EARTH DAY: RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SPECIES

Photo: Matthew Hendzel, SJ

This Earth Day, may the following parabolic remix help us reflect on both the Creator’s and Creation’s deep love for us.

Long before you and I were born, Mother Earth had only two children, a daughter and a son. The daughter was quiet by nature and loved to work beside her mother in the garden and in the woods. The son, on the other hand, had a more restless character. He felt trapped at home and everyday grew more anxious to get out and see the world. Finally, he could stand his mother’s care and counsel no longer. Bluntly and boldly he declared to her: “Mother, you have died to me. I’m now son of the road. Give me today the share of inheritance you were to leave me later.”  With a heart heavier than all her mountains put together, Mother Earth divided her wealth then and there between son and daughter. 

Not long after, the son gathered all he had and hit the road. At first his steps were unsteady, but as he walked along his pace grew firmer, harder, faster. He went many places. Saw many things. Made many discoveries. And in the thrill of his travels he barely noticed the sum of his inheritance dwindling down to pennies. When he had spent everything, a severe famine seized the land and he began to be in need. So he wandered even farther afield, looking for whatever crumbs of food and shelter he could find.   Eventually, he ended up in a squalid camp, full of victims of flood, drought, war and filth. He would have filled his belly with the tasteless, mushy rice the displaced were eating, but nobody gave him anything.

Much suffering later, somehow he came to himself and said, “In my Mother’s house no one goes hungry, and here I’m dying skin and bones. I will get up, go to my mother and I’ll say to her, “Mother, I have wronged Heaven and Earth. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me like a stranger.” So he set off and went to his mother.

While he was still far off, his mother saw him, dragging his battered body and broken pride along the very road he had longed so desperately to tread. Her womb filled with compassion. She ran out, threw her arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said what he had rehearsed: “Mother, I have wronged Heaven and Earth. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me like a stranger.” But the mother cried, “Quick, bring the finest woven robe and dress him. Ring his finger with my gold. Cover richly his ragged feet. Harvest all that my land will give today. Let us eat and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is now found.” And they began to celebrate.

Now the son’s sister was in the fields when she heard music and dancing. She ran home, because music and dancing always gave her joy. As she approached she asked what was going on. One of the musicians, who had also just arrived and was tuning her guitar replied, “Your brother has come, and your mother has harvested all her bounty to celebrate, because she has him back safe and sound.” The daughter stood there stunned, overcome by a million warring emotions. 

When Mother Earth looked around the feast and noticed her daughter wasn’t there, she went out and found her staring at the ground. “Mother”, the daughter said, “for all these years I have never left your side and have done all you wanted of me. We have never once been separated. But also, I have never been celebrated as you now do this wayward brother of mine, who has abused us both by his greed, neglect and absence.” Mother Earth’s ocean eyes filled with tears. “My dear, you are always with me. Everything we always share. But we have to celebrate and rejoice today, because this brother of yours was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and has been found.”

Greg Kennedy, SJ is a Jesuit priest working as a spiritual director at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, Ontario. His prayer often takes the form of poetry. Care of creation is central to his vocation. His recent publications include Joyful, Mournful Noises and The Hard Road Up to Hallelujah, volume 2 and volume 3, respectively, in the Reupholstered Psalms series.

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