Sunday, April 26, 2020

Fighting for Planet Earth

Nature is under attack, and all the regulatory defenses that once protected her are being dismantled. Human activity, especially in the industrialized, high-consumption cultures of the first world, has accelerated environmental destruction to historically unprecedented levels. We are in the fight for our lives, literally.
Instead of cataloging, yet again, this dystopian withering, let us turn our gaze to the good news. It doesn’t have to be this way. Since we can no longer rely on the gutted Environmental Protection Agency to protect us, we’ll have to fight for ourselves. But our activism must be grounded deep in the soul. We’re going to need spiritual guidance.
German mystic Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) entered the monastic life at 14. For medieval women life in the monastery afforded a freedom unavailable to married women. Released from the constraints of child rearing and housekeeping, monastic women focused on study and contemplation. Hildegard became one of the leading intellectuals of her day (though her work was not recognized until centuries later). Her writings covered the gamut from theology to natural philosophy. But it’s her startling defense of the natural world that strikes us most today. For her, respecting nature was the same thing as respecting God. It was just that simple. “Every creature,” she wrote, “is a glittering, glistening mirror of Divinity. There is the music of Heaven in all things.”
Hildegard’s message was a startling departure from the other-worldly emphasis of Augustine’s Christianity of the 5th century. For Augustine, the natural world was a fallen world mired in sin and insignificance – our true home was in heaven with God. Earth was simply to be endured. But for Hildegard, “everything that is in the heavens, on earth, and under the earth is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.” This beautiful world was God’s best work, and our defense of it a sacred calling. But it isn’t easy. We often feel overwhelmed and defeated. Still, we can’t give up. “Even in a world that’s being shipwrecked,” she wrote, “remain brave and strong.”
It is not from alien invaders that the earth must be defended. Human activity has accelerated environmental degradation at an unprecedented rate. There aren’t two sides to this. Scientific consensus is 100%. Only one question remains – what are we going to do about it? For Hildegard, the answer is clear: “We shall awaken from our dullness,” she wrote, “and rise vigorously toward justice. If we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper, we will respond to its endangerment with passion.”
The answer is love. Not personal love, but passionate universal love for the ground of being and all her manifest forms.All living creatures are sparks from the radiation of God’s brilliance,” Hildegard wrote, “emerging from God like the rays of the sun.” The government isn’t going to save us – certainly not now. Only we can save ourselves. “Dare to declare who you are,” she wrote. “It is not far from the shores of silence to the boundaries of speech. The path is not long, but the way is deep. You must not only walk there, you must be prepared to leap.” And when you leap, know that “you are encircled by the arms of the mystery of God.” God and the world are one. We and the world are one. There is nothing but oneness. When we fight for the earth, we fight for ourselves.
[This piece was first published in my my column "A to Zen" in the May/June 2020 issue of Unity Magazine, and is reproduced here with permission.]