My second interview for this research project was with a theologian and academic from a local university’s Divinity School. Sue, as I’ll call her, is now retired, but worked to bring some programs and classes looking at ecology and theology together during her duration at the university. She also does volunteer work in the religious environmental arena.
When I asked her about her personal connection to the world of environment and spirituality, she responded,* “All creation is sacramental, a revelation of the God. The here and the now… The universe is alive. There is no such thing as ‘secular.’ I believe in one divine spirit which gives life and spirit to everything. To trees, to rocks, to us… We are all embodied spirits. It is sacrilegious, sinful, to act otherwise. We are part of one integrated divine revelation.”
It is this conviction in myself, that everything is sacred, that everything is part of the divine (however you may define that, even if the definition is strictly non-religious and much more scientific or ecological), that started me on this research project. Sue and I have different religious backgrounds, but we certainly agree on this point. And it is a point that I am seeing again and again in my reading as well.
I asked Sue what role she saw for the religious environmental movement in helping bring about transformation or social change that would move the world in a more sustainable direction. She replied, “The role of any church is to facilitate and enhance our relationship with the divine. It is to create the environment for this to happen. Each age, each era has its call or purpose. The Great Work of our generation, as Thomas Berry said, is to turn this around, to move from a era of domination to an ecological age. The Great Work of the church is the same – to teach the ecological age, to model it. Our well-being and our souls are connected to this work.”
Further, she went on, “Religion does not provide the answers about what needs to be done; it grounds us to be able to make the changes we need to make. It provides incentive, reason, and command to do the hard work of making the world a better place.”
I remarked that during this quarter, as I read about environmental degradation, pollution, climate change, the terrible challenges that face us – and yes, possible ways to address these issues – in my Environmental Science class, I found myself deflated and sliding into hopelessness. But when I turned to my reading for this course of study, I found my hope and my faith in our ability to create change returning. My reading on eco-spirituality made me feel better, and hopeful, every time. I have been reflecting that this grounding and foundation may be one of the real values of incorporating spirituality into environmental work.
Sue agreed. “Jesus taught us that resurrection, newness, and change is always possible. That is one of his core teachings. Losing hope is losing faith.” Additionally, “God works through us. We have to do the work for God’s work to be able to come through.”
Like my first interview, I went away inspired, and with several more books for my reading list.
* My quotations are not word-for-word what Sue said, but do capture the direction and main points of our conversation.