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Gulf catastrophe reveals spiritual crisis: Mourn. Repent. Change. - Gulf Disaster Entry IV

Great Egrets - three attitudes of prayer
Great Egrets - three attitudes of prayer
Lukasz Lukasik/en.wikipedia

As I write this, on Memorial Day 2010, oil continues to gush into the Gulf, alarming us all. No one knows how to stop the disaster, how to clean the marsh, how to rescue the endangered wildlife, how to make amends for life and livelihoods irrevocably lost. Fear, grief, and accompanying revelations about the mess we have made are culminating in a unanimous realization.

We do not need oil to survive. We do not need money to survive. We do need the sea, the air, the marshes, the soil, the trees. Somewhere along the way, we became confused and made a big mistake. This apocalypse calls us to mourn, repent, and change. To remember ourselves and find our place within creation, rather than against it.

One of my readers quoted the prophet Amos in response to this series with a call to "grieve over the ruin."  His words affirm the heart of the crisis we face here and now. This apocalypse in the natural world reveals a pervasive spiritual ruin no less catastrophic than billions of gallons of oil fouling the sea. We will not find a solution and heal the earth and ourselves until we plumb our murkiest toxic depths and admit the ways in which we have failed to live well.

In The Lost Gospel of the Earth, Tom Hayden exhorts, “The only way to avert the catastrophe of neglect is through an evolutionary leap in the way we see and feel our context. We need to experience nature and the universe within ourselves, not as external scenery we view outside the window of real life. In religious terms, we need to be ‘born again’ in nature.” He calls for a “system of ethics, economics and politics that establishes a standard for the respectful treatment” of all of creation.

A change of this magnitude requires monumental changes in each individual life. Possibilities such as driving less, using alternative sources of energy, banning plastic bags, preserving land and biodiversity, must no longer be dismissed or patronized as “alternative.” There is no alternative. At this point, a lack of imagination in reforming the way we live will condemn us all to meaningless suffering and senseless death.

The oily short-sightedness that created this apocalypse has set a gruesome stage for a braver vision; though the sight is hard to bear, we must not look away. How do we begin again? If the crisis is spiritual, what are the ways to pray at the end of the world? Mourn. Repent. Change. Practice ceaseless prayer.

The intention of this column is to continually show you the world in its glory, both great and microscopic, beautiful and terrible, to turn your attention to the precious life of creation, to name our trespasses against the world, and suggest atonement – “at-one-ment” – a state wherein we can worship and flourish and exist as we were meant to exist – in right relationship with that which gives us life.

Subscribe to this column. Our next article will explore a Carolina bay with celebrated local botanist Richard Porcher, who knows a thing or two about faithful attention to nature.


  • Tina Ranieri 5 years ago

    I agree but Im wondering about the men who died too during this catrosphe I havent heard anything about them or any others who may have survived

  • Leslee 5 years ago

    @Tina. Thank you for reminding us that the tragedy includes a terrible loss of human life and health. I will keep my eyes out for coverage of this cost and link to it. Please post anything you find as well.

  • Kristalyn 5 years ago

    If we are at one with the earth-- crabs, sea lions, and all-- their death and endangerment is ours as well. I wonder about the lives lost too and what floats past their bodies. Pools of dark murky oil sheen and tar baby blobs would be a frightening companion for the recently deceased. Should the deceased BP slaves receive honor when they assisted in the murder of an ecosystem? On this Memorial Day, we should reconsider who, what, and how we remember. Is life (and its defense) dependent upon the powers that be-- or ethical sustainability?

  • Cameron 5 years ago

    Your words inspire contemplation, and serve as a reminder and an invitation to engage in meaningful relationships with people, the environment, and one’s self. Thank you for your good words.

  • Cathy 5 years ago

    It's great to hear someone pointing to the spiritual vacuum in our society. I don't believe we will find the answer in "respectful treatment of all of creation" until we are free in this society to willingly acknowledge that there is a greater force than nature and ourselves. Love has to be at the center of every action, big or small. Lack of love is really at the heart of the gulf oil disaster. Read "Gimpy's Secret" and pass it on.

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