Thirty-five women recently gathered at the Conference & Retreat Center for our annual Women’s Weekend in order to explore and experience “The Gifts of Friendship.” I had the joy of leading a session about friendship in and with creation. In my preparation I was delighted to learn about friendship-like relationships among trees and among elephants; I also enjoyed learning more about the mutuality between bees and flowers, plover birds and crocodiles, and even digestive bacteria and humans. The intricate interweaving of creation—the way that all life is connected—is truly astonishing! And as I reflected on all of this, I was particularly struck by the notion of being both a friend to creation and befriended by creation.
It’s always been clear to me that human beings are deeply connected with nature. (I imagine, or I at least hope that has been clear to others as well!) But I can’t say I’ve ever defined that relationship in terms of friendship. The word I would most readily use for this relationship is stewardship, which is an important vocation. At the same time, it’s a bit one sided… Is it not? By very definition it puts me in a position of power over the land and my fellow creatures—to be responsible for and manage them.
True, God has called us to such work and let us not forget this calling. But let us also not forget that God has made us in God’s image. For Christians, God is Triune, which means that God exists in loving, interdependent mutuality. Each person of the Trinity lives with one another in love, by love, and for love. Pouring themselves out into one another just as they are also filled up by one another. This is what “professional church nerds” or, more accurately, theologians refer to as perichoresis.
The perichoretic heart of God reveals something about us as well… We are inherently relational creatures designed to live in communion with one another and all of creation. Pouring ourselves out for others, trusting others will fill us back up.
Of course, this delicate dance isn’t void of risk—especially in our highly independent culture. We humans can be downright cruel to one another and to nature so long as it benefits us. Trusting that what we pour out will actually be returned to us by whatever or whomever we’re in relationship with—land or sea, plants or animals, or a fellow human being—is no simple task.
But when we actually live into the kind of relationality in which we were made, life flourishes for us and for all, which is God’s desire for the world God so loves. God has given us one to another—humanity and the rest of creation—for the sake of and wellbeing of each other.
Let us remember our calling as stewards, yes. And let us remember our identity as image bearers of the one who created the heavens and the earth in love, by love, and for love. May we be bold to receive and give—over and over again—God’s gift of friendship with our fellow humans, fellow creatures, and the earth and skies we all claim as home. For it is good, and indeed, it is very good.
Reverend Annie Langseth is the Director of Spiritual Care at Mount Olivet Homes, the Director of Outreach & Creative Engagement at Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center, and an ordained minister in the ELCA.