By Christina Bagaglio Slentz
In the month of July, we celebrate the land we now recognize as the United States of America and ask for God’s blessings upon our country. Endowed with vast resources and majestic beauty, it is no wonder that so many have risked it all to be here. This month, we take time to learn about the geological history and natural resources of our “home, sweet home.” Doing so prayerfully, we can recognize the Giver in this gift and better understand our opportunity for relationship with our Lord in caring for this land that we love.
O Beauty, Ever Ancient
Though the geological history of North America spans more than 4 billion years — maybe a day or two in God’s time! — rocks, fossils, landscapes and geologic structures help us understand a great deal about the past events and climate fluctuations that prepared our homeland for humanity. For example, V-shaped valleys tend to indicate stream erosion, whereas U-shaped valleys are more likely the result of glaciers. Those purple mountain ranges? Shifting tectonic plates pushed “wrinkles” into the earth’s surface over millennia. Our fertile Midwestern plains? Sedimentary rock reveals ancient shallow seas poured into Middle America as sea levels rose with changes in climate and heaving ocean floors due to volcanic activity and continental transformation.
Our very own Sierra Nevada is the remains of magma chambers of older volcanic ranges. These large exposures of granite were lifted when a mid-ocean ridge called the East Pacific Rise collided with North America about 30 million years ago — also bringing about the San Andreas Fault. Since then, the erosion of these mountains by rivers, landslides and glaciers has produced much of the gold-laden gravel found in California’s Central Valley, illustrating the grandeur of God’s creation and the tiny threads woven into God’s plan that have brought us to our current era.
O Beauty, Ever New
Today, this geological history has evolved into a largely safe and hospitable national habitat. The North American continent enjoys more climate variation than any other and is host to almost every type of ecosystem on the planet, ranging from coral reefs to glacial ice sheets. As a result, natural resources are plentiful. Fruit and vegetable crops, cotton, corn, soybeans and wheat are easily grown. Land for grazing cattle, hogs, goats and sheep supports the meat and dairy industries. Our vast forests provide timber, and generous mineral, oil and natural gas deposits have facilitated energy, construction, and technological sectors.
Stewarding these resources responsibly, however, is a significant challenge. Overharvesting, monoculture (repetitive farming of singular crops at the risk of depleting soil nutrients), and environmental hazards related to mining and drilling threaten the sustainability of our United States. Tilling and keeping the soil, as we are called to do in Genesis 2:15, is not simply about ensuring our prosperity. Rather, living in harmony with creation nurtures our relationship with the Lord, responding to our higher calling to take part in God’s loving plan, charitably interconnected with one another over distance as well as time. Poet Katherine Lee Bates prays for such spiritual attainment in her last lines of the third verse of “America the Beautiful,” writing:
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!
May you enjoy a happy Fourth of July and may God continue to bless America!