The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
For All the Saints
Today is a scary day -- in part because it is Halloween, but more significantly because of the frightening and ongoing events in the world around us. What with the pending election, an economic meltdown, and (last, but certainly not least) the ever-escalating global ecological crisis, there is more than enough fodder for anxiety.
More theologically and more hopefully, today is All Hallows Eve, which leads us into the less rambunctious occasion of All Saints Day. Tomorrow's holiday is a time of thanksgiving and remembrance "for all the saints," known and unknown, world famous and local, prominent and private, living and dead.
In our frightening world, All Saints Day is a good time for us to remember some of the faithful saints of the environmental movement, the souls who have led the way in this important cause. We are strengthened as we remember those who, through the ages, have shaped the vision and done good work.
There truly are multitudes of environmental saints to celebrate: scientists, politicians, ethicists, activists, educators, artists, engineers, farmers, businesspeople, journalists, parents and children. All Saints Day is an occasion to think very broadly and inclusively, to remember both the famous folk, and the anonymous families who change light bulbs.
In affirmation of the environmental saints, I will name just a few souls from that great cloud of witnesses. For today's list -- and for this church-oriented audience -- I want to lift up some of the saints whose commitment to Earth community have been grounded in faith. This listing is far, far, far from exhaustive!
We must begin, of course, with St. Francis of Assisi, (1182-1226) lover of all creation, champion of justice, the patron saint of animals and the environment. Francis stands as the icon for Christian attentiveness to humanity's relationship with all creatures.
Going back farther in Christian history, we find that many of the "church fathers" were deeply tuned to care for all of God's creation. For example, St. Basil the Great (329-379) wrote this wise prayer: "O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, even our brothers, the animals, to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of pain. May we realize that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee and that they love the sweetness of life."
Ecological religious thought is alive and well in our own time, with many theologians, ethicists, biblical scholars and pastors enriching our thinking. To highlight just a few of those academics, I will follow the lead of the American Academy of Religion in recognizing "six of the giants of ecotheology": John Cobb, Calvin DeWitt, Norman Habel, Sallie McFague, Larry Rasmussen and Rosemary Radford Ruether.
The environmental saints do more than think and write. They act and even die in their commitment. We find an environmental martyr in the person of Sr. Dorothy Stang. She was a defender of the Amazonian rainforest and of the local people who were persecuted by illegal loggers and landowners. Sr. Dorothy was assassinated in Brazil in 2005 because of her faithful resistance to the exploitation of people and land.
Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her persistent work in Kenya to plant trees and nurture just and sustainable communities. Maathai, a Catholic, frequently acknowledges the Benedictine sisters who encouraged her interest in science, provided support over the years, and nominated her for the Nobel Prize.
Bill McKibben, is well-known as an author, and as the creative and effective organizer behind the popular movements of Step It Up and 350.org. He is less well-known as an active member of the United Methodist Church.
In Korea, Buddhist and Christian religious leaders galvanized public protest against the construction of a massive sea wall that would destroy Korea's most important wetland. In 2003, the leaders undertook a 65-day march from Saemangeum to Seoul, a distance of 194 miles. They took three steps, then kneeled and bowed to the ground continuously for the entire march, a form of protest called Samboilbae." Despite the protests, the sea wall was completed, but their witness is still powerful.
There are many saints who have worked passionately within the environmental justice movement, fighting the environmental racism that is pervasive in the US and around the world. Charles Lee and Ben Chavis are two of the people who gave birth to that movement through the United Church of Christ, and the groundbreaking study on Toxic Wastes and Race.
The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Churches has used his global prominence to champion environmental causes. He has stated bluntly that "To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin." In 1995, his office launched an ambitious program of "integrating current scientific knowledge about the oceans with the spiritual approach of the world's religions to water, particularly the world's oceans". The project has brought together scientists, governmental officials and religious leaders for visits to the Danube, the Adriatic, the Baltic, the Amazon, and the Arctic.
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On this All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day, I encourage you to reflect on the saints -- religious or secular -- who have inspired you, and stimulated your belief and action. Remember the folk who may not be widely known, but have touched you deeply.
As a deeply personal example, I think of Richard Beidleman, a professor of biology at the Colorado College (and a church choir member!), who did so much to shape my own understanding of ecological relationships. I am confident that there are people who have had a great impact on your life, too.
In this frightening and distressing time, may we be inspired by these saints -- past and present, the known and the unknown -- who have been faithful in the defense of Earth community. For all these saints, may we give thanks, and may we be motivated to ongoing hope and action as we continue in the cause.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * 303.715.3873
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