Tuesday, November 29, 2005

How Eastern Christians Get It Right with Mother Earth

In my first post, I said that many of us would need to travel the road of one of the axial religions to reach reconciliation with the Earth, who is daily being “crucified” in the words of Matthew Fox. Back in the late sixties, Lynn White, Jr. made a now famous speech in which he said the Judeo-Christian tradition was the root of the problem with our species' trashing the earth, especially the notion of "dominion" in Genesis. White later softened his remarks, but I still meet starry-eyed youg environmentalists who quote that speech as if it were gospel, yet another reason to turn from the religion of their parents. A more critical look shows something different.

Turn to the Quran and you'll find a clear statement of the idea of dominion. There the idea is that we are "vice-regents" for God, in charge in His absence. This does not mean we are free to do as we please, but rather to follow the injunctions to "dress and to keep" His cherished creation. And by the mid-1980's, even conservative little schools of theology in the Midwest were spreading the same interpretation. Since Christian liberals have been saying this for a long time, and now the fundamentalists are on board, we have just about cleansed Christendom (!?) of an interpretation which grew lush in the fertile soil of the unholy alliance between Protestantism and capitalism.

But frankly, this doesn't do it for me. Duty to an Absentee Landlord isn't sufficient motivation to restore Creation. What if Creation itself were divine? Children of all the Abrahamic faiths flee from this experience, denying it as pantheist. Well, almost all. There is a branch of Christendom, Eastern Christianity, where earth and heaven are not experienced as split, where the Fall is restricted to human beings, rather than being a divine curse laid on all Creation by a vengeful God.

For Eastern Christians, at least a significant strain of them, the Cosmos is God's first temporal child, the flesh through which He incarnates into space and time. And the Earth, no matter what the odds for her essential replication in other corners of that unimaginably vast body, is the splendid flesh to which we are married. To use the language of Genesis, she keeps us. "To keep" is a reflexive verb, and the farmstead - or ecosysystem - keeps us even as we (remembering) keep her. We keep the earth because we love her, not just because we should take care of God's property. She keeps us because she can do no other. She is unfallen, like the animal who carries me, and thus her love is unconditional, even if increasingly unrequited.

In the Orthodox sense, my essential animal is the unfallen Adam, who is Christ the Logos and type of the perfect human, reborn as a reminder of what God first had in mind. My love for the earth, a deep lifelong yearning still imperfectly expressed, comes from a desire for union with my Sister (and Mother), for the Cosmos and Christ are perfect forms coeternally existent in God's Mind.

Whew! There is so much more here, and I invite my readers to further explore the splendor of the Orthodox world which they call Sophiology through some of the texts laid out in the sidebar. The point is that one does not have to be a deep ecologist who wants us all to return to the hunter-gatherer state, the anthropologist's "unfallen" world to make a truce with our battered Mother Earth. One can continue to live the life of a Christian without all the baggage of being exiled from the earth.

The Roman West also has had its earth saints, notably St. Francis. The confessor of Norwich, Julian, said the cosmos is the womb of God, "our true Mother in whom we are endlessly carried and out of whom we will never come."

Meanwhile, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew is a towering example, dedicating his life to saving the dying Black Sea ecosystem, tirelessly crisscrossing the sea to carry his message of the imperative of restoring God's Creation. And as our Quaker prophet George Fox put it, what canst thou say, oh friend of the Earth?

Resources: Sherrard, Phillip. Christianity: Lineaments of a Sacred Tradition; Human Image, Divine Image. Sherrard is key to my understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy and its radical acceptance of the sacrality of the cosmos. Background on Sophiology, the tradition within Orthodoxy Sherrard represents: Florensky and Bulgakov; Patriarch Bartholomew's speeches: Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer: the Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch, - Chryssavgis, John. And for a taste of the sacrality of nature in the Eastern tradition, try Saint Ephraim, “Hymn on Paradise.” APOLOGIES, dear reader: “Resources” was intended as sidebar material, but I have yet to learn how to perform necessary code. Thanks to David of Boone, Antiochean Christian, for many references.

Next: "Parable of the Gold Coins" (a parable of Christ and the Earth)

another great entry bob. well done. also, i like how you keep us in context by referencing last week and giving us a little hint about what's to come next week.
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