Back in 7th grade or so I read a sci-fi book that started off with Australia sinking, because of man’s abuse of the planet.
Ever since then, I have been very worried about our civilization's damage to the planet.
Recently, I have participated in a study group on eco-spirituality with a small group of dedicated Christians.
St. Francis is eco-spirituality's direct spiritual ancestor. The gentleness, the awe of nature and the prayerful contemplation of nature that we read in his prayers and life story is an inspiring force for us.
St. Francis took his relationship with nature a step further: he prayed for natural forces like brother sun and sister moon that revealed God’s love and pleasure in the natural universe to him.
Francis prayed for the creatures, too revering brother wolf, birds and beasts as God’s beloved creatures, worthy of care and love.
In this way St. Francis has provided prayers and model of spiritual contemplation and living that has come down through the centuries.
In contemplating nature and connecting this contemplation to our prayer lives, we can see and appreciate not only God’s handiwork, but we can also see and appreciate a spectacular manifestation of God’s love.
The nine hundred year Franciscan heritage of reverent appreciation of nature has been distilled and amplified in our musical and poetic expression of awe, majesty and thankfulness to God for nature.
The Ode to Joy, adapted for Beethoven in the Methodist Hymnal is one example. Numerous other hymns, devotional songs, and poems express our awe of nature and connect it to our appreciation of God’s love.
The Psalms are full of rhapsodic expressions of nature’s reflection of the majesty of God.
To my mind, these are all expressions of what we are seeking through eco-spirituality.
There is a strong and growing movement in the Church to express our worship and commitment to God through eco-spirituality.
For example, the American Catholic Bishops recently promulgated a pastoral letter on global warming calling for greater reverence to the natural manifestations of God.
They cited some three-dozen biblical passages consistent with eco-spirituality.
This is one of many informed and authoritative indication of the validity of eco-spirituality and its biblical basis.
My personal favorite eco-spiritual scripture is Jesus’ teaching about the lilies of the field.
Jesus observed to His disciples that Solomon in all his splendor was never so finely arrayed as the Lilies of the field. God’s majesty and wonderful loving-kindness are evident everywhere in nature!
Jesus use this teaching to make a strong statement about God’s concern for human beings, too.
Jesus said to the Disciples, “if God arrays these so well, which are to be gathered and cast into the fire, how much more love does He have for you?”
Eco-spirituality addresses this question directly.
In his book, Finding God in the Singing River, theologian Mark Wallace addresses the deep and inescapable connection between eco-spirituality and social justice.
As an example of this, Wallace describes a situation in Chester, Pennsylvania. Chester is a declining port on Delaware Bay below Philadelphia.
As a former resident of south Jersey & viewer of Philly based news shows, I can personally attest to Chester’s reputation as crime ridden, impoverished and marked by all manner of social and economic decay.
Wallace describes how the City Fathers of Chester, desperate for tax income and jobs allowed a toxic waste dump to be built in a residential section of the city.
The neighbors of the dump, poor people of color, were not consulted and their subsequent protests were overruled.
It is not illogical to associate the lack of ecological awareness with racist social attitudes.
What are we seeking with the cultivation of eco-spirituality? Five things.
1. Recognition and acknowledgement of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the wonder and order of the natural world;
2. Reverence for all life. Recognition that all creatures, four, six, eight legged, finned, winged or slithering are God’s creations; good and beloved by the Creator and author of all life.
3. This awareness should extend to plants and the environment, too. We should NOT IMPOSE upon nature in meeting our needs.
4. In our time and in our culture a recognition that humanity is only a small part of God’s creation. Eco-spirituality seeks profound humility, reverence and frugality in our approach to all nature.
5. The acceptance of our fellow human beings as spiritual beings worthy of love and understanding.
These five principals offer us a starting position for a conversation on values we could cultivate in caring for the planet, its life and each other.