OK...this is the 3rd of 3. It is part of a potential workshop/presentation on the subject of Environmentalism and religion. I suggest starting with #1. Then it will make more sense. All of them can be found in the "Spirituality/Ecology" category to your right.
Section 3 The Approach
Now, this approach, I think, has three elements that I will list individually but of course occur simultaneously. They are based on what we need for any good ongoing conversation:
First, there is the simple act of witnessing the earth; of making the effort to actually see it in as wild a state as possible. This can be hiking, or camping, or taking the canoe out on the Quinobequin to study the miracle of skunk cabbage as I have been doing recently.
This last piece may be worth dwelling on for a minute. I will have to say that I did it as an assignment for a workshop I am taking. However, once I got out there, just by observing, I could see how the roots of the skunk cabbage hold on to the banks. It turns out they generate their own heat, so they are the first up in the spring. They hold those banks so that the birds, fish, and all those turtles we see can make a home amidst the dead reeds and grasses that shelter them. It is possible to learn a great deal--as in all relationships--if we take the time.
Still, though, your witnessing can also be picnics or sitting outdoors, or just taking a moment to observe the hawk eyeing the squirrels and mice that run across our lawns. In fact, we can learn by reading, too. Through delving into other people’s research. Here I am talking about real research based on the scientific method, tested and challenged by a number of different scientists.
It is important to take this work seriously, after all. We have known about the phenomenon of climate change for a really long time. In the 1820’s a French scientist named Jean Baptiste Fourier suggested that the difference between his calculation between the rate the sun alone was heating the earth and the actual temperature of the earth had to do with a layer of air trapping heat. In the late 1850’s and early 1860’s people like Roger Tyndall and Eunice Foote separately began to experiment with a variety of atmospheric gasses. Among the most effective at trapping heat was CO2. We could have done something back then or at any number of stops on the way as further discoveries proved the same or related points. Resistance was even understandable at first as old theories needed to be debunked, but it hasn’t really been understandable for a long, long time.
This leads us to the second element. Delving in to watch the skunk cabbage or to measure the effects of greenhouse gasses lead us into greater interaction. It is not enough to witness; to see the Earth as holy and magical, and a gift to life. We need to actually “speak” to it. We need to touch it.
Here, again, we have resources and we have skills. We can, in fact, touch the Earth just a bit more deeply. We can plant, like we do at this church all the time, there are trees and vegetable gardens, right here on our lawn. Also, we do the same thing at home. Even cooking, preserving, and eating. All these actions are fundamental parts of being alive. Anyone who has struggled with the ecosystem to get something to grow knows that there is vulnerability in the process
We can be more ambitious than that, too. In the Religious Education committee here at church we sometimes talk about teaching the kids how to forage. Originally we meant it as a long-running joke about mushrooms. However, as time goes on, we have become more serious. This, too, is touching the earth; an act of mindfulness; learning and understanding through our interactions that the earth touches us back.
Now we get to the third and most difficult part of this spiritual practice…accepting our vulnerability and changing our behavior.
We need to do this, and not just in small ways–though that is a place to start. Now, I know this can be difficult. We like the way we live for the most part. Or, at least, we have become used to it and don’t know how to change. I am well aware, for example, of the fact that spending most of my free time driving around New England to go hiking is neither responsible nor sustainable in the long term even if I walk to work.
There is a web page that I can give you after the presentation that calculates how many planets we would need to sustain everybody if everybody lived like us. I confess that I am somewhere between four and five. I think I can do better. I bet we all could do better.
So we have to work on these things; to struggle with our impact. It is a logical extension of this conversation. After all, when we have a relationship–or a good relationship anyway–with someone or something we take their needs into account. We modify our behavior when necessary.
Therefore, if we are truly participating in steps one and two–witnessing and interacting–then we will naturally turn back our egos a bit, in order to slowly descend back into the pool of every being and make changes for what we love.
Now we cannot just do this on a personal level–though that personal level will make some greater sacrifices easier. As I said–or at least implied–earlier, it has to happen on the community level as well. In some ways the current emphasis on the personal acts of recycling, driving less, and buying local is a cover for our institutional malfeasance.
For all of us to make that change we have to do it together. For that we need to be held accountable. We need to be regulated. We need to be encouraged and incentivized. This will not happen without advocacy.
For this reason–as we touch the Earth–we pray for the strength to not just change ourselves. We have to change that culture we talked about at the beginning of this presentation. We have to change the society we live in.
This is a lot to think about. It has taken us generations to get to this point in our relationship with nature and our task is to turn around; to start walking back to where we once belonged. That will probably take generations too but the time to start is now. We cannot wait.
So let us take a moment to think once again about how we already touch the earth, how we interact with it, and what we can do in the future to pursue this conversation further and make a better place for those who come after us.
I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.