Green Faith Day at Worth Abbey,
29 th June 2008
Neil Olsen from Christian Ecology Link attended this day and writes:
Abbot Christopher Jamison opened the proceedings and welcomed all the speakers and participants. He spoke of the need for a new discipline of self-awareness, to live out this discipline for the benefit of the world. This included awareness of the seven deadly sins and a discipline of thoughts, but also to be aware that losing awareness of our spiritual life is part of our spiritual life, and that this loss could be leading to widespread 'assidia', a sadness or depression, created by a lack of meaningful activity in a person's life.
Thus we require daily exercises to remain self-aware. While this has a tendency to result in guilt, more positively it maintains a proper sense of our interior awareness. Such exercises include reflection and meditation on how we live our lives, and both may provide solutions to temptation. These exercises are spiritual, providing hygiene for the spiritual health of the soul.
While other sins come from within, Greed attacks us from the outside. It can manifest itself both personally and communally, but the outcome of this greed is to become separated, or broken from the community. This understanding of greed goes back to monastic teachings as early as 4AD, but is just as prevalent in today's consumer culture, in which media promotes the idea that even though we have more, we still want (and can have) more. This leads to consumerisation of our interior, spiritual world. Marketing to our imagination generates greed within us.
We need to rediscover the joy of contemplation, and the delights of living virtuously - the 'seven virtues', especially temperance and gentleness, to counter our greed, and move towards an 'Ecology of Happiness'.
Jean Leston spoke primarily from her standpoint as a Christian working within the World Wildlife Fund. Her talk highlighted the critical state of global climate, using latest information on polar ice melt - the concern among glaciologists that a virtually ice-free pole in 2008 will lead to even more rapid warming of the world's oceans. As the white ice will not be there to reflect solar radiation, the ocean must absorb even more heat.
She focussed on the French heatwave of 2003, which was identified by Professor John Houghton, a committed christian and noted scientist studying climate, as the first recognisable catastrophic climate change event, as predicted by scientists working on the problem. 15000 people succumbed to the heat. In the past 30years global numbers of wildlife are down by one third.
WWF's Living Planet Index shows that we are now using 25% more of the earth's resources than it can regenerate. Jean explained the UK 'Three Planets' scenario, which shows how, if everyone on earth used resources the way an average UK citizen did, it would require three earths to sustain us all, and how the changes to climate systems will result in the 'five Ds' - drought, deluge, disease, displacement (of population), and death.
In an Environment Agency report, a survey of 25 leading scientists emphasised the importance of faith groups to play their part in 'saving the planet', in particular that we, through our biblical learning, should understand we are stewards of creation, that we are 'in covenant' with God's creation as part of it, and that creation itself is a sacrament. The Bible stresses the importance of humanity in protecting God's creation, and also that 'leaving well alone' is significant in the concept of sabbath rest, both for ourselves to maintain our strength and for the earth also, to be given time and space to regenerate.
Jean described the various christian groups active in such roles, in particular the Tear Fund, A Rocha eco-congregations, Christian Ecology Link (with the NOAH project), and Christian Aid, and the sort of projects they were involved with. The stress here was on fundraising toward practical action, campaigning for global environmental justice, and respect for "the world and all it's fullness", enabling ordinary people to effect change both locally and internationally.
Muzammal Hussain provided a Muslim perspective on the issues. In Islam, great import is placed on 'mizan' - balance, which must not be disturbed. The current situation has the people of earth badly out of balance with Gods creation - the increasing debt of poorer people forces them to work harder to pay off their debts. For this work, more energy is required, and consequently more waste is produced, to feed a false economic 'necessity' for financial wealth. This takes priority over a very real necessity for spiritual wealth. Thus, Muzammal identified the crisis as threefold - of the environment, the economy, and the spirit within us.
Currently we see atmospheric gases imbalanced by pollutants, and fossil fuel resources imbalanced by mining and deforestation. Yet 'solutions' are offered to the worst industrial polluters in the form of carbon 'offsetting'. Some service is paid to environmental concerns, but this still enables corporate expansion to continue! As for 'eco-consumerism', this is still 'consumerism', just cynically re-branded. It leads people to believe they are in some way helping when in reality they may be doing quite the opposite.
A faith life transforms us, and informs us as to what to do to create a balanced spiritual and planetary whole.
Joyce Edmond-Smith spoke as an 'engaged' Buddhist, i.e. one actively involved in world affairs. She explained how, in Buddhism, there is no 'creator god' - the Dharma teachings consider 'all things in nature' as a whole. Everything is connected - 'in one is all, in many is one'. Nature has a powerful link to spirituality in Buddhism. There are no ends to the air or to the oceans, and the birds and fish are the life in them, so there is great respect for nature as life.
The opposite of one-ness is separate-ness, and this is driven by the 'three fires' - greed, hatred and delusion. Separated from the earth, we turn it into no more than the supply house for all our greed, and sewer for all our waste.
There is a need to change ourselves, to awake, to 'turn'. We need to link our 'inner work' (meditation etc) to the outer work of action. The Buddhist author Joanna Macey describes the Shambala Warriors who worked to destroy the weapons of the barbarians, weapons created out of human thought. The Shambalas' only defences were compassion and insight. Working like this would re-connect us with the one-ness of the world.
It is the challenge of reviving our spirituality which will drive the 'great turning', from an industrial growth society (to which much has already been lost) to a self-sustaining society in an effort to "save and preserve what we can".
The four talks had an encouragingly unified tone despite approaching from different faith angles, and despite a lengthy discussion time at the end I felt there was still plenty more that could be said. This was a relatively small event with about eight groups represented with stalls and about one hundred attendees to the lectures.
Administration of the event, led by Ian Lawton, was very smooth and the general mood was very positive. The event was hosted by Fr Paul Fleetwood OSB, a long-time member of Christian Ecology Link. Hopefully future events will prove even more popular if more people from faith communities can be encouraged to show an interest.