of the year when, despite all appearances, roots are growing underground, sap is rising in the trees, seedlings are germinating by the windows, a new spring is about to appear.

I asked Rabbi Joe to read from this creation account from Genesis 2 because it offers us a corrective to standard western understandings of what we humans are here for. If you ask most people what the human role in the natural world is, according to the Bible, they will say in unison one word—dominion. They will say God made humans in God’s image and gave us dominion over the rest of the living world. If you ask again what dominion means, you will often hear that the world is given to us to use as we please, for our own benefit. Some people will say this gratefully, some will say it defensively, and some will say it accusingly, as if it were the Bible that caused humans to exercise a power that may not really be good for us.

But if we read the Bible’s creation stories more carefully, we’ll see several things that put this interpretation in grave doubt. I will name two of them:

First, if we read the whole first chapter of Genesis, a very different picture appears, one in which the Creator expresses delight in the many different species of teeming life in the air, the seas, and the land, one in which even the elements of the universe possess intelligence, responding directly to their creator’s words, one into which humans come late on the sixth day, late Friday afternoon so to speak. In this context, these verses “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion” aren’t at all suggesting that the whole earth is created to serve our greed, as if we were rogue tyrants stuffing our bank accounts. But rather, dominion in God’s image means imitating a creator who “is good to all, whose compassion is over all God has made” (Ps 145:9). Wise rule benefits the whole realm, not just the powerful.

Second, if we read the Bible thoroughly, we see that dominion is not the only role biblical writers imagine for us. In fact, it’s a minority view among the many creation accounts in the Bible, and an even more minority view among ancient scriptures worldwide. Immediately after the seven days of creation in Genesis 1, there stands another story entirely, the one from which Rabbi Joe just read. As in the first story, here it is God alone who makes all things. As in the first story, creation includes the waters, the fields, the vegetation, and the animals, including the humans. But some of the images shift. In this story we aren’t given dominion at all. Rather, focus remains on the land—on a garden filled with fruit, the garden of God.

Here it says God made out of the soil not only the plants, but also the first human being, shaping the human out of dust as a potter would shape a clay figure. In Hebrew, it says that God made the adam (or as we say in English, Adam), God made the adam out of the adamah, the ground. Adam from adamah, humans from humus, earthling from earth, or farmer from farmland.

This earthling is not called ruler, but servant of the ground. Most translations have obscured this role. One very popular translation says: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” “Keep” is accurate enough, or “guard,” or “preserve,” but “till” is not quite right. When it’s intransitive, when it stands without an object, this Hebrew verb avad can mean “to work” or “to serve.” But when it’s transitive and takes an object, as it does here, its meaning doesn’t become, as in English, “to work it,” that is, “to make it work.” Rather it means “to serve it,” to “work for” it, to serve the Garden of Eden. So God puts the first human in the garden, we might say, “to serve and preserve it.” This story pictures the human’s role not as ruler but as caregiver, or tenant farmer. That is the first job we were given, one we’ve never been released or retired or fired from. What would happen if we took that idea seriously?

According to this story, God immediately sees that it is not good for the human to live alone with all the plants in the garden. And so God goes on creating, using the same soil out of which God formed the human, that same soil to make every animal and every bird as companions and coworkers, and finally to make another human, to create community. 

If we took such visions seriously, they could open very different vistas to us. For many years I have taken seminary students newly initiated in the Hebrew language to a neighboring synagogue to take part in the Friday evening prayers. Many have never visited a synagogue or a mosque, and find themselves intrigued with the similarities to worship they know. One night when we were at the Temple where Rabbi Joe serves, the young woman who sat next to me cried quietly through the entire service. I asked her if she were all right. “More than all right,” she said. She was startled, as if waking from a dream. “Being here is like finding out I have family I didn’t know I had.”

She woke up that evening to human neighbors she had not recognized as kin before. What happens to us when we wake up to know, to feel in our bones, the bonds we have with an even wider family, the family of verdant life on our planet, a web of being that cradles us all?

Many are saying the human disconnect from the natural world is not primarily a scientific or technological problem, but a spiritual one—we don’t understand what humans are here for, nor what satisfies our longings. We have been conditioned, especially in the past two generations, to turn our backs on traditional values such as gratitude and simplicity, and to allow ourselves to come to crave material goods that far exceed our needs and capacities. We need something better to live for than athletic shoes and plasma TVs.

We can learn a different way both from paying attention to what the natural world is now urgently telling us, and from the ancient scriptures of many faiths. We can learn that we aren’t just here for ourselves. We aren’t here just so we and our families can flourish in the present generation, as important as this is. We are here for the flourishing of life itself. Human life, and all life. Just as trees are here not just for themselves, but for the other creatures, including us, creatures who breathe and eat and find shelter and warmth from the trees’ bounty, we are here to cultivate the living world and aid its flourishing. We are not here to destroy, but to build up, to tend, to be groundskeepers in the garden of God.

            It’s not just about the emergency of the present moment. When we learn to live in the ways we were made to live, and to love the things we were created to care for, we humans will take root and flourish in ways we haven’t dreamed of yet. As we learn and share this afternoon, I hope we may all germinate, strike root, find our sap rising and our branches reaching upward, or good fruit growing sweeter, to nourish those who share this good garden home.



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