Fertility under Threat

Pollution(Creative Commons Image by Gilbert Rodriguez on Flickr)

Fertility of both soil and womb concerned many biblical writers in an era of threat by drought and disease, as seen this month especially in the stories of Ruth and Hannah, as well as in several psalms.

It may seem odd to concern ourselves with fertility today, in a world of 7 billion. Yet even if the problem barely registers as a public concern, many privately find themselves battling infertility. According to Naomi Klein, in her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, such struggles mirror what is happening now to the earth and its nonhuman inhabitants.1 And as effects from pollution and climate change increase, we indeed face declining fertility in all species, including ourselves.

Neighbors of natural gas fracking in Colorado and Pennsylvania, Klein reports, suffer brain and heart defects, low birth weight, and poor infant health. Proximity to petrochemical plants in Ontario and Louisiana likewise corresponds to increased miscarriages, hysterectomies, and birth defects.

“If we tend to neglect the impact our industrial activities are having on human reproduction,” Klein writes, “the more vulnerable nonhumans fare significantly worse.” She describes the disaster that petroleum spills such as BP’s have wreaked on aquatic life in its larval stage, so that years later fishing industries collapse. In addition to local pollutions, in one species after another, Klein writes:

climate change is creating pressures that are depriving life-forms of their most essential survival tool: the ability to create new life and carry on their genetic lines. Instead, the spark of life is being extinguished, snuffed out in its earliest, most fragile days: in the egg, in the embryo, in the nest, in the den.

The counter-ethic of restoring fertility to the earth and its inhabitants never disappeared among the world’s indigenous communities. But this ethic is also being reborn in Western contexts. The Pittsburgh City Council, for instance, has explicitly banned natural gas extraction, stating that nature has “inalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish.” Movements such as permaculture, seed saving, and perennial grain research similarly aim to regenerate the earth for the sake of future generations of all species, including our own.

The God-given capacity to replenish life could not be taken for granted by Scripture’s writers, nor can it be reasonably ignored today. We who aim to reflect God’s intents bear responsibility to protect life at its source, its most vulnerable, embryonic stage.

November 1

  • Ruth 1:1-18 is followed by next week’s reading from Ruth 3 and 4. The book of Ruth centers on infertility and fertility, pairing agricultural seed repeatedly with human seed. Though chapter 1 begins with barrenness in field and family, its ending in the barley harvest (v. 22) hints at abundance to come.
  • Psalm 146 reflects on the mortality of human leaders and the infinite gifts of God, “who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry” (verses 6-7), directing attention to the gifts of the natural world as God’s provision.
  • Deuteronomy 6:1-9 (alt.) prescribes devotion to God alone in the land flowing with milk and honey.
  • Psalm 119:1-8 (alt.) advises diligence in seeking God.
  • Mark 12:28-34, on the greatest two commandments, invites hearers to redraw the boundaries of “neighbor”: if, like the good Samaritan, the non-human neighbors around us give so freely, should our circle of concern not encompass them as well?

OR November 1 — All Saints Day

  • Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 reflects on the righteous of ages past.
  • Isaiah 25:6-9 (alt.) describes God’s hosting a rich feast for all the world, wiping tears from all faces and destroying death.
  • Psalm 24 proclaims that the earth belongs to God its creator.
  • Revelation 21:1-6a looks forward to the renewed earth and the holy city where God will live among mortals.
  • John 11:32-44 narrates Jesus’ unbinding Lazarus from death’s bonds.

November 8

  • Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 follows the reading from Ruth 1 last week. In these excerpts, once again, barley seed and human seed are paired, as during the barley harvest Ruth proposes to Boaz and becomes the mother of his child, carrying fertility forward to a new generation.
  • Psalm 127 celebrates God’s gifts of protection, sleep, and children.
  • 1 Kings 17:8-16 (alt.) tells of the poor widow whose grain and oil lasted through the drought, saving her and her son.
  • Psalm 146 (alt.) — see above, November 1.
  • Mark 12:38-44 warns against self-important hypocrites who demand public respect, and extols instead the generous widow. Jesus here declares the meaningfulness of seemingly small, inconsequential gifts. What individuals do still matters.

November 15

  • 1 Samuel 1:4-20 narrates Hannah’s distress and prayer before she was granted a child.
  • 1 Samuel 2:1-10 shares Hannah’s song of joy in the God who feeds the hungry and gives children to the barren.
  • Daniel 12:1-3 (alt.) compares the wise to the sky’s brightness.
  • Psalm 16 (alt.) celebrates the psalmist’s closeness to God, a goodly heritage.
  • Mark 13:1-8 predicts the unthinkable that is soon to occur, the final destruction of the temple. A status quo, almost uninterrupted for a thousand years, will disappear in a day. Many arguments against the threat of climate change are based on the supposed invincibility of the ecosystem, despite all destructive human actions. Yet Jesus makes clear that nothing is invincible.

November 22

  • 2 Samuel 23:1-7 compares wise rule to “the light of morning … the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land” (verse 4), inviting reflection on the soul-enlarging and mind-clarifying natural landscape.
  • Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18) celebrates God’s giving David progeny.
  • Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 (alt.) describes “one like a human being” who is given dominion over the whole world.
  • Psalm 93 (alt.) describes God’s reign over the mightiest of floods and waves.
  • John 18:33-37 describes Jesus’ peculiar reign over, but not derived from, this world’s powers.

November 29

    • Jeremiah 33:14-16 uses the metaphor of a tree branch to describe the springing up of a righteous ruler.
    • Psalm 25:1-10 proclaims trust in God, whose paths are steadfast love and faithfulness.

Luke 21:25-36

    takes a lesson from observing the spring’s leaf buds, a phenomenon few today take thought to examine right outside our doors


1 All quotations are from Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (Simon & Schuster, 2014), chapter 13.