On the west-side of Columbus, there is a 40-acre plot of woods off Eakin Road. It is one of the last undeveloped lands of its kind in the city. For a long time, it has been used as an illegal dumping ground.

For the past year, the Sierra Club of Central Ohio has been working to clean, replant and restore this land. There is so much work to do. Frustratingly, many of the trees we planted last year have been destroyed by illegal ATV drivers. Yet we return, we replant, and we hope. For me, this project has become a symbol of defiant hope. We will not give up on this land, despite the obstacles we are facing.

Our planet is in crisis. We all know it. I was recently at an event at our church with a group of farmers from Pickaway Country. The guest speaker was an Ohio State climatologist who said that last year’s weather is the new normal. The groans in the room were audible, if not despairing. We all know there is a problem that is bigger than any one of us and affects all of us. Is this the end of the world as we know it? Apocalyptic fears have been around from the beginning. Every generation worries it may be the last, and to this point they have all been wrong. Yet the ecological crisis is here, and it is real. What are we to do? In what is likely an apocryphal story, Martin Luther is alleged to have said, “If I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.” Whoever said that was a spiritual genius. In times of crisis, people of faith plant trees. We defiantly hold onto hope that our actions matter and that matter matters. Rooted in faith, we plant in hope for the sake of love.

In a fascinating convergence, both Genesis and physicists tell us that human beings are made of dust. The Bible says God formed the human from the dust of the ground. Physicists say we are formed from the dust of ancient stars. Both suggest that our connection to the earth is primal and that any distinction we make between ourselves and nature exists only in our minds. How we treat the earth is how we treat ourselves and vice versa, for we are all connected. Awakening to this interconnection is the only way we will address the crisis at hand. It not enough to tweak the system here and there. We must learn to love the earth again, and in loving the earth, love ourselves.

On our most recent trip to the Eakin Road project, my 10-year-old son told me, “One day I hope to bring my children here to show them the park that I helped build.” In times of crisis, people of faith plant trees. When problems are great, our actions can feel small. But every action matters, every tree matters, every person matters, and matter matters. As the weather becomes beautiful, may you find time to love the earth. In doing so, may you love yourself as well.

The Rev. Joel A. Esala, Circleville Presbyterian Church and a member of the Pickaway County Ministerial Association.

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