I fell in love with a wetland last summer.
I had a hankering to explore, so I strapped on my TEVA sandals, grabbed my journal and watercolor set, and headed down the road to catch the morning sun at the nearby wetland. The midsummer heat was already rising as I walked through the tall grasses to stumble upon the edge of an ephemeral pond still wet with the morning dew and bursting with life and activity. Birds of all shapes and sounds were calling, feeding, flying. Insects were zipping about and frogs, startled by my presence, yelped, and leapt underwater. I was drunk with the vibrancy and beauty of this place and taken with knowledge that God’s presence was glimmering all around me. I guess more accurately, I did not fall in love with the wetland, but deeper in love with God, who just can’t help but to brim and spill over with creative life.
Through moments like this I have come to understand more clearly the relationship we are invited into with God and the earth, not just as a steward (as if God was absent) but as a responsible part of Earth community. I’ve heard the role likened to a custodian who works with God and our animate and inanimate neighbors to collaborate and sustain diversity and balance. We are to embody this peaceful, non-violent, regenerative, existence in every aspect of our lives, in an integral way, like Pope Francis encourages us to do in Laudato Si’.
As a candidate, I get to see with new eyes the Dominican Sisters of Peace’s commitment to integral ecology lived out concretely. One way is through our current wetland construction project at Shepherd’s Corner Ecology Center here in Blacklick, Ohio.
I was surprised to learn that prior to the 1800s, over half of the lands that make up the state of Ohio were wetlands. White colonial settlers perpetuated a disordered understanding of our relationship to the creator and the created, and thus these wetlands were considered unproductive, smelly, unnavigable, and useful only when eliminated. Today, over 90 percent of all of Ohio’s wetlands have been drained and developed. This makes me wonder, where else in our society do we adopt the “throwaway culture,” Pope Francis alludes to, failing to see the beauty in diversity, in the things that take a bit more work to love?
Since the 1980s we are slowly realizing what amazing and critical ecosystems wetlands are. Wetlands help us correct our mistakes: they naturally filter water, sequester carbon, refill groundwater stores, and create buffers for flooding events that are becoming more frequent. They also allow us to be good neighbors: wetlands are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet, creating a home for flora and fauna throughout all stages of life. And ironically, they have the highest productivity, turning sunlight into living matter faster and more efficiently, than any other ecosystem on Earth. The wetland at Shepherd’s Corner will also be space for education and contemplation, inviting others to see the divine within the diversity.
I’m proud of the congregation’s long history and invigorated commitment to listening to the voice of the voiceless and honoring the land’s inherent value, not for the usefulness of her ability to provide for humans, but for all of earth community. May we continue on this journey towards integral ecology which, according to Pope Francis, includes: “taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us, whose presence ‘must not be contrived but found, uncovered’.”
Pope Francis. 2015. Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home [Encyclical].
About Us. Ohio Wetlands Association. 2022. https://www.ohwetlands.org/about-us.html