All relationship with God is through the Earth.
We are not floating spirits or disembodied entities drifting through nebulae. As human beings we are ‘earthlings’ created and born through the physical world. We are composed of minerals, bacteria, chemicals, water and air. Every one of us breathes and exists through the generosity and hospitality of the planet that holds us.
Our physicality also determines our spiritual life – all relationship with God is through the Earth.
When we therefore damage and destroy that Earth we are damaging and destroying our relationship with the divine. At one level, it is as simple as that. The biosphere is full of the goodness and holiness of the divine but we desecrate (or de-sacralise) this every time our lifestyle discards matter that the planet cannot readily absorb or recycle.
The danger of a thoroughly consumerist, globalised world is that the natural processes that uphold the its life-support mechanisms are being systematically being eroded. The water, nitrogen, carbon and other cycles are increasingly out of balance. Human activity is cumulatively undermining planetary health.
Our pervasive demand for more and more energy and water, cannot be satisfied, and the ecological consequences of it are getting out of control. Changes in the Gulf-Stream prompted by melting ice sheets are leading to extra energy in the Jet Stream. This energy is now affecting weather systems and resulting in more and more extreme weather events.
As we know too well, all over Europe this summer excessive temperatures are threatening water supplies, food growing and human well-being.
These environmental challenges are well known, but what is not appreciated is how they may affect our relationship with God.
The Biblical and Christian tradition (and that of many other faith and belief systems) is very clear. We are to live within certain guidelines because God creates the carrying capacity of the Earth within particular scientific laws.
Sadly, many of our churches seem to have lost this narrative: the biblical vision of every family living under their fig tree and grape vine as part of a wider community dependent on the generosity of Yahweh through the Earth (erets), was fundamental to the vision of the ‘Kingdom of God’. All people are to be freed from debt, past failings are to be forgiven, and the resources of the world taken from the rich in a wave of radical redistribution of wealth. This is the tradition of the Sabbath (shabbat) and Jubilee (yobel).
Today, we seem to have forgotten all this in a culture of excessive materialism where what is valued is that which entertains us (including in church!). The importance of always including the vulnerable and the weak is lost in a flurry of self-protectionism. ‘No migrants here’, we cry, conveniently disregarding the fact that most of us have refugee blood in our families – and that our continuing to export proxy wars and deadly weapons is prompting the very conflicts that produce displaced peoples.
The Church states that Jesus is the good news. Yet Jesus himself tells us that the Gospel is purposeful liberation for the poor and oppressed (Luke 4:16-21). St. Paul emphasises that God is love, whilst often our churches preach messages of fear and distrust. We seek to avoid risk of one kind or another, but taking risks is fundamental to who we are before God (Matthew 25:31-46). The Scriptures implore us to accept strangers and love our enemies, but modern church life comfortably excludes anyone who threatens the status quo.
It is as if the institutional life of the Church, with all its social attachments to power, prestige and privilege, pushes out the incarnational hope that human life is rescuable in spite of all the signs to the contrary.
And undergirding our complacency is a frequent ignoring of the human place as part of the wider Creation. When we destroy habitats and crush species, we not only damage the fragile web of life, we also ultimately damage ourselves and our relationship with the Holy.
What will change this? A crisis in our supply lines? A turning away from Mammon? A re-embracing a love of Nature? A recognition that consumerism destroys our deeper selves? A reconnection with the Earth through the soil? A total rejection of plastic lifestyles?
Probably all of these, but also a strong rediscovery that our ultimate destiny is wound up in that of all life. It is only through relationships of care, compassion and conciliation with that we can really satisfy and fulfil ourselves. It is in being loved that we find completion, and in loving that we are freed to complete others…
“We need a change that unites us all frees us from the slavery of consumerism”
— Pope Francis