Sacred Ecology

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"Earth's crammed with Heaven,
And every common bush afire with God."
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "Aurora Leigh"
Jon Andreas' Thoughts on SACRED ECOLOGY

"Life is religion" (Evan Runner)

My upbringing emphasized the importance of living one's religion as consistently as possible in every moment and every decision and every action of one's life. As a Christian, that meant I was to strive to be Christlike in the way I ate, dressed, studied, taught, interacted with my parents, younger brother, and friends, and chose what movie to watch, what car to buy, and what to look for in a woman. Nothing was too insignificant to avoid this matrix. Of course, nobody's perfect and sometimes even our best intentions can wreak unforeseen damage (hence my imprisonment).

What Is Your Religion?

Philosophy professor Roy Clouser defines "divine" as that which one holds to be ultimate, that which cannot be derived from anything else (see his book, The Myth of Religious Neutrality). I like this definition because it includes everyone (and every theory). No one can excuse herself from the conversation about religion by feigning, "I'm not religious." By Clouser's definition, all are religious, all hold something to be ultimate: God, nature, evolution, happiness, etc. No one can duck the question, "What is your religion?" by responding, "I'm spiritual but not religious." Examine your schedule, your checkbook, your daydreams and you will find your religion(s). What is it you live for? What means more than anything to you? It's OK. Don't be afraid to say "my kids" or "to live comfortably" or "world peace." Religion doesn't have to be all supercosmic; in fact, I would argue, for most of human history it was very practical, day-to-day stuff.

The Freedom of Prison

Coming to prison thrust me into a cacophony of religious voices—very different from the relative monotony of mostly white, mostly conservative, well-educated, suburban, evangelical Christian Americans from whence I came. After exhausting myself trying to defend my particular (Calvinian) religion, I began to explore other perspectives. Prison paradoxically freed me to embark on a "spiritual journey" in which I explored (and continue to explore) a variety of religions, of ultimates, of meanings of life: liberal Christianity (including Catholicism), Buddhism, atheism/humanism, liberal Judaism, and, most recently, Neo-Paganism.

Take Off Your Shoes, You're Standing on Holy Ground

As a little boy, I used to love to sit in the protective embrace of the willow tree in my New Jersey backyard. It was my sanctuary. Next to it was a tall tree that I would climb to the very top, to where it swayed gently in the wind, to where I could see over our two-story house. Our backyard abutted a forest—dark, quiet, magical. I have always loved nature, feeling closer to the Creator through the untamed power of the creation. Now, on my journey, I experience the Creator less as a "person" or "being" and more as a Force (of evolution) or a deep inner Cry in response to indescribable beauty or tragedy. I have flirted with frostbite during -60 degree F wind chills on the northwest Iowan plains; I have been hugged by the Amazon's palpable humidity that makes you want to strip off all your clothes; I have had a three-inch garibaldi angrily headbutt my diving mask when I had unwittingly entered his territory off the coast of Catalina Island; I have hung by fingertips on a rockface and tasted the nearness of death. All of these experiences, and many more, have come to be "ultimate" moments for me, religious moments, imbuing my life with meaning. All ground is potentially holy ground—for those who have eyes to see.

Beware Gaia's Revenge

So, what am I supposed to do as I read the reports of mainstream science and hear Nature's cry? "We are currently using the equivalent of about 1.4 earths and overshooting global carrying capacity by about 44 percent. It now takes about 18 months for the earth to regenerate the biocapacity humans use up in one year" (Planet Drum Pulse). If we divided that biocapacity by the earth's 7 billion humans, the problem lies less with our Haitian and Malawian brothers and sisters (who use less than a third of their share) than with us Americans (who use five times our share). Our planet is a single, living, complex system—by "living" I mean evolving and responding to stimuli—whom some refer to metaphorically as Gaia. Regardless of what humans do or don't do over the next several generations, Gaia will go on. What worries me—greatly—is the irreversible damage we are currently doing and the continued escalating suffering we rich industrialized nations are causing to the global poor. No one is innocent. Our day-to-day lifestyle (religion?) here in America is the direct cause of the suffering of millions (billions?) of people around the globe. And it needs to stop now. It needed to stop decades ago. I don't want to see another species go extinct due to human greed, another family of whales slaughtered, another forest razed, or another Haitian child die of malnutrition.

Religion Is Life

But what can I do? I'm locked up, dependent on an immensely wasteful bureaucracy for my daily needs, and not going anywhere for a long time. Then again, aren't we all living some variation of that theme? Nature, the care of Gaia, is my ultimate, my religion, and here are some quotidian things to make my religion my life:

  • Learning about bioregionalism, deep ecology, rewilding, and my local flora and fauna.
  • Encouraging everyone I know to read David Abram's Becoming Animal. See his website, Alliance for Wild Ethics, for samples of his inspirational writing.
  • Writing an epic poem on the modern myth of the evolution of the universe (based on The Universe Story by Briane Swimme & Thomas Berry).
  • Writing an eco-apocalyptic novel to give hope to those willing to make sacrifices today.
  • Lobbying for a recycling program here at this prison; taking shorter, cooler showers; doing a little less laundry.


Jonathan Andreas © Yule 2011



As the cricket's soft, autumn hum
is to us
so are we to the trees
as are they
to the rocks and the hills

  ~ Gary Snyder               

The rain surrounded the cabin...with a whole world of meaning, of secrecy, of rumor. Think of it: all that speech pouring down, selling nothing, judging nobody, drenching the thick mulch of dead leaves, soaking the trees, filling the gullies and crannies of the wood with water, washing out the places where men have stripped the hillside.... Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, the rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen.

  ~ Thomas Merton               

Closer to levitating
than any monk —
boy gazing at hovering hawk

    ~ Issa              
Beads of dew
on the caterpillar's


  ~ Buson              
Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky,
We fell them down and turn them into paper,
That we may record our emptiness.
    ~ Kahlil Gibran              
We would do well to remember that all the world was once wilderness. The world we entered, and which shaped and sculpted our brains as well as our bodies, and our systems of logic, was wilderness.
    ~ Rick Bass, "Wild at Heart"              
Woody Harrelson has written a poem you should read. The link takes you to a YouTube recitation.

I sometimes feel like an alien creature
for which there is no earthly explanation.
Sure I have human form, walking erect
and opposing digits,
but my mind is upside down.

(there's more, much more at this link)

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