Web of Life
essay by Jane Dugdale
Two years ago, my congregation, Central Baptist Church in Wayne, Pennsylvania, decided to focus on climate change as a moral and spiritual issue through its Ecology Mission Group. I had been a member of this activist congregation for decades, but my spiritual journey from growing up as a Southern Baptist in the ’50s had been like a gradual awakening from traditional orthodoxy: God is up there, we are down here, Earth is something else, and those pagan religions that see gods everywhere in nature are wrong.
With encouragement from PA Interfaith Power & Light, grant money from a local bequest and congregational consensus, we organized more than a year of activities, trekking together to the NYC Climate March, organizing educational workshops and conducting a carbon emissions reduction campaign, Getting to Zero, at our church. I was excited to be a part of the planning, but had little understanding of how the activities, readings and speakers might take me from activism to a deeper spiritual practice.
Through our readings and discussions, I came to see how the Bible is infused with a sense of God in nature, that our civilization has been based on the idea that humans can dominate nature and each other because they see everything as separate. I opened up to the possibility that from the very beginning, cosmic evolution has been based on cooperation as much as competition. “New science” describes an intelligent, purposive universe much in line with the stories of indigenous peoples who believe in the inherent connection among all things.
It has been liberating for me to get acquainted with these ideas, which have given me “permission” to connect my spirituality directly to nature. God as Creator has taken on new meaning for me. Instead of Some One “out there” creating the Universe, I now see the Universe Herself as the Creative Force that I can call God. I believe there is scientific substance to the biblical teaching that God is Love, working from the beginning of the universe to bring about and support life in all its abundant diversity.
Now that I see that God—that Spirit—is in everything, all is sacred: Everything that is, is made of stardust, an idea born out in what we have learned from physics, so we are indeed sisters of the trees and rocks. If God’s Spirit is in the rocks, how can we recklessly frack the Earth’s crust? If God’s Spirit is in the soil, how can we destroy it with chemicals? If God’s spirit is in the air we breathe, how can we poison the air with carbon? If God’s spirit is in chickens and cattle, how can we buy eggs and meat from animals reared and slaughtered on factory farms?
Love is cooperation and caring, working together for a greater purpose. Love was in the Mother Star that exploded to make our sun, planets, earth, volcanoes, oceans and life. It is our moral and spiritual duty to take care of God’s creation, not by presuming to dominate, but by cooperating with and loving nature.
Jane Dugdale is a congregant at Central Baptist Church and an Ecology Mission Group member. Find out about their Getting to Zero campaign at www.cbcwayne.org.