Sermon June 20, 2021
On Creation Spirituality or Eco Spirituality
Many of you joined us last Thursday evening as Jen Comeau kicked off this summer’s 20th Anniversary Speaker Series on Care for the Earth. In our Worship over the coming weeks, we will be exploring the themes of Creation Spirituality in our prayers, readings and music as we seek to root ourselves in the traditions that remind us of our creation stories and the ways in which we can feel more deeply and intimately connected to the earth and to the One who created the heavens and the earth, all of creation, and each of us. Let us pray,
Last weekend, Rich and I finally scheduled time to watch the beautiful and inspiring documentary My Octopus Teacher which is airing on Netflix. I’m sure many of you have seen it, but if you have not, please find time to watch it when you can. The film tells the story of Craig Foster, a doc film maker, who came to a time in his life about ten years ago when he was feeling totally burned out by the stresses of making a life, making a living through his film work. He remembered some of the men he had met decades earlier…trackers in Africa and the ways in which they paid attention to every small detail in nature that taught them. He felt drawn to the ocean and so he began to spend time in the water every day, without a scuba tank or wet suit so that he could immerse himself in nature and in so doing, try to heal himself as well. At the start of the film, the narrator and filmmaker, Craig Foster says, “A lot of people say that an octopus is like an alien. But the strange thing is, as you get closer to them, you realize you’re very similar in a lot of ways. You’re stepping into this completely different world, such an incredible feeling, and you feel as though you’re on the brink of something extraordinary.” The videography of the film is stunning…and the connection that Foster develops with this female octopus is deeply touching. I know that watching this film broadened my own appreciation of the complex ecosystem in this kelp forest and of the ways in which this man opens himself to new ways of learning and being in nature.
Of course, our connection to the land, to all of creation is expressed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the Psalms, and in many of the beautiful parables of Jesus in the New Testament. All cultures and religions have creation stories which have influenced how they understand themselves and their connection to the earth. We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters who were the first to live on the lands we now call home. There is a long and tragic history that has defined the existence of so many native peoples around the world and the ways in which they were removed from the land that was sacred to them. Many are now turning to our brothers and sisters to learn what we can of their struggles and sorrow and of the beautiful traditions and ceremonies that they have been able to carry forward that have much to teach us about how we may care for our precious planet.
And many across the planet are working at a furious pace to try to reverse the impacts of climate change which are causing potentially irreversible damage to the land, the water, the climate, and all living things. There are already many climate refugees who have been forced to leave their homes due to extreme weather or drought or lack of food. We know that this is not simply a future worry; it is happening now and here and across the world at this very moment. We often hear the language of sustainability as we seek to find ways to live sustainably with the resources of our precious earth. We wonder what is possible and what we are seeking to sustain. As people of faith, we need to think about the ways in which this crisis is intimately connected to our own spiritual lives.
Many of you, I’m sure are familiar with Matthew Fox, an Episcopal priest and writer of a number of books, including one titled, Creation Spirituality. Rev. Dr. Fox developed a theological framework that draws upon the ancient traditions of creation-centered spirituality and blends Christian mysticism with the contemporary struggle for justice. As Rev. Dr. Fox states, “Creation Spirituality is not a newly invented path, but … it is a newly discovered path.” In his book, he provides a paradigm by which to understand our relationship to all of creation as well as inviting us, as spiritual beings, to take responsibility for caring for this precious creation which is a gift and not something to be exploited or exhausted for our own selfish needs. The gift is a gift for all of creation and for future generations. It is not intended only for the present time or just for the privileged few.
In the preface to his book, he includes this beautiful poem,
“In the beginning was the gift. And the gift was with God and the gift was God. And the gift came and set its tent among us, first in the form of a fireball that burned unabated for 750,000 years and cooked in its immensely hot oven hadrons and leptons. These gifts found a modicum of stability, enough to give birth to the first atomic creatures, hydrogen and helium. A billion years of stewing and stirring and the gifts of hydrogen and helium birthed galaxies – spinning, whirling, alive galaxies created trillions of stars, lights in the heavens and cosmic furnaces that made more gifts through violent explosions of vast supernovas burning bright with the glow of more than a billion stars.
Gifts upon gifts, gifts birthing gifts, gifts exploding, gifts imploding, gifts of light, gifts of darkness. Cosmic gifts and subatomic gifts. All drifting and swirling, being born and dying, in some vast secret of a plan. Which was also a gift.
One of these supernova gifts exploded in a special manner sending a unique gift to the universe, which later-coming creatures would one day call earth, their home.” We have been given this amazing gift, our home, our planet earth and what does one do with such a gift? That is the question before us.
The writer and Sufi teacher, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, explained in an article he wrote on Eco-Spirituality, “there is another, deeper dimension to sustainability, which is as foundational as it is almost forgotten.” He quotes Thomas Berry, a priest of the Passionist order and one of the leading voices in “eco-spirituality”, who said: “There is now a single issue before us: survival. Not merely physical survival, but survival in a world of fulfilment, survival in a living world, where the violets bloom in the springtime, where the stars shine down in all their mystery, survival in a world of meaning.”
Berry suggested that there is a spiritual dimension to our present ecological crisis. It has long been understood by indigenous peoples that our relationship to the Earth is spiritually as well as physically sustaining. For indigenous peoples this is often included in their way of life, expressed through their rituals and prayers.
In our Western culture we may sense this spiritual nourishment in the beauty, peace, or sense of wonder that the natural world gives us. This belongs to the quality of life rarely valued by our solely economic images of progress. And yet we are sustained in ways we cannot easily measure. In the words of Satish Kumar: “The contemporary environmental movement, in the main, follows the path of empirical science, rational thinking, data collection and external action. This is good as far as it goes but it doesn’t go far enough. We need to include care of the soul as a part of care of the planet.”
Lee says that, “If we go to the root of the present ecological crisis we will find a state of disconnection. We appear frighteningly disconnected from real awareness of the effects of our materialistic culture upon the very ecosystem that supports us. The challenge is to develop a value-based economic structure, that is not concerned solely with our material well-being, but embraces the whole human being – body and spirit – as well as the rich biodiversity of the Earth.
Writer Charles Eisenstein said in Sacred Economics: “When we must pay the true price for the depletion of nature’s gifts, materials will become more precious to us, and economic logic will reinforce, and not contradict, our heart’s desire to treat the world with reverence and, when we receive nature’s gifts, to use them well.”
We need to explore ways that businesses can serve humanity in its deepest sense, rather than creating a poverty of spirit as well as an ecological wasteland – develop an awareness that the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the energy we use are not just commodities to be consumed, but part of the living fabric of a sacred Earth. Then we are making a real relationship with our environment. We also need to reconnect with a way of life that respects and includes the soul as well as the soil. If we understand the importance of these values, and how central they are to the world we will leave to our children and grandchildren, we will find new ways that business can support these very human needs, and create an economic model that is sustainable for our deeper selves and for the whole ecosystem. This is one of the greatest challenges.”
The Director and editor of the film, Pippa Erlich, was also very moved by her experience in joining Foster on many of the underwater dives. “To really put energy and time into nurturing our relationship with the wild is one of the most — and I’m speaking from experience now — one of the most reassuring and fulfilling things that you can do with your time,” she said. “It makes you think very differently about how we consume natural resources. It makes you think carefully about what this incredible natural system is giving to us, and what we can do in return, in terms of having a more reciprocal, respectful, even reverential relationship with the living planet.” As people of faith, it is our calling and our great responsibility to ensure that the gifts of creation that have been entrusted to us be cared for with reverence so that they may continue to be passed on to future generations. Our planet and our very souls are at stake.
(Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee PhD is a Sufi teacher and author. He has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on Super Soul Sunday, and featured on the Global Spirit Series shown on PBS. He is editor of the anthology, Spiritual Ecology: the Cry of the Earth. The Guardian, May 17, 2013)