The Lord’s prayer is a grounded prayer; an earthy prayer. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Earth can be abstract: the planet on which we live, the atmosphere and oceans, the environment, nature. But earth is also the dirt beneath our feet and the land on which we navigate our lives—land that was the land of others before my ancestors stole it. The place where humans dwell is the place where God has dwelt, does dwell, and will dwell again.
In the Hebrew Bible, earth (Hebrew erets) is both the whole creation (Gen 1), and the land of Israel (Lev 26). The creation of earth was the creation of space. The waters above were separated from the waters below, and dry land was gathered so that agriculture could begin (Gen 1:6-10). The creation of earth was also the creation of place: where you work, where you play, what you dig your hands into. It is a place in which and for whom we can be the image of God. Earth is both womb and tomb. We are born from it (Gen 2:7) as humans from the hummus. We rest in it in death (Gen 3:19). When Christ returns, from it we will be reborn (Rom 8:22-23).
What does it mean to pray for the kingdom to come on earth in my neighbourhood? What if the earth is buried beneath a concrete jungle? What if my neighbors no longer reflect the diversity of creation, but instead the ruthless logic of mammon, colonization, and the imposition of sameness? For the earth to be my neighbour, I must learn to love it as it once was, is, and will be.
I must learn its Indigenous names and uncover the landscape before Europeans arrived. Learn its species and seek out where they still are. Learn of the violence and dispossession of the people, plants, animals, and ground itself. How has the earth been reshaped? What songs are no longer sung and cries heard? What ceremonies no longer happen? I must honour those who were its custodians before the era of dominators. How did they live on this land? What stories did they tell of it? How do those stories inform my own biblical, scientific, and personal experience?
For the earth to be my neighbour, I must learn its intricacies. Walk it and discover its ways, appreciate its beauty. Even the weed and the pest are my neighbours. And though my responsibilities to them and the whole community might be different, I must acknowledge their co-creatureliness. Part of loving the earth as my neighbor means protecting our shared places. Park land is not a luxury, it is a necessity for our health and well-being. Our shared places should not be dominated by an empire of malls, parking lots, advertising. There’s no space for a sense of place when space is just for profit. For some places, this also means returning them to those whose lands they first were, which is a form of reparations.
For the earth to be my neighbour, I must learn to love what it will be. This is both hopeful and realistic. In Romans 8 we read of a creation set free from bondage. Our neighbour earth longs for the resurrection of the children of God. It hopes for what we hope for. We share the same groanings, the same longings. We are saved with our places and not from them as heaven comes to earth. We must seek forgiveness from our neighbour earth and all of its creatures.
Praying for God’s kingdom to come in my neighbourhood as it is in heaven means embracing the whole of my neighbourhood, and learning to love it. Our responsibility to God’s image-bearers can’t be separated from the places we inhabit, for they too are part of the coming kingdom.