We all remember being stunned and delighted upon seeing the photograph of Earth rise in outer space. There it was, a blue-green amethyst, floating serenely on a dark galactic ocean within a Milky Way with a visible diameter of 100,000-200,000 light-years.
We could see only one world, without frontiers or boundaries. All one. When we zoomed in we could see the Great Wall, built by the Han emperors. Boundaries and frontiers, enclosures and clearings, private property and spaces have become an integral part of our human history. We have only to look at the English Channel.
Every tribe, every nation, every people has its foundational myth. We can read ours in chapter one of Genesis. God spoke a word into the infinite abyss. It spread over the waters of chaos. The word came from the breath of God. God’s breath, or spirit (ruach in Hebrew), breathed upon the waters and life flared forth. Over the course of six eons God created out of the ‘material’ of the fullness of her being, exhaled over the evolving creation. At the end of each day or eon God paused to look at this handiwork and saw that it was good, and blessed it. Our story, first told by the Hebrew storytellers returning from exile in Babylon, is of a world which is good because it is made and blessed by God.
The Greeks told a similar story. Their gods created a world they called cosmos, which means beautiful. The Latins came along later and called their world mundus which means ‘world’ and also ‘clean’.
Our western, post-Christian culture has been created on a triple foundation of Hebrew, Greek and Latin stories. Our cultural DNA points to our emerging in a world which is good, blessed, beautiful and clean. If we were Japanese we would know the story of the Shinto myth of the creation of Japan by gods who then descended to earth using a rainbow.
We have forgotten those old stories, having dismissed or demythologized them as fairy tales from a primitive, infantile past. Nowadays our stories are of science, progress, growth, individual freedom, commerce and the ‘creative destruction’ (as the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter put it) of earth’s bounty for the creation of mostly private wealth.
The world has become a vast marketplace where everything has a price, even human bodies. But the world is also in danger of becoming a vast wasteland depredated of its natural wealth and a cemetery for millions of workers or slaves killed by overwork, violence, starvation, environmental disaster, famine, illnesses or maltreatment by other human beings. This is the context of the millions forced to migrate every year.
An awakening has occurred, spurred, perhaps, by the founding of Friends of the Earth (1969), Greenpeace and similar organizations in the 1970s. It is possible that we have entered upon a new era: the Ecozoic. The word ‘ecozoic’ was coined in 1992 by Thomas Berry and Brien Swimme. It conveys the idea that our various eco-systems are interconnected and interrelated. To harm one is to harm the others. No ecosystem has more of a right to live and prosper than any other. All of life is one, from the simplest one-celled to the complex billion-celled.
We have created a planet in peril. Our activity has had a deleterious effect on eco-systems and human beings. We could wonder what the billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos saw from their spacecraft. Did they see the melting icecaps, the retreating glaciers, the disappearing Greenland ice in the Arctic region? Did their nostrils twitch at the smell of methane gas escaping from the Siberian tundra? Did they see the wild fires and flash flooding occurring in the temperate zone of the planet? Did they view with alarm the shrinking Amazon rainforest, the resultant species loss? Did they flinch at the more intense hurricanes and tornados lashing the equatorial region of the planet? Or was their vision full of the profits they could accrue from their new space travel enterprise?
The world meeting in Glasgow was of great concern to a fast-growing movement of Christian groups which has emerged to add its voice and energy to the secular ecological movement already on the march. Their presence is motivated by the ecological challenges crying out for engagement. They are aware that God’s Spirit is a life-giving spirit of love for all of creation, a creation formed of the very breath of God who breathes (‘enspirits’) her life into all she has made.
The work of ecological defence and repair is God’s ecozoic work. That work becomes ‘workship’ when the Christian communities gather around a table to share in a meal of bread and wine, fruits of the earth and the work of human hands; or when communities gather together to pray, to reverence the earth, to renew their sacred commitment to cooperate with the Spirit to defend, repair, nurture and create new spaces, new ideas that will redound to the Earth’s renewal.
But there are other gods with their theologies and their forms of worship. Millions live under the power of Moloch who demands human sacrifice under various guises. Many others worship at the altar of Mammon (money). Thousands live and die as the victims of Mars (war). They are gods of death. The ecozoic God invites us to choose life.
We are on the threshold of a new age, a new chapter, in the human saga: the Ecozoic Age, when all of life is recognised as sacred, as interconnected, as intimate part of the human being and human being as the conscience of all of life. That process can be called ‘Christification’. The word conveys the perception that the historical and biological processes are growing into the fullness of the risen Christ, sign of a new creation and a new humanity. St Irenaeus (ca 150) wrote beautifully that the glory of God is seen in the person fully alive; and the glory of the human being is to see God.
It is a sobering thought that we are the only species on the planet capable of suicide. Overdose is a frequent cause of accidental suicide. And we have overdosed. An unnamed writer from the Amazonian region of Peru visualises the harm being done to the Pachamama by our overdosing: “…her trees—her arms—were cut; her soil—her flesh—was perforated; her minerals—her organs—were extracted; her rivers—her veins—were polluted”.
Prophets of the calibre of Greta Thunberg have warned us that so far, our leaders have only “blah blah blah”. As the new age begins we remember the question Jonas Salk, who gave us the polio vaccine, asked long ago: “Are we being good ancestors?”.
“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all….it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life.”