The Spiritual Dimension--Why We Care for the Earth

by Jack Phillips

WHAT DO WE MEAN by saying, "Our concern for the Earth is a spiritual one"?
 
By recognizing this concern as spiritual, we are acknowledging that God's presence permeates all things. We are also acknowledging that significant changes in how humans treat the Earth and its creatures will not take place until there are significant changes in how we feel about the earth. When the heart is engaged, loving actions will follow.

For some people, the religious principle of continuing revelation has yielded an "Eleventh Commandment," expressing God's will that we treat his entire creation lovingly. When Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment, he selected two out of his tradition: loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. Since he was very in touch with his time, I think he might in our time give a third great commandment, such as: "You shall love the Earth as you love yourself; care for her health and fitness and beauty as you care for your own body; and protect the earth as you would your own private property." I believe that Jesus would understand that our neighbors are all living creatures, not only our fellow human beings.

Other people, coming from different religious traditions or inspired by such writers as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Albert Schweitzer, recognize an invisible bond between themselves and the physical world--a universal stream of inner vitality they may label "spiritual." Their experience of being "in unity with nature" isn't mere aesthetic appreciation; it is a profound recognition that humankind and the Earth share a common lifeblood, a common pulse, and a common destiny.

Whatever the origins of our Earth-consciousness, we can explore and nurture it by intimate contact with nature herself:

Lie on grass, watch clouds. Caress white birches, embrace an oak, climb an apple tree. Go barefoot in dirt and dunes. Float naked in a lake. Stroll on a beach, be beaten about by surf. Sing and circle-dance with friends in the woods or on the beach.

Rejoice in rain, stand in storms, enjoy shoveling snow. Listen to crickets and crows, whistle back to songbirds, hoot softly back to an owl. Take a night walk in the woods. Watch high-flying geese, look into the curious eyes of a deer. Smell pines, eat wild berries. Make up songs about experiences like these.

SOME PEOPLE yearn to leave the earth, to colonize the moon or Mars. Perhaps someday that will happen. But life beyond Earth's fragile biosphere would be life without rivers, lakes, or waterfalls. A world with no meadows or jungles! No rainbows, red clouds, black clouds, lightning, or thunder. No marshland, moss, or loons. No bamboo, cypress, or cedars. No bees, bears, or beavers. No meadowlarks, monkeys, or elephants. No zebras, azaleas, or hibiscus. No gulls, bluebirds, or hummingbirds. (Someone may mock: No scorpions, rattlesnakes, mosquitoes, or poison ivy? Yes, amen)

No sharks, no whales, no dolphins! No squid, no deer, no sheep. No clams, no oysters, no lobsters. No coral, no angelfish. No limestone, no fossils. No wild rice, wild strawberries, or wild beasts. No bananas, walnuts, or grapevines. No tigers, cougars, or jaguars. No eagles, falcons, or rabbits. No doves, ducks, or anhingas. No showers, willows, or warm breezes.

AND THESE WONDERS are united in a Great Wonder—an intricately interwoven ecosystem, in which each wonder works and lives. We know of no other such wonder in the universe. As a ready-made home for human life, there can be no other. For the earth, as Jacques Cousteau said, is an "oasis in space." How, then, shall we face the insensitivity and stupidity of humankind's destructive abuse of this our home and mother? Or of the sin of extinguishing even one species of such wonder? Can contemplating the earth's wonders motivate and empower us to move from abuse to protection, from exploitation to Earthcare? Can our inner Light help us discern and speak Truth to corporate/political forces that use deception to mask their plunder?

—from Walking Gently on the Earth, an Earthcare checklist, by Quaker Earthcare Witness