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Gateways to Grace

An essay by Lauren de Boer

EarthLight Magazine #49, Summer 2003 -- Vol, 13, No. 4



When we lose touch with the sacred essence of life, our actions lack reverence and context. We might give our assent to things we never otherwise would—to toxins in the water, soil, and air; to species driven to extinction; to the manipulation of DNA for the profit of a few agri-corporations; to violence, lies, and injustice. With the absence of a sense of the sacred comes a profound uneasiness in our culture. We sense that our way of life, with its worship of progress and technology and the utopian city on the hill, is not only profane, but dying.

The practice of spiritual ecology helps us deal with the stress of living in a time when one world is dying and another is struggling to be born. For most of us on Earth now, industrial culture is the world we were born into, the world we know. Its demise causes us fear and uncertainty, which can paralyze our creativity and imagination. And yet, a growing number of us are saying: "we will not give our assent and we will not adjust to a toxic, diminished world! There is another way!"

``Walker Creek``  Painting by Adam Wolpert, displayed here courtesy of artist.  Click on image to visit Adam Wolpert's online gallery: www.adamwolpert.com

Spiritual practice isn’t simply a coping tool; it keeps us flexible and resourceful in the face of life’s inevitable losses and keeps our imaginations green. Ecology, as part of that practice, puts us in touch with energy flows and interrelationships; it reconciles us with the active flux of Earth’s processes. When such a reconciliation takes place, human imagination, our greatest power, can become our deepest gift to the community of life on Earth. As Catherine de Vinck’s poem, "Waking in the Cosmos," so beautifully expresses it: "Turbulence, flux, chaos, a necessity / to translate the song of the oceans / to channel into words the orbiting sun / the tides of the moon." (See back cover.) A practice of spiritual ecology opens us to listening and realigns us with the cosmos so we are able to translate what is alive in us, to bring forth from within us our own unique voice of praise for Earth’s remarkable community.

Just as the botanical term heliotropism refers to the innate impulse of a plant to turn toward the sun (Greek Helios sun + tropos turn), we can cultivate in ourselves, through a practice of spiritual ecology, an active "biotropism," a turn toward life. For the human, because of the magnitude of our presence on the planet, this is a conscious choice we must make in a spirit of humility, as well as celebration. Biotropism is also an innate impulse in us; we are remembering where we have come from, the ancient ground of our being. Far from being a turn away from suffering and loss, we learn to accept them as a necessary part of life.

In times of great crisis and turmoil, this "turn" leads us, eventually, to an experience of grace. Grace is not a static ideal to be attained, but an active event of enormous transformation and significance. I like to think of grace as the experience of previously unrealized forms of elegance that arise in response to crisis. In that arising, all those involved are transformed. In moments of grace, new forms are churned into being out of chaos. The 13th century mystic Meister Eckhart, using a wonderful image of flight, describes it this way: "Grace is no stationary thing, it is ever becoming. It is flowing straight out of the heart of God. Grace does nothing but re-form and convey God. It bears the Holy Spirit on its back." The Holy Spirit is the embodiment of divine imagination, the soaring creativity of the evolutionary process.

Thomas Berry writes of a cosmology of peace, a Peace of Earth that "is not some fixed condition, but a creative process activated by polarity tensions requiring a high level of endurance." (Dream of the Earth, page 220.) That we live in a time of precarious imbalance has become obvious. How, then, do we bring about such a process of dynamic peace? How do we find the endurance to deal with the tensions while maintaining a center of compassion? I would suggest we do so by integrating our spiritual practice with the knowledge that the human is an integral member of the Earth community; by listening to what Earth is calling us to; and by choosing to live within stories that orient us toward a nurturing of life.

In a recent letter to readers, I wrote that "turning toward life is one of the most energizing things we can do in these challenging times. It means we turn toward the planet that sustains us for guidance. We affirm the precious, sacred quality of relationships—with each other, the planet, the plants and animals that are close to home."

EarthLight is dedicated to the activation of stories that turn toward life, and the stories in this issue are energizing examples.

Dennis Rivers writes, in the lead article "An Ecology of Devotion," of a five-fold path of reverence for life. His vision grew out of an anti-nuclear affinity group which called themselves Turn Toward Life. Dennis’s vision is, in part, the inspiration for this issue and the issue’s stories are manifestations of his five-fold path.

Jan Roberts writes about how communities are breathing life into the Earth Charter’s principles worldwide.

Artist Lily Yeh’s work in the inner city of Philadelphia, and more recently in Africa ("Inner City, Inner Light"), shows how the transforming energy of reverence for life can bring profound healing and change into urban communities through art that "feeds the spirit and soul."

James Eggert, in "What’s Wrong with Capitalism?" gives us a prairie’s perspective on how to transform the elements of market capitalism that too often "violate the natural laws that normally insure Life’s beauty and balance, its health and long-term continuity."

"The Way of the Kami," an essay by Stuart D. B. Picken on Shinto, brings us back to that tradition’s true intent by showing us Shinto’s roots in divine nature and how pertinent its practice could be to our lives today.

Cindy Spring relates her recent flight with migrating birds through "sacred art" in such a way that brings me back to Meister Eckhart’s image of grace carried on the back of the Holy Spirit. Migrating birds are an embodiment of that active element of grace flying straight from the heart of the Divine.

I was very moved to receive Paula Palmer’s story of the deeply spiritual-based efforts in Korea to save the Saemangeum mudflats, and with it the spoon-billed sandpipers who migrate through them. This story will lift you up. It relates an arduous spiritual practice done gladly and with humility, all in a remarkable turn toward life.

Humpback whales called to George Taylor and he listened, responding with the creation of a new form for organizations. George’s story, "Conscious Activism," provides an important addition to our toolkit for moving beyond old models. The creation of his organization Seaflow, a transformational model of citizen lobbying, show us how crisis can build community and birth new forms.

And finally, Bill Plotkin, in "Mirror to Our Souls," illustrates how two of Dennis Rivers’ paths of reverence—for the life within us and that which surrounds us—come together to relink our psyches to the natural world.

I am profoundly grateful to all of the authors, poets, and artists in this issue, and to all those living the stories. We can remember, through their examples, that life is a gift to cherish and that trusting Earth process will move us past despair. They remind us to keep our focus on the work because it’s the Great Work—spiritual, practical, and unique to our times—which opens the gateways that allow grace to work its transformation in the world and in ourselves.


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