The urgency of the ecological crisis, and in particular of climate change, is not lost on our faith communities and spiritual traditions. In fact, despite longstanding attempts to disparage religious and spiritual thought as one of the causes of the ecological crisis, all of our traditions actually encourage people to recognize their relationship to the earth and its biocommunity as a relationship that requires an attitude of compassion and responsibility. Criticism of a particular reading of the text from the book of Genesis made it seem to many that the command to “dominate” the Earth justified the ecologically destructive practices of the industrial revolution, but this criticism met protests over the years from many directions, most of it from thoughtful and academic members of the faith communities represented here this evening. They showed convincingly how the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible are both full of ecologically healthy and valuable concepts, while people of other spiritual traditions also began to promote ecologically-responsible movements against commercial deforestation and toxic mining practices and the like, based on traditional principles from their own sources of revelation and wisdom.
The prayers and texts we hear in this gathering exemplify this common characteristic among us. Whether we speak of a Creator, or the Oneness of Existence, or in some other way address the unseen world of the spirit, a common attitude is engendered by our traditions and sacred writings of respect for our home, our oikos, in Greek, from which the word “ecology” is derived. We are all members of this household, and we all need to treat it with care, knowing that future generations will occupy this space long after we are gone, future generations to whom we have a responsibility today to leave our “home” in good order when we leave.
I lived many years in Chile, my second homeland, a land of many pristine forests and lakes, and also a land in danger of succumbing to the political and economic pressure many smaller nations feel in today’s world, where the major economies promise lucrative investments when they offer to exploit and mine the natural resources of poorer nations. It’s hard to say no. It’s hard to stay faithful to the obligation of every people to protect their own natural resources and environment, when coal-burning electric plants and foreign mining companies promise jobs and income and improved infrastructure.
But in Chile, too, the moral and spiritual implications of ruthless and destructive exploitation, together with a consumerist economic model, has brought together both ecological movements and faith communities of all traditions to effectively address the propositions, disguised as “progress”, of large corporations and, at times, government policy makers who seem rather myopic in their depiction of all the benefits, and none of the consequences, of their activities and goals. As in other periods in history, when dealing with slavery, xenophobia, autocratic governments, and other injustices, there is always a strong and concerted response: the voice of ethics, of spirituality, of the faith communities, warning that the most ancient spiritual and moral values of a people are at stake. These voices together comprise a collective warning to the members of our societies, in our own times, as well, when pressures to conform to individualistic and materialistic enterprises are increased, damaging and killing the culture and well-being of the original peoples and the poor, in the first place, since they are the most vulnerable to climate change and contamination of our natural environment, and destructive of our planetary biosphere as a whole.
We spiritual communities feel obliged to reveal the larger truth about such pressures and enterprises, and to remind people of neglected but even more important values, beyond providing a better material life for more people, beyond jobs and scientific advances, and beyond profits for commercial enterprises that provide employment. We need not fall into the false dichotomy that it’s either jobs or the environment.
A holistic, and spiritual approach will recognize that solidarity with workers and solidarity with the environment requires the same basic attitude, one born of a deep sense of solidarity with the oppressed, and interconnectedness among all living and sentient beings, whom we serve with our labor and from whom we find the basics of what we need to live a dignified life, while respecting natural rhythms of replenishment and harnessing clean, inexhaustible sources of energy like the sun and the wind.
Revelation, reconnection and remembrance: all of our faith communities represented here tonight provide these three vital functions for the life and well-being of our society. Revelation is found in the preservation and sharing of truths that have been received by people of our respective traditions over time, referring to realities that need such revelation in order to be appreciated by human beings. The unveiling of the true nature of existence then helps us to experience a reconnection with the source of peace and joy, and of liberation from the restrictions and forms of slaveries that human beings often fall into, even on a daily basis. And we reconnect with the source of such a peaceful and happy life when this revelation is remembered, in a community-based way, through ritual and song, dance and recitation of sacred texts.
In this way, our current context of concern over climate change brings us closer to one another. It brings our communities closer in a way that shows, when it comes to authentic religious and spiritual communities, there’s no way out for any of us, other than through a new relationship of respect for and reconciliation with the planet. None of us are here to assuage guilty consciences without repentance. None of us are here to justify contaminating and consumerist lifestyles. None of us are here to promote fossil fuels that contribute to greenhouse gases and the warming of our planet, or the poor and short-term logic behind fracking or the continued use of disposable bottles. We are all on board with the fundamental awakening of human beings, of the human spirit, to the deeper realities we often do not want to acknowledge, but cannot live without—the spiritual dimension that requires a certain way to live, in community with each other and within the larger community of existence.
Result-driven people, the part within many of us that looks for immediate results, may drive us to despair of having much, if any effect on climate change and the ecological crisis in the short run, but our faith communities help people to discover deep reservoirs of patience and persistence, and the wisdom and joy of being found doing the right, responsible thing, even when the effects are unobservable or long-range.
The change that occurs within, in our own attitudes, perspective and decision-making processes, might be the only appreciable events to contemplate, but in itself this also can be a source of profound satisfaction and of reconnection with our planet and its biocommunity.
The sun has set, and the sky grows dark around us, but the light of our traditions and communities is an everlasting light of renewable spiritual energy, fueling our actions and perspectives with courage and confidence and inner peace. May we always live in this light, this unlimited resource, with great respect for one another and appreciative of the contributions of all here to a healthier way of life for the human family, and for our extended family of the universe and for its living inhabitants.
Newman Park, El Paso, Texas
21 October 2014