Cultivating hope and action in the muddy and mundane

Written by Laura Naftel 

I work and live at an A Rocha creation care centre in the Pacific Northwest. Nestled next to a threatened forest of towering Douglas fir trees that are being encroached by cookie-cutter suburban sprawl, A Rocha is working to care for the Tatalu watershed and the creatures that call it home, including humans. 

I get to share a living space with cohorts of young adults as they take part in our Tatalu Conservation Residency program where they apprentice on the farm, in conservation science or in environmental and food literacy education, and receive theological teaching.

These program areas attract astonishingly thoughtful people. Many residents come to A Rocha from all over the world walking with big questions, ones they often haven’t found much companionship for in the church.

My role is to help host them. From the sacred mundane of making sure the grocery order gets done to the profoundness of dinner conversations that dip into the efficacy of Fair Trade labels or how to hold grief and joy together, and everything in between, I get to hold space with these question-askers. To discuss, to learn from one another, and to disagree. 

Patterns of questions often emerge term after term, echoing a growing longing in Christians all over the world: “How does my faith in Christ affect how I navigate the complexity of the environmental crisis?” “What does hope look like?”

Many want to know how their sense of calling fits into the story of God’s work in the world: “What does it mean to be a Christian and a scientist, educator, or farmer?” 

These are just a few of the questions that I and my fellow wayfarers are asking.

The questions are not answered in classrooms or didactic pronouncements accessed through computer screens. Rather, it is by finding ourselves within the family of creation that our questions begin to find hints of meaningful responses. 

It has been in learning about hot compost, surveying wildlife species, or leading field trips of exuberant children through the forest that I’ve learned how to practically respond to the environmental crisis. It is in restoring one native plant at a time that hope for creation becomes something tangible. It is by cooking and eating food from our regenerative farm around a shared table that I’ve learned what true joy and gratitude feel like. 

My fellow wayfarers and I have come to this work of creation care almost palpably thirsty for the righteousness Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:6.

Our thirst has not been quenched by the capitalistic pursuit of stuff and status. Instead, it is being quenched through the delightfully “mundane” rhythms that we experience in our shared life of labour, rest, worship, and play. 

What does this shared life look like?

It looks like taking children to the A Rocha wetland to pond-dip. Scooping up a netful of pond water may seem rather dull, yet after a few minutes of careful examination, an entire world appears. The gleam in children’s eyes and exclamations of, “look!” seem to be the only appropriate response. In these moments I have begun to take seriously God’s invitation to “Behold, and see that it is good.” 

Hope begins to look like planting trees. Rather than being paralyzed by trying to save the whole world, habitat restoration has become a way out of anxious fretting and into action. I found that it is in these small faithful acts of obedience that hope becomes a practice.

We all came full of questions. Day by day as we paid attention to this place and to God’s Word, clarity and a sense of deep wisdom came in the form of children’s wonder at dragonfly nymphs and giant water bugs, of celebration of the physical world and the goodness of creation, of hope cultivated through saplings planted in faith, and of humble testimony shared around the table.