A spirituality of hope

Posted April 8th, 2008 in Blog 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

The project I am involved in deals with hope — ice-plant-flower.pngand I’m telling you, some days I know what that phrase from scripture means where it says, hope against hope.

There is such force of momentum in global dynamics right now — population growth, economic growth in developing countries, energy demands, resource demands, corporate and individual greed, the seemingly insatiable appetites of the affluent — all that drives the process forward and the increasing amount of energy required to keep this forward momentum —

a momentum running headlong towards the real limits of available energy sources, the limits of the Earth to absorb the ravaging done to it to get to these sources, the rising costs of supplying energy to the growing populations and their expectations, the impossible stresses on the planet that is no longer able to support this momentum of growth along with its resource demands.

We are coming to this crucial point in the planet’s history without any plan for what we do as we reach that point.

Hope against hope. Where do I find it? It’s not as if I am making this up. (By the way, if there is one book that I would recommend right now in helping us ‘get’ this, it would be The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, by Thomas Homer-Dixon, professor at the University of Toronto).

francesca_makes_snow_angel_-_dec_2007.pngIf we are to live through this terrific crisis that is rapidly settling into our human world, to, as my book title suggests, “live beyond the ‘end of the world,'” it will take a profound spirituality, a deeply rooted set of attitudes, principles, and practices for a time of scarcity and upheaval, a realignment of what we think important, crucial, a vastly new set of priorities for our U.S. society.

One of the most basic of these spiritual principles is a willingness to deal with the truth of our situation. Truth lies at the base of every true spirituality or religious faith. And you can tell who has it and who does not — that still fiercely relevant gospel phrase, by their fruits you will know them. That remains a measure of values and priorities and, therefore, of the authenticity of any faith, religious or not.

Today, I want to contrast two approaches to these challenging times. Here’s one: There’s Gas in Those Hills: In Rural Pennsylvania, Drilling Operators Are Handing Out Checks. marcellus-distribution-aapg-explorer.pngIt’s about the possibility of vast quantities (actually, only two years worth of US demand) of gas that may lie in reach of drilling and pipelines deep within a layer of rock called the Marcellus Shale which stretches “from upstate New York to eastern Ohio and as far south as West Virginia.”

This stuff would be very expensive to drill, but the prices you and I are paying at the pump are subsidizing energy companies to go in search of this stuff. As you will read here, they are paying out big bucks to the farmers and rural communities of Pennsylvania for the rights to drill on their land.

This is momentum on a grand scale since I try to imagine how many people in New York City or Pittsburgh or Cleveland would object to this potential vast scale destruction if it would help keep the A.C. working in the hot summer months.

[On a lesser scale, but indicative of how our resource depletion will bring out the worst in us, check out this other article on the same Business section front page — that thieves are starting to tear roofs off the churches of Europe to get the lead to sell in a market where the price of lead has soared. Churches!!!]

Another example of this approach — Bush’s new regulation approved last year to allow more mountaintop coal mining, with minimal environmental standards. mountaintop-removal-west-virginia-photo-by-vivian-stockman.jpg Readers of this blog know what an egregious mortal sin we consider this practice to be [put ‘dirty coal,’ or mountaintopping’ into our search engine to find my posts on the topic]. How many of us will say no to this practice by our willingness to scale down our electricity use drastically?


That’s one approach. Here’s another:

In a tiny Wisconsin town 71 miles due north of Milwaukee called Mt. Calvary, a group of School Sisters of Notre Dame took the fallow land around an old property, a convent where many sisters still live, and have begun an organic garden. When I visited, one of my pleasures that day was to go out to the chicken coop to retrieve fresh eggs, some still warm. Another was a stop at the incubator to view the dozens of chicks, new residents of the community.

The garden supplies the community with fresh food. Meanwhile, a portion of one building is under renovation for the new Eco-Education Center they now call, SUNSEED, a great name for such a center if ever I heard one.

Here’s what they say about the name:

We are stardust, energy of the sun.
We are seedling, we are seed,
Energized and energizing
Nourished and nourishing.
We are one with all that is and all that will be.
We are poured out for the sake of others.
We are the universe marveling at the wonder of all that is
Grateful for the gift of all that has been,
We say yes to all that will be!

The center’s commitment is to “transformative change through holistic education empowering humans to live on Earth in a mutually enhancing way.”

As we stood outside amidst the gardens on a gray dreary March day in Wisconsin (I love days like these, some reflective quiet that settles over the land), my delightful hosts pointed out in the distance the wind turbines of a new wind farm built by WE Energies, the state’s utility company. we-energies-wind-farm.pngThrough the fog and mist, they had a surreal quality to them, quite beautiful, actually. I wondered why these turbines were any more objectionable to the eye than the electric pylons, wires, and cell phone towers that span the landscape from coast to coast. But these are about hope for an alternative energy future to go along with a scaled down lifestyle and a reverence for the Earth represented right there in Mt. Calvary among these sisters.

But you see what I mean. Evident in these opposing paths is precisely the contrast in values that suggests what is, I believe, the most important choice before humanity, the choice about the kind of future we will pass on to our children, the choice about the condition of the planet we will leave them — and whether or not there are viable prospects for rich and fulfilling lives for their children and those to come after them.

In Dubuque, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary just desconstructed the annexes to the old Motherhouse no longer needed, recycled all the materials, then dug geothermal wells to supply energy to the property — the Motherhouse, assisted living facility and nursing care building. They are now energy self-sufficient and will pay for the geothermal construction in the savings from no longer having energy bills.

I could go on, because many religious women’s congregations are doing these things — working towards energy self-sufficiency, organic farming, developing eco-centers for the education and training of the larger community around them, from school children on up to we aging adults.

Two paths in the woods diverge, as the poet once wrote. The one well-traveled leads to more and greater ecological devastation. The one less-traveled is the path of hope. Because I know that path exists, and that many are finding it, hidden as it may be within the larger culture of greed and inertia, I am a person of hope.

[tags] spirituality of hope, gas drilling in Pennsylvania, Marcellus Shale, Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Upside of Down, SUNSEED Eco-education Center, School Sisters of Notre Dame-Milwaukee Province, rising energy costs, mountaintop coal mining, WE Energies wind farm[/tags]

Photo credits:

Francesca makes snow angels, photo by daddy

Marcellus Distribution, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Explorer 2008

Mountaintop removal, West Virginia, Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition


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One Response

  1. Steven Earl Salmony

    Dear Margaret,

    I am one who subscribes to “the path you are taking.” Keep going. The family of humanity needs to be awakened to your journey. That’s for sure. We need to understand and follow the path you see before us. Perhaps your good work can be facilitated by splendid scientists and leaders like Dr. Bill Ryerson, Dr. Richard Grossman, Dr. Lindsey Grant, John Rennie, Dr. Caroline Ash, Ted Turner, Dr. Paul Ehrlich, Dr. Ken Smail, Robert Hoffman, Phil Henshaw, John C. Feeney, Andy Revkin, Dr. E. O. Wilson, Dr. Stuart Pimm, Khrishnaraj Rao, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Ashok Khosla, Dr. Peter Vitousek, Dr. Gretchen Daily, Jim Lydecker, Ken Whitehead, Dr. Melissa K. Nelson, Dr. Dee Boersma, Dame Jane Goodall, Helena Norberg Hodge, Dr. Lester Brown, Dr. Michael Glantz, Dr. Janine Benyus, Wang Suya, Mike Roddy, Tenney Naumer, HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal, Dr. Jan Janssens, Dr. Alan Thornhill, Dr. Al Bartlett, Dave Gardner, Dr. Mathis Wackernagel, Magne Karlsen, Eric Bushnell, Dr. Bill Rees, Dr. Jason C. Bradford, Dr. Peter Raven, Aubrey Meyer, Dr. Herman Daly, Dr. Martin Rees, “Trinifar,” Dr. Jeffrey McNeely, former Senator Timothy Wirth, Wren Wirth, Dr. Donald Kennedy, Al Gore, Dr. Bruce Alberts, Walter Kistler, Bob Citron, Dr. John Holdren, Dr. Chris Rapley, Dr. John Schellnhuber, David Wasdell, David Blockstein, Hazel Henderson, Catherine Budgett-Meakin, Dr. Carl Pope, Dr. Chris Flavin, Dr. Walt Reid, Dr. Bob Watson, Achim Steiner, Dr. John Guillebaud, Dr. Ernst von Weizsaecker, Dr. Tim Palmer, Deborah Byrd, Bruce McClure, Dr. Vivian Ponniah, Dr. Seti Shastrapradja, John Seager, Dr. John Rowley, Dr. Tony McMichael, Dr. Joseph Romm, Dr. Stanley Salthe, Dr. Keith Wilde and Dr. Gary Peters.

    Apparently, too many people in my generation of leading elders wish to live without having to accept limits to growth of seemingly endless economic globalization, of increasing per capita consumption and skyrocketing human population numbers; our desires are evidently insatiable; we choose to believe anything that is politically convenient, economically expedient and socially agreeable; and we act accordingly. But, despite all our shared fantasies and soon to be unsustainable activities, Earth exists in space-time, is tiny and bounded, and has limited resources upon which the survival of life as we know it depends. Whatsoever is is, is it not?

    We need new leaders who possess intellectual honesty and moral courage. Too many of our current leading officials and ‘experts’ are evidently bereft of these virtues. They eschew good science, reason and common sense in favor of the politically convenient and economically expedient. Whatever serves these ends is all that matters. Wealth and the power it purchases seem to rule their lives and, consequently, the whole of the human world.

    With new leadership will surely come novel ideas, better judgements, more reality-oriented decision-making and sustainable action plans that will replace the soon to become patently unsustainable business-as-usual production, unrestrained consumption and unregulated propagation activities of the human species.

    If the relatively small planet God blesses us to inhabit is finite, then the endless consumption, production and propagation activities of so dominant a species as Homo sapiens cannot continue much longer, let alone indefinitely. This is not rocket science. It is simply the way the world works, I suppose; most people of average intelligence who give unadulerated thought to this matter would agree, I believe.

    Surely, all of us can at least agree that the Earth is not like a teat at which the human species can eternally suckle. Earth has restricted resources and, therefore, by its very nature cannot be a foundation for the endless growth of human activities, especially given the colossal scale and unbridled growth of production, propagation and per human consumption.

    Are there no limits to the seemingly endless growth activities of the human species? Yes, I do realize this question practically answers itself. Even so, there are adamant economic powerbrokers, politicians, mass media moguls and ideologues of all sorts who self-righteously ignore reasonable and sensible responses to the question.

    Although it goes without saying, still I need to report that my point of view could be fatally flawed and may not objectively correlate with what is somehow real. With diminishing vision and waning faculties generally, we cannot rule out the possibility that I have lost my mind and, even worse, lost touch with science itself.

    Thanks for your writings, Margaret. They refreshingly point out what is sacred in a world in which predominant ideas, religiously held by too many powerful people, are ubiquitously expressed in support of what is specious, idolatrous and profane.