This is the second half of a two-part piece. Make sure you read the first half, published earlier this week!
## Listen to the Scientists
I would encourage us next to listen to the scientists, climatologists, and environmental policy makers who have devoted both their personal and professional lives to understanding the earth’s complex ecosystems and also how they are changing. These men and women have long suffered from isolation and alienation in a world which has not, until recently, listened to what their science was saying. They are not alarmists or charlatans, as they were once shockingly portrayed by a predominantly right-wing media complex; they are men and women who love nature, and often Christians themselves, and are witnessing and reporting one major climate shift and tragedy after another. They deserve our respect, and most of all deserve our attention. Climate scientists will tell us, and thoroughly back up their claims, that glaciers are melting, wildlife is disappearing at alarming rates (49% of the animals in North America have vanished in the last fifty years), the earth’s atmosphere is getting hotter, the polar winds are changing, the animals are moving further north, the seas are acidifying, the deep ocean currents which keep our ocean ecosystems in balance are stopping, the permafrost is melting, and much more. Listening to them is not easy, but it is necessary, because doing so will help us understand the true gravity of what is happening to our earthly home. We can argue about the health of our economy all we want, but there is no economy at all without a healthy ecosystem.
## Listen to the Earth
Most of all, I would listen to the earth itself. The first time I realized that the universe had something to say to me, I was 12 years old and hiking in the Kananaskis region of the Rocky Mountains. My family and I had spent a long weekend trekking to a remote lake high in the alpine, reached only by a steep shaly traverse up a mountain pass. The pass presented itself only at the end of an already long day of hiking, and climbing it seemed to take forever. When the trail levelled, however, and the view opened, my eyes widened at the sight waiting for us. An alpine meadow stretched as far as I could see, flanked by two snowy peaks, and crammed with Red Paintbrushes, purple crocuses, blue forget-me-nots, pink moss casinos, white Wedgeleaf, yellow Varileaf, fuchsia and Shooting stars. The wildflowers were bright with sun under a wide blue sky and swooning this way and that in the haphazard breezes from the slopes. There are moments in life which are different than every other; they seem fixed in time and history, like way points in a journey. We arrive at them, without warning, stumbling, and depart a different person with new purpose, transformed vision, and self-revelation. I had seen such beauty before, but in this moment I suddenly felt like Keats’ “Watcher of the skies / When a new planet swims into his ken.”
What I had stumbled into as a dorky pre-teen boy was indeed a new planet, not a different one, but this planet seen through eyes of wonder and awe. Thomas Treherne claims that “if we would see this world as the angels do, we would be ravished and enraptured as the angels are.” I was seeing like his angels, and wondering how I could have missed until now the radiant inner world around me. I say inner world, but perhaps inter-world would be a better spatial designation. This world, of which I had known only the natural part until now, was as much a revelation of individual elements as one of a complex network of relatedness. Each flower seemed to proclaim itself, but in relation to all the other flowers and the scenery in general. Everything around me was communicating and I felt invited to join the conversation. “It is a blessed thing,” observed John Muir, “to go free in the light of this beautiful world, to see God playing upon everything as on an instrument, His fingers upon the lightning and torrent, on every wave of sea and sky, and every living thing, making all together sing and shine in sweet accord, the one love-harmony of the universe.”
This ‘seeing God playing upon everything as on an instrument’ is essentially seeing the world as sacramental and is vital to spiritual ecology. I know well that the word ‘sacrament’ is most often associated with Christianity and it certainly has a lot of baggage that goes with it. But a spiritual ecology, indeed spirituality in general, is nothing without it. In western Christianity there are only seven sacraments (baptism, marriage, confession, confirmation, holy orders, communion, and anointing of the sick), and these are upheld as guaranteed ways in which God acts graciously upon humankind. However, in the Eastern church, there is no such delimiting of sacraments. Simply put, a sacrament is something – anything – that reveals the sacred. The alpine flowers I witnessed in the Kananaskis were a sacrament, as was the wind in that valley. Perhaps to the flowers and the wind I was a sacrament too. Everything was communicating something of itself, and that something was inherently sacred. The key message here is that nature is communicating constantly.
## Listen to our Heart
Last of all, when we have listened to the Scriptures, the life and teaching of Christ, the examples of the saints, the experience of the aboriginal peoples, the findings of the scientists, and to earth itself, we can begin listening to our own hearts. The life we live now has almost nothing to do with nature. Everything from our toothpaste to our house has been created through a petroleum industry which is now in its final years. We even acquire our food which has been produced in factories somewhere else in the world. We live in a kind of matrix of unreality, as removed from the natural world as we possibly can be. No wonder we are so comfortable with the concept of colonizing other planets like Mars, because we live on earth as if it is a hostile place not suitable to human life. In truth, it isn’t suitable for the kind of life we have enjoyed for the past seventy years. And it is certainly not suitable to seven billion people trying to live the same way. At some point we have to reckon with the truth of our situation; we will have to face the fact that life on earth is not meant to look like it does now and that we have to find a way back to a healthy, engaged, Christ-centered and sustainable way of living.
And this is where listening to our heart is so important. We already know deep down that there is something wrong. We were made for communion, not dominion, with nature and whenever a person is living in contradiction to how God intends, they know it. We may be out of control as a race, but we can change as individuals. We can repent, and turn to the love of God and take our proper place in the natural world. We can honour the presence of God in the flowers and animals. We can live very well upon the earth. We can begin to uphold the love which God displays for the earth in our own lives and personal witness. Each of us will do so uniquely, but we are each capable of it. And we are capable because we were meant to live this way. It is in our DNA, and it is in the DNA of the Gospel itself. But knowing this, really knowing it, requires a long journey of listening – but as we are called to love, this is the only journey worth taking, and certainly one which needs be made before we can take up action.
And let’s start by listening to this saint, a Syrian just like those currently crying out to be heard and helped right now in Europe: “In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the one who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised” – St Isaac the Syrian.
-Kaleeg Hainsworth is the author of An Altar In the Wilderness (RMB ’14), an ecologist, a podcaster, speaker, Orthodox priest, and most of all a dad of three. He is a member of the Earth Keepers team.