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.