The human community and the natural world will go into the future as a single sacred community or we will both perish in the desert.” So writes the geologian Thomas Berry,92 year old Passionist Priest, one of Time Magazine’s top 100 men of the last century. At this point in history we appear to be walking toward the desert. It is only in the last thirty years that the awareness that the large natural community is the sacred community, that an option for the earth is the great task awaiting us today.
This is not an new insight. The First Peoples on all continents have understood that that the cosmos was revelatory of the divine. This was not even a discussion so evident was this deep belief. The Universe was always a Thou and never an it. It spoke in deep ways of the Great Spirit which flowed through all of life. The rising and setting of the sun, the seasons, the living and dying of nature, the power of the oceans and the infinitesimal feeling of humanity looking at the stars all reflected a mysterious, numinous presence which staggered the ancients into wonder, amazement and ultimately worship. This was first expressed in dance because words failed. And after the dance there was silence as the Really Real was ineffable,beyond words but not beyond tears of gratitude for the gift.
First Peoples used the drum to keep time with the heart of the cosmos. The mystics in every religious tradition knew that the scripture of the natural world was to be read along beside the Bible and other sacred texts.Then came the Industrial Revolution and the descent into autism or as Berry phrases it,”We moved from Wonderworld to waste world.”
On October 9,2006 we began to live beyond our ecological means. The Global Footprint Network,a US based group put it starkly:”Today humanity starts eating the planet” Our capacity to live in a sustainable fashion ended this week. The biggest problem of course is climate change, but deforestation, falling agricultural yields and overfishing. are major problems. China and India are revving up, polar ice caps are melting and weather patterns have gone wonky.
Global Footprint estimates that the human race is over-using the Earth’s resources by 23 per cent.
“We cannot haver well people on a sick planet,” Berry says.
We cannot have a flourishing planet with dysfunctional religion which does not take into account the story of the trees,the rivers, the stars. Berry maintains that organized religion based on a transcendent God who covenanted with a special people undercut the deep primordial relationship people had with the divine in the natural order. Humans were exalted above the natural world. Rampant individualism focusing on the human “soul” took us out of the divine context where we were “redeemed”, liberated out of this world. For the West te individual, not the whole appears to be primary.The sense of deep organic unity is lost as is our public responsibility to the greater good. Hence, alienation and autism.
It is this Western Christian religion so caught up with technology and individualism which must be re-evaluated.That such catastrophic devastation has occurred in the “Christian” West cause us to look at our understanding of our faith traditions and see what can be reclaimed.Here the writings of many contemporary Christians are helpful-Matthew Fox, Sallie McFague, Rosemary Ruether are but a few helping us in this regard. Grace has been given challenging us in the human community to right the ecological imbalance and lighten the North American footprint.