Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Getting Religion

A Purloined Letter from the Green Raven:

After a long period of emotional struggle, my family decided to alter our celebration of the weekly Jewish holiday of Shabbat fairly significantly. To allow ourselves to be authentic and honest in our atheist/humanist beliefs, we've begun to piece together a completely non-theistic way of celebrating our connection with each other and with our world. We started out by putting out a bowl of paper whites, those tiny stars at the end of such bold stalks, then riffed our way to what I hope will soon feel solid.

Some elements of our celebration are direct descendants of traditional Jewish practice. Others are practices we’ve developed over time, such as powering down for the evening by keeping the lights and radio off—a practice inspired by Melinda. Much of our service was totally new, involving meaningful poetry, meditation, and the sharing of some of the best moments of our week. We wanted to have this weekly dinner partly because Shabbat has been such a meaningful part of our lives for so long. We also wanted to put into words the fact that we have a responsibility to the world: to justice, to deep respect for others, to the end of poverty, to the healing of the environment.

Just as I was thinking about the links between my family's pseudo-religious practice of Not-Shabbat (any suggestions for a real name?), fellow caped crusader JessTrev forwarded the link to a New York Times article about the Eco-Nuns of New York. Although I share neither their specific religious beliefs nor their traditions, I immediately identified with Sister Faith's explanation for the sisters' green commitments: “It’s a question of stewardship…, of responsibility."

As a collector of pictures of nuns in habits doing everything from hula-hooping to sledding, I was also thrilled to hear that the sisters are "looking into a company that makes habits that are 100 percent organic cotton, and which uses labor practices that are fair.”

Then, I came across an article in this month's Orion about this link between environmentalism and religion. In his essay "Climate Revelations," self-professed atheist Auden Shendler see links between his global warming activism and the perspectives of many religious thinkers. Acknowledging that religion has a more poetic way of addressing the issues, he states that "both are an effort to pursue the divinization, the making sacred of the world and of ourselves. That’s couched in religious terms, but pagans like me might simply call that state of grace 'global sustainability.'" He ends with a point that leaves me immensely hopeful: that there is "a desire within humanity to live in a dignified world." Working to address climate change, he feels, "offers us a shot at just this dignity."

Although there are other parts of this article which trouble me, I am profoundly moved by the implications of humanity's natural and common desire for a "dignified world." It should, it seems to me, include not just activism about climate change and other environmental concerns but also activism against hunger and homelessness, for better health care, for aging with honor, for larger questions of kindness and justice.

How about you? How much has "religious" thinking—be it God-centered or non-theistic ethical thought—inspired you to feel responsible for the earth and its inhabitants? Does your spiritual practice reinforce your commitments? How much has it motivated you to act?


knittingwoman said...

First I had kids and that opened my eyes to the need for eco/enviro awareness and changing habits. Then I started upon a spiritual path that emphasizes the connectedness of everything.
So, for me, spirituality/religion is very much tied into my enviro/eco awareness, mindfulness and resultant activism.
p.s. I recently discovered the green phonebooth blog and it is now one of my favorites.

Melinda said...

I think for me, my spirituality comes from science - physics, oceanography, chemistry, and particularly astronomy. Learning how small we are in the big scheme of things, but at the same time, we are all made of stardust. When we touch one another, molecules shift, we exchange cells quite literally. When butterflies flap their wings in one part of the world, they can affect creatures on the other side of the world. We are all connected, intertwined, and in this life together.

So every day I try to remind myself that this is so. That when I get angry because someone was mean, I take it out on others and it creates a chain of angry events that aren't good for the world. At the same time, a simple kind gesture can spark a chain of kind gestures.

For me I don't have a formal time to remember these things. They are little moments of pause, little moments to remember. Moments of meditation or pondering or thought. These are the most important moments of my day.

Willa said...

I wish you luck in your endeavor. I am envious of your ability to create ritual without feeling self-conscious. I suspect it grows from your history of celebrating Shabbat regularly. I grew up in a family without religious belief or tradition, and am very uncomfortable with ritual. But there are times when my heart desires a way to mark a moment, and I would like to be able to have something.
My spiritual/ethical beliefs (as opposed to religious) form the core of my commitment to environmental concerns. As Melinda says, we are all connected.
Simply in Season and Extending the Table, both cookbooks published by the Mennonite Central Committee were integral in helping me really come to grips with that connectedness. I was amazed to find how much common environmental ground I shared with people whose spiritual beliefs could not be farther from mine.

Theresa said...

My eureka moment re: the interconnectedness of all things came when I made eye contact with a chicken (or she made eye contact with me) in a transport truck that was on its way to the slaughter house. In that one moment I felt and knew a myriad of things all at once: That animals are not mere fodder for human exploitation, that nothing is mere fodder for human exploitation, and that God isn't a separate entity "out there" somewhere. And I felt shame that I had unknowingly contributed to this exploitation right up until that moment.

Being taught from childhood that God is separate and 'out there' somewhere makes thinking that way a hard habit to break. But Somewhere around the same time as the chicken moment I found out about Taoism, and finally could put a name to what I had believed in all along. That was a cool day. :)

Green Bean said...

I am not particularly spiritual. I have fits and starts from time to time but I will say that I am motivated by ideals and virtues. Those of honor, respect, our inherent ability to know what is right. I love the quote: there is "a desire within humanity to live in a dignified world." Hear, hear.

Jenni at My Web of Life said...

The youth group at our little rural church have begun a 'Stewardship of Creation' initiative. I wrote a post about it back in January. It is very inspiring but it is also an interesting way for them to relate back to some of the elderly people in our community who have 'green' tips based on their lifestyles of wasting nothing and growing their own food.


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