We were flying east across the Atlantic Ocean, anticipating our overnight stop in Amsterdam, and were soon attracted by an interesting message on the headrest in front of us. It announced a celebration of the 400th anniversary year of Rembrandt van Rijn’s birth! Might it be possible for us to join the celebration?
Adding to our excitement as Ruth and I approached land was the vista from our plane’s window of a surprising forest of straight white trunks rising from the North Sea. Planted along the coast for energy production, their crowns captured energy not by photosynthesis, but by the wind. It was a grandstand of Dutch wind turbines. It was a practical painting of elevated energy capture at greater heights in a country that long ago had already enlisted lower atmospheric winds to power the drainage of nether lands and the production of food and flowers. In a few days we would fly on to England to prepare another kind of publication—a book to address “The Root Causes of Unsustainability.” Now approaching the Schiphol airport, Ruth and I were greeted by a powerful Dutch awareness and responsiveness in wind-to-energy transducers that seemed to emerge from the coastal seascape.
Soon after landing, we boarded a canal boat that would drop us off at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum to join the year-long Rembrandt celebration. Entering the museum, we first encountered an exhibit of Bible stories, not through text, but through fourteen sketches by Rembrandt that compelled our thoughtful beholding. Welcoming them, I took in the first sketch, and then the next . . . and then one that took my breath away. I stood, transfixed, by “The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene.” Here, Rembrandt depicted John 20:15. Jesus was standing by the open tomb, garden spade in hand, pruning knife under his rope belt, and head topped with a gardener’s hat. Rembrandt opened the eyes of this work’s beholders to the Gardener, the Keeper of the Earth, recently emerged from the tomb. He was saying to his seeker, “Mary!”
I was beholding, with Mary, the gardener. And then, more perceptively, I came to know I was beholding The Guardener!
Yes, at Cambridge University those of us attending the book meeting would probe “The Root Causes of Unsustainability” and produce a print publication to be named, Creation in Crisis: Christian Perspectives on Sustainability.1 Yet, before the meeting I realized I was beholding Christ—the heart of the creation and its biosphere.2
You might ask: “What is the biosphere?” It is the earth-enveloping life-support system upon which we and all living things depend. It is dynamically created and sustained by vibrant exchanges, transfers, and connections of energy, materials, and information.3 The awe and wonder it generates continues to inspire every human being that takes the time to behold and ponder it; it is a great gift—a gift given to, and yet not owned by, all who receive it. This gift is also a giver of gifts; it gives life through myriad provisions. Many of these provisions have been appreciated for millennia, others are just being discovered, and more yet remain to be discovered. These are called “ecosystem services.”4 Joined with other provisions—like our star’s energetic provision of a broad spectrum of light and our moon’s provision of gravitational attraction—ecosystem services help to develop a sense of provenance and providence in the world as well as an awesome realization of a dynamic sustaining system of systems that supports and fosters the abundant life of earth.
He is risen! The defeater of degradation. The exact image of God’s love for the cosmos. The guardener who models God’s love for the cosmos and enlists us to image that love.
*I have intentionally changed the spelling here from Gardener to Gaurdener to make explicit that God expected “the first gardener” and subsequent descendants to keep the garden given over by its Maker to conserve and guard—to be its responsible ‘guardeners (Genesis 2:15).’ The Hebrew word for keep (shamar) is usually translated ‘guard,’ ‘safeguard,’ ‘take care of,’ ‘look after’ and “keep.” (Cf. Strong’s H8104.) Shamar indicates a loving, caring, sustaining kind of keeping, as for example in the Aaronic Blessing of Numbers 6:24 – “The Lord bless you and keep (shamar) you. Cf. Calvin. B. DeWitt, Earthwise: A Guide to Hopeful Creation Care, 3rd edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Faith Alive, 2011), 72.
- Robert S. White, Creation in Crisis: Christian Perspectives on Sustainability (London: London: SPCK Publishing, 2009).
- Rowan Williams, Christ the Heart of Creation (London: Bloomsbury, 2018).
- Cf. Kim Hoke et al. 2023. Reintegrating Biology Through the Nexus of Energy, Information, and Matter. Integrative and Comparative Biology, volume 61, number 6, pp. 2082–2094. These authors describe the pursuit of the energy–information–matter nexus as critical to uniting phenomena across scales in biological systems, including “being able to accurately anticipate effects of global warming on the biosphere at all scales, to address a key globally limiting element, and to generate life that is possible but does not yet exist.”
- Robert Costanza. 1967. The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature. Vol 3817 (May 1997):253-260.