What is it about nature that holds our attention, and doesn't let go easily? Are the sounds of alley cats and yellow jackets trying to tell us something? As a former campus minister, I had the privilege not only to join students on scenic retreat grounds, but to hear them put a word to their experience of nature's bounty and beauty. Like students on retreat, a part of my life has been the search for God in nature -- increasingly, in recent years, beyond the pretty or serene. What can be said about the relationship between God and nature? A lot, actually.
What I can offer is a snapshot in a multimedia presentation that combines notes of the gospel and poetry. There are seven themes in Love, Nature: a Reunion. Each says something about our separations and yearning for reunion: web of life; mystery, hiddenness; creation crucified; putting "eco" back in economics; nature adapts, we can too; wilderness in nature, wildness of love; and nature as friend. The third theme is the subject of my Good Friday/Earth Day blog.
My goal is connection: a deeper appreciation of love's presence, and activity, in all things "environmental." The foundation of spiritual aliveness in nature is interdependence, the web of life. Saint Paul understood this theme profoundly, and made it a cornerstone of his theology of the Body of Christ. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1 Cor 12: 14). Today, no scientist and nature lover describes the web of life better than David Suzuki. His book, The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature, is an ecological masterpiece. Suzuki explores in great poetic-scientific detail the workings of our various anatomical systems, as these link to the substances of air, water, earth, and fire. Just as we cannot live without breathing and eating, we cannot heal and grow without that something infinite that grounds our search for meaning and wholeness.
Given the level of intricacy and complexity that defines our biology and our growth potential, as with so many creatures, importance should be granted to mystery and hiddenness. Integrity of life is hard to define but appears as fetus or rainforest or the like. Often, we want to elude mystery and assert control in relation to such "raw materials." We are driven by an emotional or financial quest, which turns to entangled problem or obsession. Captain Ahab and Dr. Frankenstein may come to mind, or, perhaps, the political and cultural hold of consumer economy. Web of life and reverence either pair together, gently and assuredly, or physical and spiritual integrity unravel mercilessly; hence, creation crucified.
This pain does not result from individual actions alone; the real power, the leveraging power, for greed-related destruction of ecology is institutional. Putting "eco" back in economics is about reclaiming our institutions for human-ecological purposes, not strictly short-term and profit-driven. Thankfully, environmental input and technology for win-win industrial innovations and systems has largely arrived; what remains is the American political will to allow economics to unfold. The United States can follow the lead of Germany in this regard. Germany is committed to the complete phase-out of nuclear power and all polluting fuels within 30-50 years.
As the fourth theme builds an institutional foundation for the web of life, the fifth, sixth and seventh themes follow with cultural and psychological push, toward the heavenly reunion of love and earth. Nature evolves, amazingly. Bacterial agents change in their properties with lightning speed in response to shifting environmental conditions. A lot of it is good, as underground mushroom membranes (mycelia) learn to absorb and detoxify even ugly wastes and poisons. And anyone who has pondered to heart stories of human forgiveness and reconciliation, from individuals to families and tribes to nations, knows the transcendent possibilities of our own species. These human abilities we need to tap on an ever widening scale.
An enduring feature of our being is our adaptive nature; that we change is constant. But toward what end? I suggest wildness, or true freedom, which can only be found in community -- human and biotic. Jesus was a wild man. You know that. As woman and American, so was Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker movement. Others include Sister Dorothy Stang, who gave her life fighting to protect the integrity of the Amazon. And Dr. Karl Henrik-Roberge, who surrendered his profession as oncologist for children to become an economist and launch the Natural Step for Business. He saw too many children die of cancer; too many environmental poisons; and too simple a problem to avoid: foolishly designed industry.
No theme is more important than the seventh. Unless you and I make our peace with nature, and become friends and allies with nature, what will change? Nature is living and is awaiting our appreciation of this fact. Nature is also pure genius, and will gratefully assist our spiritual and industrial transformation.
We have been trashing our planet and killing ourselves long enough. This largely results from false underlying theology and ideas about God. It is a hopeful beginning to acknowledge our subtle forms of alienation, and how fantastically "green" God is -- God, always at work to bring organic healing and wholeness, everywhere.
If you would like to explore the Love, Nature Reunion in more depth at your place of worship, you can contact me. And there are abundant resources of the growing care for creation movement. GreenFaith. Interfaith Power and Light. Earth Ministry. And the Forum on Religion and Ecology are just a few.