Relating to nature

Isn’t nature wonderful? 

I just love the beautiful flowers – wonderful to look at, delightful to smell, they fill me with joy. 

And fruit… marvelouw. Vegetables, nuts, berries… such wonders for which we must be grateful. 

I love nature – – – well, I love it from a safe distance anyway… 

We have had some wonderful walks in the country in this congregation. I remember going on one… we were crossing a lovely field – it was a beautiful day and the land was green and lush. 

I managed to get just slightly ahead of the rest of the group so I could turn around to get a photograph of the rest – I’d use the timer so I could get myself into the shot too. But the camera wouldn’t stand up straight on its own. 

What could I use to prop it up? Oh, these fat leaves growing right by the gate should be good. I grabbed a few. Someone yelled “don’t touch that!” Too late! This is how I first learned about stinging nettle. 

What? You have stinging plants here? 

So, the world of nature is not all fragrant flowers and sweet berries… 

Or as author (and Unitarian) Kurt Vonnegut said “If people think that nature is their friend, then they sure don't need an enemy.” 

So it seems appropriate that today is the last day of a very special week – no doubt we have all been celebrating since Monday – for it is the 2011 national “Be Nice to Nettles Week.” Be nice to nettles. 

The lowly nettle – as it turns out is both nasty and nice at the same time. Yes, it stings. It is also good to cook with, has been used for medicine, and the fibres of its stems have long been used to make fabric, sometimes known as nettlecloth. 

I don’t want nature to be nasty and nice – I want it to be all nice. And herein lies the nub of our problem. Let’s go to the Hebrew Scriptures. Let’s go all the way back to the first chapter of the first book – Genesis. God had just created people: 

“28God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’” 

Fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion? Well, we’ve ticked those boxes, haven’t we? 

We have been told for at least a few thousand years that this place is ours to do with as we please. Dominion – Rule, control, domination… Nature, we learned, is there to serve us, to feed us, to clothe us, to house us, to die and turn into fuel to warm us… If it’s not to our liking, we should subdue it. 

Our relationship with nature has truly been of the ruler and ruled. How dare my humble subject sting me? Off with his green head! 

We here more and more that we must learn to care for the earth – to be better stewards of the planet. When we say that we need to care for our earth, we are moving in the right direction, but we are still locked into a relationship of rule and power. We are pledging to be more benign sovereigns than we have. 

We here have set ourselves to the purpose of being in a special kind of relationship with one another and to begin to share that relationship and that way of living. 

Be nice to nettles. 

What if we actually began to learn to love the natural world as it is? 

As we know from our lives together, love is not always easy. Loving each other means accepting and welcoming each other as they are – and some of us are thorny and prickly too… not unlike the lovely lowly nettle… but we have set ourselves in the direction of a fuller and more complete sense of acceptance. 

Be nice to nettles – does it mean appreciating nettles for what they can do for us only? Or is there another possibility – appreciating nettles and the rest of life for itself – for its totality – for its own wholeness. 

The natural world was not put here solely for our benefit. We are part of that natural world and we have become the part that sees fit to destroy and use and abuse as we please.

The seven principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association finish with a pledge to affirm and promote the interdependent web of existence, of which we are a part. 

It has come time to be a part of that web rather than to stand above it in domination. It has come time to befriend and respect the natural world as we would hope to do with our fellow human beings. 

Be nice to nettles. Be nice to the natural world. This is not the generosity of the ruler, but our obligation as parts of the whole.