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April 20, 2008: “Toward an Earthen Theology”

Opening Words

Reflecting on the need to honor our planet on Earth Day and in our daily lives, the Rev. William G. Sinkford, UUA President said, “This earth is a creation which we have been given. Our Unitarian Universalist theology helps us know that our role is not to exercise dominion or control over the earth but to stand as stewards of the finely balanced system which sustains all life. We call this the interdependent web of existence. We watch with anguish as this delicate web is damaged and life itself threatened by changes to our environment caused by our presence…

In addition to being a scientific problem, global warming is arguably one of the greatest moral and spiritual crises facing Earth’s people today. On this Earth Day, I call on all Unitarian Universalists to participate in efforts in local congregations, our communities, and through international organizations, that will support the ongoing care of, and reverence for, our environment and this small blue planet that is our home.”

Mother Earth is ancient language that resonates still today; indeed, we might even say that it had better! We are part of the earth and we are killing ourselves and even our future. Only recently has humanity had the power to destroy not just each other, but the future of humanity! We celebrate Earth Day, now a 35 year old celebration that reflects back of course, to more ancient times. Yet, I will argue that it might only be since we could actually see the earth as a blue and white ball from outer space looking down upon ourselves,, as if we were God, which of course we are, but that’s another sermon. We are, of course, a part of the earth, Mother Earth, as Interdependent web.


Reflection on Psalm 104     by Robyn Kermes

Contemplating the intricate wonderful web of creation,
I am touched by the sacred
to the depths of my soul.

The wind whispers to all the earth of the ever changing changeless;
Fire and flame are the instruments of transformation.
Each element working together in the Dance of Life.

Clear, cold springs gush forth in the valleys,
They burble up in the hidden places between the hills,
Giving drink to all the animals who live there.

The earth effortlessly brings forth food,
Wine to gladden the human heart, Oil to make the face shine,
And bread to strengthen the body’s limbs.

The circle of the season is marked by the moons ebb and flow;
The sun knows its times for setting,
Completing the circle of the day.
Darkness comes round and it is night,
When all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
When the sun rises, they withdraw and rest.

Closing Words:

Jacques Cousteau
This is our hope:
That the children born today may still have, twenty years hence,
a bit of green grass under their bare feet,
a breath of clean air to breathe,
A patch of blue water to sail upon,
and a whale on the horizon to set them dreaming.

And remember, Its Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature!
We have the whole world in our  hands.

Blessed Be

 Toward an Earthen Theology
April 30, 2008
Rev. Arthur G. Severance

A little girl, possibly a future Unitarian whose family did a lot of gardening was learning in Sunday school about the traditional view that God causes all things to grow, When she was quizzed at the end of the time, how do flowers grow? She responded, God does it, but fertilizer helps!

For  an earthen theology ancient and brand new, for earth day, for once again reclaiming Mother Earth and Father Sky as religious, perhaps we need a bit of ancient mysticism:

Mystics from Islam and Catholicism-

The ancient Sufi poet Rumi born 1207  in present day Afghanistan and died  1273 in Turkey. H wrote in Persian and is studied by both Iran and Turkey as a famous mystic; His doctrine advocates unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love. To him and to his disciples all religions are more or less truth. Looking with the same eye on Muslim, Jew and Christian alike, his peaceful and tolerant teaching has appealed to those of all sects and creeds. I recently heard that he is the best selling poet in America today! Rumi  writes:

Lord, the air smells good today, straight from the mysteries
within the inner courts of God.
A grace like new clothes thrown
across the garden, free medicine for everybody.
The trees in their prayer, the birds in praise,
the first blue violets kneeling.
Whatever came from Being is caught up in being, drunkenly
forgetting the way back.

We are, of course, a part of the earth, Mother Earth. Not owners of the earth, but part of the interdependent web. The title, Toward an Earthen Theology hints at the earthiness of our need today to save, not our own salvation, but Mother Earth ourself! An Ecotheology is also a way to take the old watchmaker Deist God out of the equation, and substitute ourselves. And further, that there is a moral imperative in conservation of resources on this precious planet. It is as if we have put ourselves in the pot of cold water and turned on the burner underneath to gradually bring ourselves to a boil! None of us would be foolish enough to jump into a pot of water already boiling!

Perhaps it took a feminist theologian to encourage  modern Christian (and others) toward an earth centered theology. From  her book, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age, by Theologian Sallie McFague:

The ecosystem of which we are a part is a whole: the rocks and waters, atmosphere and soil, plants, animals, and human beings interact in dynamic, mutually supportive ways that make all talk of atomistic individualism indefensible…An ecological  sensibility  is not only an aesthetic appreciation for the intrinsic value of all forms of life–an attitude of bending toward the mountain–though it includes such appreciation; it is also a different way of thinking, a change to thinking the way nature itself works in terms of interdependence, relationally, reciprocity. … The aesthetic and utilitarian (in the sense of ecologically wise) attitudes are intrinsically related: we cannot be supported by an earth we do not support. Hence, political and economic liberation and the ecological, holistic sensibility are not two projects but one.

In other words, we must consider poverty part of  the problem of the earth, and in talking about immigration, what we are really talking about is whether we should allow poor people to come to this country where even the poorest are often seen as rich to the third world city slum dweller. Some years ago when I was invited to be part of a mass at San Fernando Cathedral for memorializing the many illegal  immigrants who had died seeking to leave behind poverty and seek a better life for their family, I talked about how its like our border states have been barbecuing choice meats and the smell wafts over the border to the starving peasant and we wonder why that delicious life-giving smell is attracting the hungry. Poverty, too, is often the drive behind clear cutting the land causing erosion and then loss of habitat for other animals. Like the lifeboat sinking with us all in it, we are all part of the problem and the solution.

Lewis Thomas, a medical doctor and skilled writer, in his famous collection of essays, The Lives of a Cell:

Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the earth, catching the breath, is that it is alive. The photographs show the dry, pounded surface of the moon in the foreground, dry as an old bone. Aloft, floating free beneath the moist, gleaming, membrane of bright blue sky, is the rising earth, the only exuberant thing in this part of the cosmos. If you could look long enough, you would see the swirling of the great drifts of white cloud, covering and uncovering the half-hidden masses of land. If you had been looking for a very long, geologic time, you could have seen the continents themselves in motion, drifting apart on their crystal plates, held afloat by the fire beneath. It has the organized, self-contained look of a live creature, full of information, marvelously skilled in handling the sun… I have been trying to think of the earth as a kind of organism, but it is a no go…it is most like a single cell.”

The truly startling component of the Gaia hypothesis is the idea that the Earth is a single living entity.  The Gaia Hypothesis  formulated by James Lovelock and the noted microbiologist Dr. Lynn Margulies in the mid-1960s and published in a book in 1979  that earth functions as a single organism that maintains conditions necessary for its survival. His latest book, however, is called  The Revenge of GAIA:: Why the Earth Is Fighting Back – and How We Can still Save Humanity. Had it been known then that life and the environment are closely coupled, Darwin would have seen that evolution involved not just the organisms, but the whole planetary surface. We might then have looked upon the Earth as if it were alive, and known that we cannot pollute the air or use the Earth’s skin – its forest and ocean ecosystems – as a mere source of products to feed ourselves and furnish our homes. We would have felt instinctively that those ecosystems must be left untouched because they were part of the living Earth. …So what should we do? First, we have to keep in mind the awesome pace of change and realize how little time is left to act; and then each community and nation must find the best use of the resources they have to sustain civilization for as long as they can

So you can see why I, and many others,   call for an earthen theology? Because it should be as we are- common as mud, but as useful as clay, making earthenware containers for religion!

The earth is one,  like the ancient religions say, not one God, but just One. All connected, all interdependent. All sacred as well as profane. Is there any doubt that change is required before it is too late? Perhaps some of us rich countries are starting planning rocket ships so that we can start  new civilizations on a new world if only we could find one or maybe we even have the hubris to believe we could build a new world!

Children seem to know inherently that nature is important and we must do our part. There is a book of Children’s letters to God, these relating to nature:

Dear God,
Did you mean for giraffe to look like that or was it an accident?

Dear God,
Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones why dont you just
keep the ones you got now?

Dear God,
Who draws the lines around the countries?

Dear God,
Do animals use you or is there somebody else for them?

There are no borders visible from outer space looking toward our big blue boat, and the countries are not colored differently like on the globe. Building taller walls and more gated communities is not the answer; indeed it is part of the problem! We all must work in ways we can to help our Mother and ourselves; there are many groups working toward a just and healthy Mother Earth, and while not everyone will get there, and while there probably will never be full peace,  equality, and justice over all the world. we still must work towards it. An earthen theology teaches that the whole process of life is part of God, and not supernatural but everything is natural, everything related to nature her, it, our, self.

In recent (May-June) issue of  Spirituality and Health, there is a great article titled, Into the Heart of Kabbalah: My Year with the Rabbi, by Louise Danielle Palmer:   The Kabbalah is part of Jewish mysticism and is ancient, yet her discoveries sounded so contemporary I wanted to include them in this earthen theology            The Talmud would say that you should bless a glass of water before drinking it.  Why? Talmud would say you make a blessing because you are thinking of God. Kabbalah would say the blessing is drawing Godliness into the cup, and realizing the enlivening force in the water is continuous, and as such, an aspect of Godliness…at some at universal truths of life, and so can be studied by anyone of any faith…. Kabbalah isn’t theoretical, though. It is often called The Tree of Life because it is a philosophy that is meant to be lived out…. Essences is what the universe was created from. It contains everything….essence is the source of eternal light, the source from which everything is sourced. Some call this divinity, some call it God, some call it One-ness o unity. In Hebrew it is called or ein sof. She says that in Kabbalah maybe you don’t pray to influence or change God, you pray to change yourself! Maybe, I would add, that we pray to draw the divine out of us, into us,  until that one-ness is realized, until all borders are illusions as are all ethnic differences and immigration just means moving to another place, something we all do over our lives.

Wangari  Muta Maathai from Kenya  was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate. She is also an ecologist.  While she served in the National Council of Women  she introduced the idea of planting trees with the people in 1976 and continued to develop it into a broad-based, grassroots organization whose main focus is the planting of trees with women groups in order to conserve the environment and improve their quality of life. Through the Green Belt Movement she has assisted women in planting more than 20 million trees on their farms and on schools and church compounds. From her Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance speech:

We are called to assist the earth, to heal her wounds and in the process, heal our own- indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all it s diversity, beauty, and wonder

An ecotheology  is needed to change the world it is to change ourselves and spread that change until we all are changing and we all are uniting, sharing, loving, and the earth again become  Eden only this time without God up there and we down here, but all of us are the garden! We might even call for a Naturalistic Humanism. The word Adam, by the way, does not mean man, but earth or dirt or ground. In other words we are the very soil of the garden!  There are no  trees of knowledge or even death that we may not eat of, but those grow in us! That song We are the Earth! maybe means just that!  An Earthen theology grows out of sandbox theology, perhaps, our childhood link back to the earth. The words, Human,  Humility, Hubris, and yea, even Humus, all come from the same root( if you’ll pardon the pun).

In the words of a recent song by Ben Harper, “With My Own Two Hands:
“I can change the world
With my own two hands
Make a better place
With my own two hands…
I can clean up the earth
With my own two hands…

I’m gonna make it a brighter place
I’m gonna make it a safer place
I’m gonna help the human race
With my own
With my own two hands”

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin

We must relearn sustainability if Mother earth is to be saved, as well as deep sharing, compassion, and the fact that we are all connected and must breath the same air. Air and water, soil and sunshine must become holy things again, more important that governments or religions unless the governments and religions also become one and join, not the human race, but the earthen race, the race of the universe and the cosmos. May this earth day be the difference of the beginning of a thousand years of change, but at the very least, may this earth day change us! Let us be the change we wish to see. Go therefore and be changed!

Peace, Shalom, Salaam, Blessed Be