This is an excerpt from QEW’s Earthcare for Friends: A Study Guide for Individuals and Faith Communities. You can find this curriculum, as well as our Earthcare for children curriculum for your First Day or Sunday School at QuakerEarthcare.org/Resources. Written by Bill Cahalan and Ruah Swennerfelt
When either of us holds meetings and leads workshops on Quaker Earthcare, if there is time we open by inviting people to share an experience in nature that was special or meaningful to them. There is normally a wide range of responses, but their stories are always very gratifying. One person might recall lying awake in awe and fright one night as a powerful electrical storm raged outside. Another might relate a sense of kinship with a wild animal encountered in the woods.
The fact that such events are fairly rare in most people’s lives is instructive as well. Becoming “civilized” means literally to isolate ourselves within the defensive walls of urban life and perhaps to regard the rest of the natural world as something alien and threatening. We no longer have the intimate association with nature that was common in pre-industrial times.
The purpose of this unit is to move from that sense of possibilities to daily practices that can help us to relate to nature at a much deeper, spiritual level than simply visiting natural areas for relaxation and outdoor recreation. Such heightened awareness can be the first step in making meaningful lifestyle changes and joining others in Earth activism to preserve this threatened heritage.
If you have not had much experience with guided meditations or similar exercises, you may find it difficult to relate to the approach at first. In the simplest terms, natural awareness is the process of opening our hearts to the Divine in creation. We are being asked to stop and take time from our hectic lives, go outside, and really see what is around us, and listen to nature’s language.
Jesus found his spiritual nourishment in the outdoors. He spent time in the wilderness, where he fasted and faced the temptations (Luke 4:1) and asked for God’s help in the garden at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:1). The Sermon on the Mount was outdoors and not in a temple or home. We can find many Biblical references about nature and its spiritual power.
Deep Listening Walk
You can now go on a “deep listening walk” if you want, wandering or stalking (moving slowly and silently, pausing a lot, versus “hiking”) for an extended time through the nearby wild areas, being led intuitively by your emotional responses to what you see, hear, or smell. Your only goal is to discover the beings, elements, and places that share the land with you, sensing them as emanations of the Divine, and discovering how they may move you or what they have to teach you.
It is typical at first to experience some boredom or anxiety as you withdraw even for an hour from your attachment to the built environment. If you accept these feelings and continue your opening to the world, compassion, wonder, and even ecstasy may eventually come. Allow yourself to open your senses to the places, animals, plants, and weather, silently scanning with a generalized attentiveness. Notice what moves you emotionally, what calls you out of your more contained self. Attend to living things and places as subjective presences, each with special sensitivities and unique functions within the circle of life. They may become sources of spiritual power and primary teachers of lessons for living.
As you slowly wander, stop and linger often with any place or thing which seems to invite you or speak to you. Allow yourself to imaginatively enter its life for a while. What is it sensing? What is it doing within this community? Take your leave when you feel ready, and move on.
Such activities help you carry the life force and lessons of the Spirit’s embodiments in nature back into everyday living.
Practicing Earth Activism
To become more active on behalf of the Earth, start by making yourself aware of the issues.
Be willing to talk about what you are doing. This is one of the most important steps. It will encourage others to take first steps so together we can really make a difference.
Then, if you have made some personal changes, written some letters, made some phone calls, and engaged others into action, and you still feel you are not doing enough, maybe you are being led to demonstrate your concerns more actively. Encourage others in your Meeting or church to join together and participate in a vigil or march. Search out neighborhood activities such as a plan to clean up a stream or lake, preserve some land for wildlife habitat, create bicycle paths, clean up a park or the roads, or carry out some other worthwhile project. Working with others to make change can be an incredibly inspiring experience.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Questions for Reflection
- What do I do daily to remind myself of my connections with people, other creatures, and all that sustains life? How does this bring joy, thankfulness, and nourishment into my spiritual life?
- Do I treasure as sacred the whole of Creation?
- Do I honor the Life of all living things, the order of nature, the wildness of wilderness, the richness of the world? Do I seek the holiness which God has placed in these things, and the measure of Light which God has lent them?
- What actions am I taking to reverse the destruction of the earth’s ecosystems, and to promote the earth’s healing?
- Do I contribute ideas, effort, resources to help heal and stabilize our ecosystem?
- As a member of my Friends community, as well as of my work and home communities, do I seek guidance in the Light for ways that I may lead and participate in actions which both heal the Earth and inspire others regarding the urgency of this healing?