As the credits roll on the animated film WALL-E, Peter Gabriel sings, We’re coming down to the ground! There’s no better place to go! The song caps off the story about humanity returning to planet Earth generations after wrecking it — although WALL-E, EVE and friends are needed to wake them up to the possibility.
The writer and director of WALL-E, Andrew Stanton, is a Christian, and along with him, many of us Christians are learning how to go ‘down to Earth’. Of course, God hasn’t left us without a witness: take for example the conservation group A Rocha (‘the rock’) which was avidly supported by John Stott.
Next week I’ll say a little more about what this involvement might mean, but first I want to canvass the way in which environmental awareness has grown for me recently. Being me, it’s got a lot to do with imaginative space, about what’s intangible or submerged or possible, and the connections have come through the arts as much as the sciences. I read a lot of speculative fiction and I’ve started reading some cli-fi, but here I want to talk about music.
In the UK, Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin are a folk duo trading in rich themes such as remembrance, women’s stories, and protest. The theme of land is also woven into many of their songs.
Throughout the album Mynd, night skies haunt, gardens nurture, and ice separates. It’s an album with a strongly historical perspective, while their latest album, Watershed, takes up a focus on life seasons and pivotal moments. Here too the Earth speaks in hills, air, water and stones, for example Tonight, in which troubles begin to unknot themselves in nature:
But tonight there’s a moon on the hill
Tonight the horizon is wide
Tonight the earth is warm
Tonight our hope lights the sky
For I’ll grow up in the cracks of all your roads and your tracks
Of all your scars there’ll be no trace
And with every spring rain, Old Adam is born again
Every leaf is a reflection of my face
A similar story is told in Waterland, in which the marsh resists the efforts of the drainers to master it.
Silbury Hill questions our present-day relationship with the Earth from the perspective of the ancient past: five thousand years ago, the time of the barrows and megaliths, in which a young seer ‘lies on the grass and hears footsteps fall from another age’.
The song concludes,
And here is the city, its skyscrapers are our standing stones
But no mysteries here, no singing winds, no ancient bones
Just the strange alchemy of the bankers turning debt into gold
In five thousand years, what will we have built for the future to hold?
Implicitly but pervasively, songs like these reflect an awareness of the Earth and our place in it. The land is not ours only, and we are part of it. We are earthenware vessels, made of earth, made for the Earth.
These themes are not unfamiliar to us Christians; perhaps what hasn’t been so clear is the way they figure in God’s future. Yet the one from heaven is on his way to Earth, and we will meet him as he arrives, and all things will be made new.
We’re coming down to the ground because God’s heart is set on it. In that knowledge, the preciousness of Earth opens wide to us.
Image credit: Gili Benita
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.