Until recently, my family and I lived in a solar-powered home, and the long, sunny days of June were a high point for us. Our solar water-heating system delivered a practically endless supply of free hot water. Our roof full of photovoltaic panels made two or three times the electricity we needed, which spun our electric meter backward and made us look forward to receiving our electric bill, since the utility company would owe us money.
Since selling that house, I’ve thought a lot about why it was so satisfying to live by the sun. Of course, saving money was nice—even if it was several years before our systems paid back their upfront costs. I also loved the feeling that we had become part of the solution to environmental problems, contributing something positive back to the commons of energy production.
There’s something deeper, though, which I’ve realized more fully in the pain of its current absence: a spiritual and theological connection. When I think about how the Trinity operates in the world, I think of an infinite outpouring of love, and how the only barriers to our accepting that freely offered gift are the ones we ourselves create. I wonder: Could that fundamental rightness I felt about using solar power have stemmed from how similar it is to accepting God’s love? Could it have been some sort of sacrament, a visible sign that shows us how divine love works?
Bear with me. On any human timescale, the sun’s power will last essentially forever, compared to the measly 100 or so more years we may get from fossil fuels—not to mention the pollution from burning them all. And, unlike fossil fuels, there’s more than enough for everyone: the amount of solar energy hitting the planet in just 40 minutes, for example, would power all the world’s energy needs for a whole year! The only real question is how we can harness and make use of all the free renewable energy that is given to us every day.
Nature and the natural world has always been a source for our religious imagination, so maybe it’s not crazy to think that there could be parallels between using the sun’s energy and opening ourselves to the loving energy that ultimately sustains all things. Maybe doing what’s good for the planet could be just as good for our souls.