One of the things we did while in Winona for the Great River Shakespeare Festival this weekend was to visit the Minnesota Maritime Art Museum, which (surprisingly to me at least) houses some world-class impressionist and Hudson River School paintings.
I spent some time standing in front of the note accompanying a painting by the American painter Asher Brown Durand, of the Hudson River School. The painting was a beautiful landscape, and the note read that for Durand, nature and beauty were the work of the living God, and that humankind was “here to nurture and be nurtured by the land.”
A simple statement, but one that highlights the intended mutuality of humans and the world God created for us: We take care of it, and it takes care of us.
We, of course, do so much to neglect our part of that arrangement. We take and take from our earth, without anything like sufficient regard, sufficient nurturing, of what we have been given.
As I stood before the painting and the note, my thought was: Will you [God] let us destroy it completely? Will you stand by and allow us to continue to take and take until the earth has no more left to give? Until our home is no longer habitable for humans.
I didn’t hear a clear answer to that question. Or perhaps I did: What came to mind were the words of the last part of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem that I love so well, God’s Grandeur:
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
I would like to trust that nature will never be spent…that nothing can destroy that dearest freshness. But I’d rather we do a better job than we are now doing to nurture our land.