The other workshop I attended on Saturday was a great gift. Not so much because of the material presented, but because of it's subject matter. Sr. Joan Brown (osf) gave an introduction to eco spirituality. Since this was an introduction to the concept, and very time restricted, she was unable to get into eco spirituality with any depth. However, I did pick up some very valuable resources and resource people. For Catholics, Fr. Thomas Berry is probably the most notable voice, although he was most certainly influenced by Teihard De Chardin's thinking, and much of what he writes extrapolates from Chardin's thinking.
My own experience of eco spirituality is centered in Native relational concepts. It has been a process of years and years of inner work to get to the point where I have even a smattering of understanding of what Natives mean when they talk about the Earth as a consciousness and humanity as part of that consciousness. My personal path has been made much more difficult because of how I was raised as a child.
Western religious and philosophical thought is reflected in how we parent and are parented. The Catholicism in which I was raised saw mankind as corrupted by original sin and the earth as something to be feared and overcome. For both me as a child, and the environment around our home, the idea was to instill order and mold both to something better than our flawed starting point. To put it in different words, my parents saw their duty as bringing the Kingdom of order to our house and my psyche.
As a child I spent hours and hours and hours mowing the lawn--in patterns--raking leaves, pulling weeds, and planting flowers in designed beds. A native child would have spent the same amount of time experiencing his natural environment, learning to relate by observing relationships in action, being open to all kinds of information, and internalizing the patterns of nature, not overlaying patterns on nature.
When an Indigenous elder would tell stories about the spirit of the coyote, an Indigenous child would have understood that spirit to be of the same spirit as his own, a real and knowable part of his active consciousness and part of the same pattern of nature he inhabited. He would understand he could be the spirit of the coyote and that coyote could be part of him.
I on the other hand, understood myself to be separate, distinct, and above the coyote. I simply experienced it as a legitimate target for my rifle. I've often thought it prophetic for my later life that I was never able to actually pull the trigger. On some level of consciousness I saw that the coyote was at least related somewhat to my beloved dog. My brothers were not plagued with such reticence. Perhaps because they did not have a beloved dog, the coyote stayed totally 'other'.
It took me a really long time to understand that when Native elders spoke about the lack of boundaries in consciousness between nature and mankind, they were speaking literally. They were not using metaphor or a kind of 'deus ex machina' literary device. They were talking about real experiences and real potential in human consciousness.
Hunters would talk about calling their targets to them, not going out and looking for them. They had an ability to enter the consciousness of the animal, see it's surroundings, and use that information to find it. The believed this melding occurred (or was permitted) because the animal had given it's consent to be killed for the benefit of the hunter and his family. The hunter prayed, not with an attitude of fearful expectation, but of trustful certainty and gratitude. There for his consciousness was attracted to and intersected with a willing animal and he was given all the information he needed to find this animal. Jesus did this same thing with the Apostles when the Apostles couldn't find fish. Jesus never had the same problem and always knew where the nets should be dropped. Hunting is just one example of many examples in stories Native elders tell to illustrate this other way of knowing empirical data through the use of expanded notions of human consciousness.
Eco spirituality is about trusting that the earth and the cosmos has an inherent ability to maintain it's own balance and it's own healing. The earth does not need the Western world view to bring it to some sort of higher order or sanctified state. It does not need to be tamed and controlled, but rather trusted, because it takes our existence and our consciousness into it's equation of balance. It invites us to participate on a level which is both magical and loving. It invites us to drop our artificial boundaries and experience the true magnificence and inter dependence of God's intent for His creation.
The religious structures of the West could be the last best hope to get this message out before the Western world view destroys this planet. Before that can happen, these religious structures have to rethink their theology and move from an insistence on the ontological evil of man and a fear based notion of God, to one of trusting love and a shared community with all of creation. If one listens carefully, one can hear this message coming from the Indigenous communities, the theology of the East, and trends in the study of human consciousness--and tentatively, from the Vatican itself.
To conclude, I left this Pax Christi event with information on two ways the West is heading toward global disaster. One through the Military Industrial Complex and one through global warming. The hope lies in shared consciousness and opening the mind to the possibilities inherent in that view of consciousness. It is in this awareness that real solutions to our problems exist. As Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, it's difficult to find solutions in the thinking that created the problem to begin with. It's time to expand the thinking and learn to live in two worlds--the world of matter and the completely inner connected world of creative consciousness.
For more information on the work of Sr. Joan Brown see this website: http://www.nm-ipl.org/