Today is Earth Day. I was originally going to quote John Muir and Ralph Waldo Emerson, urging us towards better stewardship of our planet. I was going to spit out depressing statistics and bitter truths regarding global warming and resource depletion in an attempt to spur us to act more responsibly towards the Earth and its creatures. But last week, once again, we were forced to bear witness to needless tragedy and destruction in our world; a world in which it seems more and more often violence is the chosen solution to our problems – violence to ourselves, to other humans, to animals and forests and oceans; violence to our earth.
It is always difficult to know what to say in the wake of these horrific acts and environmental devastations. My Facebook page has been full of both righteous anger and terrible grief; people jumping to conclusions, calling for action, surrendering to prayer, demanding answers, and desperately seeking hope.
As Barbara Kingsolver writes in her essay Small Wonder, “we are alive in a fearsome time, and we have been given new things to fear. We’ve been delivered huge blows. The easiest thing is to think of returning the blows. But there are other things we must think about as well, other dangers we face. A careless way of sauntering across the earth and breaking open its treasures, a terrible dependency on sucking out the world’s best juices for ourselves.”
And so, in considering how to address current events while also staying true to the Earth Day message, I realized these are not two separate issues at all. We are all a part of the interconnected web of life, and the harm we do, whether it be against a fellow human, an animal, plant or our planet’s atmosphere, is harm we do unto ourselves.
I am calling us today to look at this world that is so broken and hurting and to have the courage to be peacemakers, heralds of hope and earth-healers.
In the Unity tradition, we affirm five basic principles.
1. God is the source and creator of all. There is no other enduring power. God is good and present everywhere.
We may ask ourselves, “How do I create peace amidst chaos and destruction?” God is good and present everywhere. In the eye of the hurricane is the calmness that is God. How do we have sympathy with what appears to be a devil? There is no other enduring power – evil exists only in our separation from the source. What this ultimately means is that no one and nothing are beyond hope of realigning with the Truth – both the individual inner truth and the Cosmic Reality of Perfect Creations of the Divine. This leads us to the second principle.
2. We are spiritual beings, created in God’s image. The spirit of God lives within each person; therefore, all people are inherently good.
At a very fundamental level, peace rests on the idea that each human being is inherently worthy and good. To judge someone as unworthy allows us to justify reacting violently in the many ways we relate to others and to ourselves. By embodying our understanding of our second principle and growing in ways we act out this principle we will create peace. Therefore, our second principle directly asks us to be peacemakers, not just in actions, but in how we fundamentally see “the other” – both human and non-human. By internalizing this worthiness and goodness of all, we can act from a firm conviction that the harm we do to others, we do to ourselves, and that for there to be peace in the world, there must be peace in each of us. Creating peace within ourselves is not always easy, but our third principle encourages us to do just that.
3. We create our life experiences through our way of thinking.
We do not have to live in a reality ruled by fear and anger. The “new things to fear” that Barbara Kingsolver says we have been given – we can choose not to accept these fears. We can choose to find alternatives and options, to look beyond initial impressions and reactions. The Bhagavad Gita of Hindu faith states: If you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive. If you want to see the heroic, look at those who can love in return for hatred. We can choose to be the brave and heroic, to forgive and to love, as difficult as that may be.
4. There is power in affirmative prayer, which we believe increases our awareness of God.
Here is where we are called, very explicitly, to be heralds of hope. We are the vanguard, holding the memory and knowledge of Light deep within our hearts for all those who are struggling in our world, for our world that is struggling. It is through the power of our collective belief in the wholeness of our Earth and the oneness of all that healing will take place. When this seems too difficult, when we need a reminder of our strength, we can recite this blessing by John O’Donohue –
May memory bless and protect you with the hard-earned light of past travail; to remind you that you have survived before and though the darkness now is deep, you will soon see approaching light.
5. Knowledge of these spiritual principles is not enough. We must live them.
It doesn’t get any clearer than this. We are being called to action. By proclaiming our commitment to Unity and these principles, we must be peacemakers, heralds of hope and earth-healers.
There is no doubt that our world is in trouble. And while our politicians bicker amongst themselves over gun control and gay marriage, while our government continues to throw trillions of dollars at making war, and while so many, many people in this world spend every minute just trying to survive, who will step forward to be the healers that are so desperately needed? Where will the call come from and what language could possibly inspire movement forward?
Sister Joan Kirby is the UN Representative for the Temple of Understanding, a nonprofit and non-governmental organization dedicated to cross-cultural and interfaith education and advocacy. She says the responsibility is ours:
“We cannot count on governments to legislate sustainable development. To make radical changes, governments need the guidance of an awakened civil society expressing the need for a change of consciousness. Corporations, still intent on the bottom line, must be kept in check by an awakened civil society insisting on sustainable consumption. The real eco-revolution depends on leaders of religions and spiritual traditions as well as civil society with hearts open to a new understanding of the inner dimension of our living Earth. Religion needs science for enlightenment about the plight of the Earth and science needs religion to internalize the message and take action.”
In The Association for Global New Thought’s Congregational Pledge of Nonviolence, we are asked to commit to respect ourselves and others, to treat the environment and all living things with respect and care, and to forgive. We are also urged to pledge to be courageous – to challenge violence in all forms whenever we encounter it. Sr. Kirby said, “Science needs religion to internalize the message and take action.” Unity’s five principles assist us in internalizing the message and the pledge of nonviolence calls us to take action.
And since I can’t conceive of celebrating Earth Day without him, and yesterday was his birthday, I’ll let John Muir explain why we need to take care of this precious planet and all who live on it:
The world, we are told, was made especially for humans – a presumption not supported by all the facts…Why should humanity value itself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without humans; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge. From the dust of the earth, from the common elementary fund, the Creator has made Homo Sapiens. From the same material God has made every other creature, however noxious and insignificant to us. They are earth-born companions and our fellow mortals. When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.
He says, “the universe would be incomplete without humans,” and I would like to add that it would be incomplete without each and every one of us humans. We are all a vital strand in the web of life, and when one strand gets knotted up or torn away from the larger web, it is our responsibility to help fix it – and it’s in our best interest! For the strength of the web depends on the connections and interweaving of all strands.
So, once more, I urge you to dig deeply, find the Light within and hold it – as a peacemaker; as a herald of hope; as an earth-healer. Hold the Light close, hold it high, hold it out in forgiveness and welcome. Hold it in your heart and let it fill you. When you open your mouth to speak, may Light come pouring forth. When others look into your eyes, may they be blinded by the brightness. When there is suffering, may it be eased by the warmth in your touch and wherever you walk, may you leave glowing footprints, leading the way towards a world of love and nonviolence.
** The photos used in this post are borrowed lovingly from The Muir Project. A team of artists hiked the John Muir Trail & brought back their experiences. 219 miles in 25 days. They have created a multi-media experience to share with others, including a documentary film about their journey.