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Earth’s Gratitude

Posted on March 2, 2020, by Jessie Rathburn CoL

‘Am I living in a way that Earth would be grateful for me?’

This is the question I was faced with recently after reading a Robin Wall Kimmerer article on returning Earth’s gifts. My gratitude for Earth, though undoubtedly inadequate, is near constant. The dew on the grass in the morning, the sweet strawberries in my jam, the birdsong outside my window, the warmth of the sun, and guiding light of the full moon – my gratitude for Earth increases steadily. But as I am in a relationship with Earth, as I am an expression of Earth, is this same kind of gratitude experienced from the other side? Am I living in ways for which Earth is grateful?

I do not find this an easy question to answer. In the murkiness of today’s
society, confusion abounds. Is it better to eat an avocado from South America or locally-raised meat? Should I purchase an electric car which required the release of many emissions in its production, or should I continue driving my gas-powered vehicle? The question I hear most often, both within Loretto and beyond, concerns what difference, if any, individual actions make. Shouldn’t efforts be focused on industries and governments? They are the ones with the real power to effect broad change. Does it make any difference if I recycle, compost, or take the bus?
I find living in the context of those questions deflating and polarizing. Trying to create a “both / and” context, I have urged folks to simultaneously make individual choices that align with their values and advocate for systemic change. However, this often does not inspire; rather, it catches us in the trap of particulars, quantifying everything we do as if Earth is a massive spreadsheet and we just need the bottom line to balance in the end. We can forget – or at least I can – what it takes to be in relationship. I think of my marriage and my relationship with my foster daughter – my partner and daughter are not grateful for me because I am checking off items on a “Top 10” list or because I replace one destructive habit with a slightly less destructive habit. Our gratitude for one another stems from how our love reorients our entire being. The time we spend with one another, the love we exhibit in innumerable ways, the manner in which we prioritize the others, the ways in which we stand up for one another – these are expressions of our reciprocal love and gratitude.

‘Am I living in a way that Earth would be grateful for me?’

It is this kind of framework I strive to bring to Earth. Am I fashioning my life in ways that cause Earth to be surprised by my gifts, delighted by my presence, and grateful for my efforts to heal the damage I have done? Some of my daily practices look the same within the context of these broader questions – I will still recycle, compost, produce as little waste as possible, and try to reduce my carbon footprint. But my mindset has shifted. These actions are gifts I can give freely to Earth.

In Loretto’s 2018 commitment to significantly reduce our impact on climate change and ecological degradation, we articulated our desire to evolve in solidarity with Earth. In 2019, we examined patterns of waste and consumption. Over the next several months, we will have opportunities to measure and reduce our carbon footprints. These are all appropriate actions, but they can, at times too easily, land us back into a consumption-driven mindset. As we individually and collectively examine our habits, let us be careful not to drown in the muck and mire of justifying and swapping. Let us live out of our love for Earth, continually asking ourselves if we’re living in ways in which Earth is running over with gratitude for us.

(You can read the full Robin Wall Kimmerer article here.)

Jessie Rathburn CoL

Jessie Rathburn CoL

Currently serving as Loretto’s Earth Education and Advocacy Coordinator, Jessie Rathburn spends much of her time outside – gardening, hiking, birding, and learning more about the local central Kentucky bioregion. Her background also includes English and writing instruction and operating an urban farm.
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