Week 22: Spiritual Ecology
I found my church in the forest with the sky for the dome of my temple
Whenever I am inspired by a course in school, I immediately want to share what I’ve learned. This semester I am taking a class called Religion and Ecology, and it is blowing. my. mind. Like many of my peers I have always been weary of organized religion, especially after witnessing the hostility and violence it can incite. But, lately I have frequently found myself on the front lines of death, hurt, and trauma and have simultaneously become anxious about the gravity of our climate crisis. Finally allowing myself to find something spiritual to hold onto has been the only thing keeping me from spiraling down. To me, there is sacrality in the colorful fungi that turns an old log into soil, the spider that intricately spins her web, the person whose decomposing body enters communion with the root system of the forest.
Religion does not have to be institutionalized; it can be as simple as a routine of greeting the sun in the morning. I have begun the practice of reading the Haudenosaunee thanksgiving prayer when I wake up and greeting a tree on my walk to class. *It is crucial I acknowledge that this is not meant as an appropriation of any culture or religion; each of the traditions mentioned were purposefully and explicitly shared by their creators.
What would you say if you could convey your sadness, anger, grief, and regret about our climate crisis to the plants? One teacher at the progressive Union Theological Seminary in NYC held a class where his students were able to confess to a group of plants. This practice was met with an unbelievable amount of hate, so the teacher, Cláudio Carvalhaes wrote this piece in response. Carvalhaes beautifully sums up the interconnectedness of the world, “as creatures in and of the earth, we are all inextricably bound together in a web of life, as organisms deeply entangled in ecological community, composing and composting the immensity of who we are, together.” During this exercise, one student said something that I immediately connected with, “I don’t know how to relate to you in this subjective way. I am afraid that if I do I might discover a level of pain that I don’t know whether I can bear.” What she meant is that when you begin to see plants as intrinsically valuable and conscious beings, you become aware of the depth of the harm we have caused the earth; It is unfathomable.
“Nothing may be one of the best things you can do for the environment”
This is the essential point of the movement to regenerate the Jewish traditions of Shmita and Shabbat. In the Jewish agricultural practice of Shmita, after the land is farmed for 6 years, the soil is left to regenerate, the poor are offered food, and all debts are forgiven for the following year. Not only does Shmita allow the soil to rejuvenate and thus act as a carbon sink, but it shifts our relationship with the land from one of exploitation to one of mutual respect. In the better known tradition of Sabbath, on the 7th day of the week all work or building and use of electricity, cars, and money is halted. The Green Sabbath Project, a group encouraging everyone (non-Jews included) to hold Sabbath, says, “Sabbath properly practiced offers a weekly interruption of the suicidal econometric fantasy of infinite growth, a weekly divestment from fossil fuels.” Although the traditional Sabbath is on Sunday, you can designate any day of the week as your day of rest. Of course, many Americans work 7 days a week and can not afford to miss a single day. This is why those who CAN must begin this tradition, for it could be a catalyst for bigger, structural change.
Pachamama, translated as earth mother, is a being that was central to ancient Incan culture. When white settlers came to South America, they brought Catholicism and belief in Pachamama was challenged, yet today, countries like Bolivia, Peru, and Chile celebrate Pachamama as if she never left. In Bolivia, for example, they honor Pachamama through practices such as pouring soda on the ground before they drink. Native American Author Robin Wall Kimmerer tells a similar story of her father pouring the first cup of morning coffee on the ground to thank the mountains of New York. “Parents [in Bolivia] teach their children that gratitude for mother earth must be an integral part of one’s life,” writes Brady McCombs. Despite the multiplicitous issues that come with associating women with the earth, belief in Pachamama may be key in repairing our connection with and respect for the earth. Pacha does not only mean earth in the Native languages of Quechua and Aymara, it also means cosmos, universe, time and space
There is a short film called Pachamama on Netflix that pays homage to Indigenous Andean Culture.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to read. How will you bring spiritual ecology into your daily life?