March 22, 2010
O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided to build You a house for Your holy name, it is from Your hand, and all is Yours…With joy I have seen Your people, who are present here make their offerings willingly to You. O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, preserve this forever in the intentions of the heart of Your people, and direct their heart to You… 2 Chronicles 29:16-18
A great friend of the parks died this past weekend—Stewart Udall, Interior Secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.
Obituaries in The New York Times and The Washington Post made for fascinating reading. As the Times put it, “Few corners of the nation escaped Mr. Udall’s touch,” as he presided over the acquisition of 3.85 million acres of new holdings, including:
–6 national monuments (Ellis Island in New York Harbor among them)
–9 national recreation areas
–20 national historic sites
–50 national wildlife refuges
–8 national seashores
According to the Post, Mr. Udall also helped pass a slew of legislation, like the Wilderness Act of 1964 (which protects about 400 million acres of land in 44 states), the National Historic Preservation Act (1966), the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (1968), and several others. He also was instrumental in creating the first federal bicycle paths and jogging trails.
In addition, in the late ’60s, he prevented dams from being built on the Colorado River that would have put vast stretches of the Grand Canyon under water, the Post reports. He served three terms in the House as a Democrat from Arizona before he was tapped for the Interior Department, and the move was not popular among some of those he had represented.
Nor were people happy in Cape Cod in Massachusetts, Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and Point Reyes in California, when he took those coastal lands out of private hands and established them as national seashores. They were sure the economic affect would be ruinous; instead, they’ve developed into lucrative (and protected) tourist destinations.
Former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, who was President Clinton’s Interior Secretary, summed up his work in 2006, saying, “Stewart Udall, more than any other single person, was responsible for reviving the national commitment to conservation and environmental preservation.”
The two newspaper articles used words like “pushed” and “launched” to describe Mr. Udall’s efforts, suggesting a man who worked hard to achieve all he did for the greater public good. As I read, I thought of all those who toil away for different causes and yet receive little recognition. That led me to David’s prayer at the end of 1 Chronicles before the assembly of the Israelites, who had just given staggering amounts of gold, silver, brass, iron and precious stones “for the service for the house of God” (vv. 6-8). They offered “willingly,” the writer Ezra noted twice (vv. 6, 8), rejoicing “with their whole heart” (v. 9).
David’s eloquent yet humble prayer at the end of his life is one of Scripture’s greatest. He captures God’s amazing attributes: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all…” (vv. 11, 12), and wonders aloud, “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things comes from You, and from Your hand we have given You” (v. 14). Finally, David asks that this enthusiasm for worship, sacrifice and giving never wane among the people, especially in his son, Solomon, who will soon take his place as Israel’s leader (vv. 18, 19).
How I pray that all of us who have placed our trust in God would be known as preservationists, not only of the natural world, as Mr. Udall was, but more importantly, of “a perfect heart to keep God’s commandments, testimonies and statutes, and to do them all” (v. 19).
Because that’s the only thing we can take with us into eternity (1 Thessalonians 5:17).