Eco-spirituality, Episcopal Bishops, and Me

Two things of particular significance pop out with the bishops’ letter, and I am sure I will find more. One, the Bishops of the Episcopal Church have issued a call to repentance for the way in which the human species has engaged the earth community of which it is a part. To recognize that we cannot do anything by way of healing without first repenting of the damage we have done is the right order of things. It’s a strong beginning.

Yet my immediate response has been almost knee-jerk. Who in the church (or anywhere else) has not only embraced this challenge of repentance but has assumed the role of “liturgist for the earth”. The bishops cite the content of an Ash Wednesday ritual, but a one time per year ritual of confession around so much destructive human behavior means little. Who in any church anywhere, has been charged with the joyous, challenging, and sorrowful task of: one) designing such a ritual of repentance; and two) helping us understand that this is no once a year Ash Wednesday miniscule part of the invitation to a holy season of Lent, but that such ritual needs to be a common – even daily (hourly) – sacramental experience?

It’s a rhetorical question, of course.

There is only one appropriate morning prayer – a petition for justice – and earth justice is no separate thing, but the ground of all social justice. The starting point, then, for morning prayer – at least at this time in our history – is repentance. That which we have harmed of the eco-systems of our planet, we have harmed of ourselves. There is no separation.

There is no end to human poverty which is not grounded in earth justice. There is no end to human illness and disease which is not grounded in earth justice. There is no end to human misery which is not grounded in earth justice. There is no end to racial violence, sexual violence, and gender orientation violence (just a start on that list) which is not grounded in earth justice.

It makes me crazy (truly) that among the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, environmental concerns show up at number seven – second to last – as though earth justice were somehow a separate entity. It is not.

The second “thing of great import” in the Bishops’ letter is the glimmer – glimmer only (maybe I’ll call it a nano-glimmer) of a recognition that we cannot separate ourselves as humans from the rest of the created order.

BUT . . . the letter continues, “The creation story itself presents the interdependence of all God’s creatures in their wonderful diversity and fragility.”

Wait. What just happened? If, indeed, the creation story presents itself in this way of interdependence, the bishops apparently have forgotten to include the humans in the embrace of “God’s creatures.” It’s that pesky word “their”. Have we forgotten? With the words “their wonderful diversity and fragility, the glimmer once again recedes. It’s not theirs, it’s ours. Our collective – human and non-human – wonderful diversity and fragility.

And the Lord said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. . . Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’

This, I believe, is the Genesis story of creation that has formed the attitudes and behaviors of humans, not the cleaned up version as offered in the bishops’ letter.

Still, good for the bishops, for the most part. But there are questions. Did they increase their carbon footprint for this trip? Waste resources? Live richly? My guess (guess only) would be yes. The eco-theology is improving. The question for the rest of us is: how do we call all of us into accountability.

I am going to send you back to the foundational work of this blogging site, the incongruity of human privilege and entitlement, just to remind all of us, that we cannot get to the healing part until we actually repent – not just talk about it – of the anthropocentrism. I am also going to point us all in the direction of what it means – for the sake of the healing of the earth community – to engage it from the space between . . .

Healing emerges from the space between, and to enter it is to release our insistence on human privilege and entitlement. From the space between . . . we can begin to exercise (in a Boot Camp kind of way, where the drills have everything to do with the gifts of the right brain) the power of story, art, and ritual all pointing toward the transformation of the human heart. From the space between . . . and nowhere else – will we be able to reconfigure our moral compass, understanding that our very spiritual – and therefore ethical – formation derives from the earth community itself, of which we are an integral and essential part.

Next blog, look for an account of Mardi Tindal and the United Church of Canada, as that church struggles with their participation in the healing of Creation. Mardi is the Moderator of the Canadian Church, and traveled by train (The Spirit Express) across the country, to engage people in town hall meetings about their responses to the issues of climate and ocean train. I am particularly impressed by the specific ways the towns and cities along the route worked so creatively to offset the carbon footprint of the train itself.

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