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Earth Day: 12 Spiritual Practices to Honor the Earth

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Spiritual practices are the best ways we know to demonstrate kindness and courtesy toward the Earth, to express our gratitude and wonder, to yield to the mystery and the beauty of it all. In observance of Earth Day we offer a set of practices (based on the Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy) you can do to honor the Earth over the next months.

1. Attention

The great Catholic writer Ernesto Cardenal in Abide in Love observes: "Everything in nature has a trademark, God's trademark: the stripes on a shell and the stripes on a zebra; the grain of the wood and the veins of the dry leaf; the markings on the dragonfly's wings and the pattern of stars on a photographic plate; the panther's coat and the epidermal cells of the lily petal; the structure of atoms and galaxies. All bear God's fingerprints." Go for a walk and look for God's trademarks. Better still, use a camera to document evidence of God's fingerprints in the nature.

2. Being Present

Annie Dillard has written: 'My God, what a world. There is no accounting for one second of it." Get personal with one small piece of the Earth. Sit in the dirt in your backyard. Play in the sand at the beach. Roll in the grass. Stand under a waterfall. Sense the Earth as an animal senses it. Be really present with your planetary host.

3. Connections

Share a story with family or friends, or write in your journal, about a time when you were humbled, soothed, or awed by something in the natural world. How did you feel connected to nature?

4. Devotion

Adopt a tree, a park, a beach, a waterway, or a piece of wild land, and look out for its welfare. Clean up in and around it. Write letters to officials and newspapers on issues that affect it. In its honor, include in your daily prayers petitions to alleviate the sufferings of dying plants and trees, polluted rivers and oceans, and toxic lands.

5. Hospitality

Invite some bugs into your house for an evening. Rent the fascinating and illuminating video Microcosmos directed by French biologists Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou. This documentary presents one day in a French countryside meadow where butterflies, ants, spiders, and many other insects cavort in their small and exquisite worlds.

6. Joy

Listen to Three Dog Night's classic rock song Three Dog Night: Joy to the World with the lyric "Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea." Imagine all the other gifts of God in the plant and animal kingdom that give you pleasure and fill your heart with joy.

7. Justice

Hold a Council of All Beings in your school, congregation, or community center. Each participant in the circle speaks for another life-form — an animal, plant, tree, body of water, etc., expressing the being's concerns. You might talk about threats to the being's habitat or freedom, the effects of pollution, natural disasters, and wars. After all the beings have spoken, talk as humans about your responsibilities to correct some of the environmental and cultural injustices you have identified.

8. Openness

Embrace your environment. Walk around the perimeter of your home. Explore it as if being there for the first time. What do you see, feel, hear, smell? Continue this process as you move further out into your community. Make a list of things you discover that you have never seen before.

9. Teachers

Find a teacher in nature and let her give you a lesson today. Here's an example from Natalie Goldberg: "Be tough the way a blade of grass is: rooted, willing to lean, and at peace with what is around it."

10. Unity

Susan Seddon Boulet's shamanic paintings feature the intertwined figures of humans and animals. Her art brings us to a fresh appreciation of interspecies unity. Check out the book Susan Seddon Boulet: A Retrospective at your library, or Google "Susan Seddon Boulet Gallery" to find examples of her images online.

11. Wonder

Set up a wonder table in your home or classroom. Make it a place where people can display wonders of the nature world they have found — actual examples or photographs of them.

12. You

Rededicate yourself to the live lightly and respectfully on the planet. Repeat this vow:

We join with the Earth and with each other.

To bring new life to the land
To restore the waters
To refresh the air

We join with the Earth and with each other.

To renew the forests
To care for the plants
To protect the creatures

We join with the Earth and with each other.

To celebrate the seas
To rejoice in the sunlight
To sing the song of the stars

We join with the Earth and with each other.

To recreate the human community
To promote justice and peace
To remember our children

We join with the Earth and with each other.

We join together as many and diverse expressions of one loving mystery: for the healing of the Earth and the renewal of all life.

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