The earth speaks; hopefully, we’re listening
Somehow in the last couple years scanning the stacks and shelves of our local library and indie bookstore, I missed seeing an important book focused on and designed for the times we are living in. “Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth” (The Golden Sufi Center Publishing, 309 pages, 2021), edited by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, is a compendium of essays and poems addressing all the requisite issues that the word “ecology” implies.
It’s a who’s who of environmental, literary and spiritual leaders. If this were a music anthology, then this tome would be considered a Super Group of rockers in the Spiritual Billboard’s Top 100. Or, as none other than Barry Lopez writes on the back cover of this book: “Spiritual Ecology is a superb collection of thoughtful pieces by people who have gone deep to understand our relations with the Earth. It comes at a crucial time for humanity.”
This is a book that proposes to help its readers to understand the critical nature of the environmental crisis the human race is now facing while also helping mankind to realize the sacred nature of creation and to help us all toward bringing the world as a living whole back into balance. With such male and female contributors as Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Berry, Chief Oren Lyons, Brian Swimme, Winona LaDuke, Richard Rohr, Satish Kumar and Vandana Shiva, this book addresses the issues of climate change, species depletion, pollution and acidification of the oceans as it focuses on our forgetfulness of how all this affects our relationship to the environment. There are 20 or more contributors in this collection, all of whom are more or less, in their own way, channeling the voice of the earth as she speaks to us of our mistakes, their effects and necessary solutions. In his preface, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee says: “[This book] speaks to the idea of the Earth as a living being whose cry we can and now must hear. This cry is not a fringe or new age idea; it is a reality we must respond to.”
Appropriately, in the first essay in the book, Chief Oren Lyons of the Onondaga First Nations tribe sets the tone for the rest of the collection, stating:
“I don’t believe, personally, that we have reached a point of no return in this situation that we’re in, but we are approaching it. The farther you’re away from a point of no return, the more options you have. As we move each day closer to a point of no return, we lose that day’s option. And there will come a point where there will be no more options. So we have to take the degradation signposts seriously and begin to organize ourselves and do the best we can. It starts right now with you. It starts with you and then your family. Then from your family it goes out, and that’s how you do it. Also, what we have to do is get our leaders to change, and if our leaders don’t do it, we’ve got to raise better leaders, newer leaders. Raise our own leaders.”
Wise words, these, from a Wisdom Keeper and elder from our earth-based and ecology-minded indigenous population.
In his essay “The World of Wonder,” one of the most influential recent figures in Earth-based spirituality — eco-theologian Thomas Berry — picks up where Chief Lyons left off, saying “If there is no spirituality in the Earth, then there is no spirituality in ourselves. We need to regain the sense of wonder that comes from being deeply interconnected in a sacred way. The indigenous peoples of this continent tried to teach us the value of the land, but unfortunately we could not understand them, blinded as we were by our dream of manifest destiny. For us to have a future, a change must occur deep in our souls.”
Then the Zen Buddhist monk, poet and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh expands upon Thomas Berry’s words, saying “We must wake up from the dream that is destroying the planet. Our mindfulness can change our collective consciousness, giving us the power to decide the destiny of our planet. The bells of mindfulness are calling out to us, trying to wake us up, reminding us to look deeply at our impact on the planet.”
The personally-charged essays in “Spiritual Ecology” escalate into more and more depth and detail about the interconnectedness of everyone on our continent, everything on our planet and all energy and matter in the universe. In a later essay by Franciscan monk Richard Rohr, all of this adds up to the one thing that each of the authors in this anthology agree upon:
“Our very suffering now, our condensed presence on this common nest that we have largely fouled, will soon be the ONE thing that we finally share in common. It might well be the one thing that will bring us together politically and religiously. The Earth and its life systems, on which we all entirely depend, might soon become the very thing that will convert us to a simple lifestyle, to necessary community, and to an inherent and universal sense of reverence for the Holy.”
And, finally, these words from a man who many consider to be America’s poet laureate in perpetuity, Wendell Berry: “I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness.”
I have shared but a few insights into what is understood and revealed between the pages of this book. If anything I have shared with you, here, speaks to you in any way, I strongly suggest that you support your local independent bookstore and library and either borrow or buy this book, which I am convinced in the future will be considered as holy writ.
Thomas Crowe is a regular contributor to The Smoky Mountain News and author of the multi-award-winning non-fiction nature memoir “Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods.”