Once, years ago, while explaining the art of spiritual healing, a wise woman taught: "You can't speak of the spirit to someone lying in a wet bed." Before invoking the awesome, the ethereal, the Ultimate, we have to change the sheets.
The same holds true on a global scale. How can we speak about things of the spirit, about caring for each other, about peace and kindness and justice and mercy, when the world we are mucking around in is a mess? Healthy bodies and healthy cultures do not thrive in sick environments. Neither do healthy souls. Attending to how we live on Earth, all that we take from it and all that we return to it, is not just an expression of environmental concern. It is an expression of our love for each other.
When it comes right down to it, when everything else is stripped away, the crises of air, water and soil pollution, of food deserts and monocultures, of species extinction and ozone depletion, of fossil fuel addiction, hunger, obesity and even some illnesses, are not so much failures of technology as failures of our spirit. What we choose to create and consume, and the detritus that results, are determined by the kind of lives we choose to lead.
The solution lies only partially in the technical question: How shall we make things work better? The core of the solution lies in the spiritual question: How shall we live our lives better?
Faith communities can guide the way. While any grand, encompassing statement about billions of people of faith is risky if not outright foolish, the following may be offered as a reflection of many religious traditions.
Faith communities live both within and beyond the here-and-now, encompassing and transcending time, with tomorrow as powerful a presence as today. We faithful see Earth, therefore, not as commodity or possession but as a gift, a cascading inheritance moving through time from generation to generation. We see it as something to be well-managed for all, and not used up by some.
We know that endless growth is neither possible nor healthy, and that incessant consumption will not make us happy. We believe that the primary purpose of technology, industry and the marketplace is to promote the well-being of all, not wealth for the few. We know that in the future we will be judged — by our children if no one else — not for the amount of goods we consume in our lifetimes but for the condition of the world we leave behind.
Even more, faith communities, through their congregations, can model ways of living equitably and well. We control real estate, sometimes lots of it. Tax-free. We are granted this financial release in return for the good works we do. And our good works must extend to how we use our land. We must manage our land so that it is healthy, cleanses our water, feeds our neighbors and provides respite from the rush of life. We must manage our land in ways that model new patterns for the 21st century, transforming wasted lots and acres of mown grass into sacred places of refuge, neighborhood commons, and groves of food forests and filtering rain gardens. Even those congregations that don't own real estate can adopt vacant lots, and manage them with and for the benefit of the community and environment.
Faith communities are that rare modern commodity: people bound together over time to care for one another. We live our lives in the presence of each other and as stewards for those to come. We gather to listen, support and serve one another. We possess the capacity to call and mobilize people to care for the health of the Earth as a supreme expression of their care for each other.
We all, those of us in faith communities and those not, have much work to do and no time to lose. We know this can no longer be cast as a battle between energy and the environment, or the economy and the environment, or "us" and "them." For the truth is, we are all on the same side. We are all in the same place. Earth is the only home we have. It — and all life upon it — needs our voice, our hands and our hearts. Thank goodness there are so many in the faith community beginning to speak out. May there be many more.
Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin is the chair of the Chesapeake Covenant Community, an interfaith group that works on behalf of people and the environment in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This article is distributed by the Bay Journal News Service.