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Prayer for the Ocean? This Is the Time for Corporate Acts of Confession

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Wallace J. Nichols and Sarah Kornfeld

Last week the President addressed the nation from the Oval Office, outlining the cleanup in the Gulf, the realities of its negative impact on the environment, and the urgent need for reform. He ended his carefully crafted speech with a crystal clear call to action: prayer.

"The oil spill is not the last crisis America will face. This nation has known hard times before, and we will surely know them again. What sees us through -- what has always seen us through -- is our strength, our resilience, and our unyielding faith that something better awaits us if we summon the courage to reach for it. Tonight, we pray for that courage, we pray for the people of the Gulf, and we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day," the President said.

He also referred to the tradition of the "blessing of the fleet" and the hopes of fisherpeople to weather great storms. This reference to prayers for the sea was meant to show respect to those in the Gulf. Yet this tradition of asking for prayer in the face of corporate illegality has become all too familiar and now very alarming.

Human beings have always sought and will continue to seek hope, spiritual intention, faith, humanism and facts in response to crises. But, the President missed a opportunity for greatness: the chance to use the world's largest megaphone to proclaim, "Oil is Dead." He failed to declare that the Century of Oil must come to an end. And, he did not take the rationalists' perspective that prayers and courage alone won't change our interdependency and addiction to petroleum, plastics, and all forms of oil-based products.

If the President would like us to pray, shouldn't we ask that all complicit government officials and corporate CEO's begin with public prayers of confession? The tradition of confession in prayer is well known and central to creating change and clarity in people and communities. It's not enough that "confession" has turned into senate hearings. No, what if it were more: what if the President laid the responsibilities of public prayer not on the American people, but on the corporate and government leaders who need it most?

We'd like to suggest a few prayers of confession that these people should make publicly in the wake of their violent, ecologically devastating act:

"Our mighty Mother Ocean," the prayer would begin... and might conclude with mea culpas along the lines of:

  • "We confess to not heeding the wisdom of the prophets -- the scientists -- who told us this would happen."
  • "We confess to greed and acts of war against this planet to maintain the flow of oil."
  • "We confess to bearing false witness against our neighbors, and their children, through deceptive public relations strategies that hawk harmful oil-based plastic to them."
  • "We confess to a failure of strategic planning, collaboration and commitment on climate change and to casting doubt upon the role of fossil fuels in that crisis."
  • "We confess to burning sea turtles and to complicity in the extinction of sea life and cultures of the sea."

Such unlikely confessions would certainly make these leaders feel better, but it is not enough just to say, "I'm sorry". For confession to be whole, contrition must follow and the president must demand it.

Though the President has started to take a hard stand on BP, he should willingly accept the claims of heresy by the oil industry and declare: "the Reign of Oil is Dead." For, if the reign of oil is dead, then our ACTIONS as a nation, not just our prayers, may make some difference in freeing us from our corporate enslavement. If we believe that the reign of oil is dead perhaps then we may lead ourselves into the promised land: an oasis of hope where people of action will unite to protect and restore our Ocean Planet.

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