August 19, 2018: “Voices for the Earth: Prophets, Poets, and Everyday People” (Denise Wilson)

Order of service cover for August 19, 2018Sermon offered by Denise Wilson.  This service shines a light on the modern-day prophets, spiritual ecologists, creative souls, and everyday people who are speaking and acting for the Earth. The service included spoken word, poetry, and music from Traveler’s Dream (Denise Wilson and Michael Lewis).


Good morning. It feels good to be here with you and to have the opportunity to share some of what's been rumbling in my mind and in my heart these past months, past couple of years pertaining to the declining health of our planet and what that will mean for future generations. This isn't an easy topic to talk about and certainly not in church on a Sunday morning, but as people of faith who are committed to peace and justice in our global community, and who hold a deep respect for the web of life that connects us with all living beings, this is something that calls for our attention and for our action. The earth is a living being in distress and her suffering will increasingly become our own. Leading environmental scientists predict that as many as a hundred and eighty five million people in Africa alone will die this century as the direct result of climate change. On many continents famine is increasing, flooding and wildfires are increasing, as our disease and insecurity caused by water scarcity around the world. Our planet is in peril and it needs us to help heal its body. To bring it back to wholeness so that all of Earth's creatures, including our children and grandchildren, will enjoy the beauty and the blessings she provides.

Like many of you I spent much of my childhood playing outdoors in my neighborhood and enjoying the time my family spent camping at state parks and campgrounds. I learned to love the woods and meadows, the sound of running water, the living creatures, the clouds in the night sky. As an adult I continue to seek out the beauty, peace, and sense of awe I feel in my gardens and anywhere in nature. I'm not a scientist. I'm not an eco expert or environmental activist. I'm just an average person who recognizes and is grateful for the gifts I receive from the natural world. Also like many of you I've grown increasingly concerned and fearful for the fate of our planet. About a year ago I made an intentional decision to dig deeper for an understanding of the environmental challenges we face, and to explore ways that my voice and my life might help in the healing and restoration of our world. However the more I learned, the more anxious I became. It's kind of like listening to the morning news. Many days it was hard to fight back despair, but as I continued exploring, reading books, listening to podcasts seeking out wisdom from spiritual leaders and ecologists, those who are on the front lines of the fight to save our earth, I've grown less afraid. The main purpose I'm here with you today is not simply to ring a bell of alarm for the earth who needs us all as protectors, but also to share with you some of the spiritual wisdom, the poems and songs and creative vision for the future that has inspired me, and also calm my spirit.

Before moving to some of the creative and inspiring responses to the current ecological crisis, I'll begin with a brief explanation of how we got to where we are today. For most of human history we humans lived in harmony with the earth. We came into the world, enjoyed her beauty and bounty, did no harm, and when our time time came we returned to the earth. We spent much of our time outdoors and had considerable interaction with and knowledge of plant and animal life. We were keenly aware of the passing of seasons, and the rhythm of our lives changed considerably with each turn of the wheel. Though we might fear the destructive and unpredictable powers of nature we also praised her generosity and held deep gratitude for the gifts that fed us, provided shelter, and kept us warm. Like indigenous people still living today we experienced a sacred connection with the natural world. That connection was evident in our prayers and blessings. Our songs and stories, our sacred rituals and festive celebrations. In ecological terms a harmony between humans and other life on the planet endured for many thousands of years. Between two and three hundred years ago, quite recent in the grand scheme of time that began to change. With the coming of the Industrial Revolution a distance began to grow between us in the natural world. Land became mere real estate. We learned to subdue nature and harness her powers. We became experts at extracting her resources from the land and water. Scientific and technological advances made us less fearful of nature and offered some of us the means to create lives of comfort and ease. In the industrialized world we withdrew from nature and spent most of our time in climate-controlled houses, offices, and cars. We lost sight of the sacredness of the natural world and became detached from her wisdom, her beauty, and mysterious power to heal our very souls.

If we fast forward through the 20th century and onto where we are today, we see that the blessings of technology and industrialization have come at a high cost. In our quest for material comfort and financial profits we now confront the reality of climate change. Global pollution of our land and water, and massive destruction of forests and other natural habitats. Our destructions, our destructive actions have caused the extinction of so many species that scientists refer to the time that we're living in as the sixth major extinction. The greatest since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. Put simply, we are tearing the web of life apart. And the we who are most culpable are the minority of us who live in the industrialized countries of the world. The wealthiest 20% of people on this planet use 80% of the earth's resources that. Is a statistic that is hard for me to imagine. That 20% of the people are using 80% of the resources. This same group, the car driving, meat-eating, waste producing, throwaway culture that we know all too well, this group is the major contributor to pollution climate change and the destruction of our environment. And with 200,000 new humans added to the Earth's population every day, that does not bode well for the future. We are confronting the limits of the earth's ecosystem to carry the burden of humanity.

As environmentally conscious people it's hard to grasp the role we play in the earth to earth's destruction, but acknowledging our responsibility is an essential first step. My eyes were opened in a significant way by two books in particular. One was Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril and the other was Spiritual Ecology, the Cry of the Earth. Both are collections of writings by many authors from quite diverse backgrounds, and both books acknowledge that providing facts and information about the environmental calamities we face is not enough. We know the facts. In the introduction to Moral Ground, the editors write "what is missing is the moral imperative. The conviction that assuring our own comfort at the terrible cost to the future is not worthy of us as moral beings." the editor of Spiritual Ecology, Llewellyn Vaughan Lee agrees. She also emphasizes our moral obligation to create a thriving future not just for humans but for all life on the planet. In her words, "we urgently need to regain a relationship with the planet based upon the understanding of the world as a sacred living whole." the great Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi shared this perspective. Believing that we should respect the sacredness of the earth, he said that "waste is violence. Pollution is violence. And accumulating possessions which are not essential to living is violence." and long before most of us realized the damage of our culture and lifestyle that it was causing the earth Pete Seeger warned, this is sent thanks to Susan Wynne Nagel who sent me her little daily uplifting email just a day or two ago, Pete said "if it can't be reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, resold, recycled, or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned, or removed from production." I think that about says it all. Thank You Pete.

One of the most powerful voices for the earth is Joanna Macy. She's the one that wrote the words that Michael shared after his song. She's an activist, philosopher and writer. She's now in her 80s and his active active as she's ever been. She's devoted most of her life to speaking and acting on the Earth's behalf. Joanna refers to recent decades of destruction to the earth as a period of the great unraveling. Like many of us, she is familiar with the feelings of despair and helplessness that arise when we consider where we stand today. However, this story is not over. Joanna refuses to allow the bleak place we are in to dampen her hopefulness about a brighter future. She's encouraged by a cultural shift she sees taking place. A profound shift among growing numbers of people across the globe. In her book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess we're in without Going Crazy, she says "what is catching on is the commitment to act for the sake of life on earth, as well as the vision, courage and solidarity to do so. Social and technical innovations are converging, mobilizing people's energy attention creativity and determination." joanna calls this transition the great turning. Others have referred to it as the sustainability revolution, or the ecological revolution. Though in its early stages, it's gaining momentum, and it is cause for cautious optimism. In his book Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken describes a massive social movement underway, in his view the largest in history, comprised of between one and two million organizations worldwide, working for ecological sustainability and social justice. Growing numbers of prophetic voices and organizations are helping us envision a new life sustaining society. One where human needs are met without destroying our world.

Scientists, environmentalists, poets, and musicians, respected spiritual leaders and so many more are helping us to imagine a totally different world. Grounded in an awareness of the interconnectedness of all people, of all living things. They are the prophets who seek to awaken and arouse the conscious of the people. And like the prophets of old, they speak truth to those in power but also to every one of us. It was several months ago that I stumbled on the book that I mentioned called Spiritual Ecology, the Cry of the Earth. It's an edited volume of powerful voices that speak with passion and wisdom on behalf of the earth. Within this book are the words of famous and not-so-famous people. And I mentioned this just it was it was uplifting to me just to see this collection of diverse voices to see the variety of kinds of people from so many different walks of life who are moving the danger to our planet to the very front burner of their lives. In this book there are words from the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, the Catholic priest and eco-theologian Thomas Berry, the farmer poet Wendell Berry, the mathematical cosmologists Brian Swimme, Native American activist Winona LaDuke, a Ugandan tribal chief Tamale Boya and many others. This book is one of the most important, informative and spirit feeling books I've read in several years. Each of the contributing writers to Spiritual Ecology is actively engaged in various types of concrete efforts to stop the assault being waged against the earth but equally as important to them is a different kind of work they do. This is the work of helping us see more clearly our place in the interconnected web of life. Within these walls in this sanctuary we hear that phrase so often, the interconnected web of life, that I think sometimes we forget what it actually means. And so many people are concerned about you know how many people will be harmed if if we don't reverse climate change or this or that doesn't happen, but I think it's a it's much rarer for those who really see that connectedness, that, do you remember when we were young some of us of my age or older when you drove your car you frequently had to stop at the gas station and get out the sponge and clean your windshield. There were bugs all over it and you had to do this two or three times a week. Where are the bugs? we don't do this anymore. The sponges are not even there. And I just realized this about a month ago. Not that I missed those bugs when they were splat on my windshield, but what does that mean for the other small animals who ate those bugs, and the little bit larger animals who ate the smaller animals. And I think that interconnected web of life and what humans are doing to the planet we we just really can't be reminded enough of what that actually means.

And they are not simply reminding us, these writers, of that interconnection. But they encourage us to steer our lives from that understanding. To live in ways that are kinder to the earth requires sacrificing some of our comforts and our conveniences. Yes it does. And it requires considerable mindfulness to make earth-friendly choices in the way that we live, what we eat, where we shop, what we buy, how much we buy. Voices such as those in the book spiritual ecology speak a truth that is essential as a counterweight to those in our government and the fossil fuel industry who downplay the seriousness of climate change and would have us believe there is no need for alarm, and no need to make any significant changes. It is the hunger for profits and power by those who already have so much of both, that sells us the lie that we can continue with business as usual. Our job, my friends, is to seek out the alternative voices who can illuminate our path as we seek ways to more harmoniously with the rest of life on the planet. In times of great change it is the creative souls amongst us, the poets and artists, writers and musicians, who help us see more clearly, who touch our hearts in powerful ways and inspire us to action. Music in particular is an essential tool when people fight for justice and change. The right song delivered in the right place or time can work a miracle. It happens every day. I am deeply thankful for the musicians who sing and speak for the earth, who provide their gifts of hope and inspiration at local, state, and national rallies and marches, at coffee shops, concert halls, and I'm grateful to those who write and record songs that nourish us daily. Hearing many of the songs by Carrie Newcomer, the duo Ma Muse and other soulful earth conscious singers gives me strength, expands my spirit and vision and grows the sacred connection I feel to the land, water and all life around me. Though I'm more of a singer than a songwriter, there have been times when nature filled me with such awe and gratitude that I was moved to respond by creating my own song. I thought I'd share just the last verse of a song that I wrote when I was walking in a field near my previous home out past Division Road. The field was surrounded by trees. It was a place of great beauty peace, and serenity.
[Sings:] And so into the fields I go, in verdant spring or winter snow, my worries fade as I walk into the healing power of greens and blues or the soothing gray of winter day. It's when I walk these fields alone I feel the truth down in my bones. The spirit of life that feels this place is the surest source of strength and grace.

[Speaking:] A promise never broken. As with songs poems conjure the beauty and wisdom of the earth and can motivate us to act on her behalf. I wanted to share one poem by Gary Snyder that I find quite powerful. The rising hills, the slopes of the statistics lie before us the steep climb of everything going up and up as we all go down. In the next century or the one before that, beyond that, they say, are valleys pastures. We can meet there in peace if we make it. To climb these coming crests one word to you. To you, and your children stay together. Learn the flowers go light. I have read this poem many times but those last three lines stay together. Learn the flowers go light. They linger in my mind in an almost haunting way. What broader meaning might those few words hold for the poet, for me or, for you.

In conclusion, the ecological crisis we face is a pivotal moment for the human species as well as many other life-forms on the planet. Brian Swimme, a mathematical cosmologists has this to say. The Enlightenment values of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness are being reconfigured. Life now includes the larger life of the earth. Individual freedom requires responsibility to community, and happiness is being defined as more than material goods. A view of a larger common good is emerging. The future of the planet and it's fragile biosphere. Swimme is not the only one who sees the current crisis as an opportunity. An opportunity to make some fundamental changes in the ways that we relate to each other as well as the earth. With so much at stake we have the opportunity to reweave our disconnection from nature, to reclaim our sacred role as guardians of our planet, and to apply our ingenuity, technological skills, and wisdom to finding ways to live in harmony with the earth and each other. I'll end with words of Joanna Macy from her book Active Hope. Future generations will look back at the time we're living in now. The kind of future that they look from and the story they tell about our period will be shaped by the choices we make in our lifetimes. May we have the courage, imagination, and the will to choose wisely.

Please stand as you're able and sing Hymn number 121, We'll Build a Land.


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