Earth Religions on Earth Day
Author: H. Byron Ballard
It used to be that the media only wanted to hear from folks like me–you know, Witches, Pagans, Wiccans–once a year. Like clockwork, the phone would start ringing around 20 October, and every reporter and her brother wanted to talk to a “real” Witch about “Sam Hane”. Well, no more! That’s old hat now–the media is so savvy they’ve done articles on Beltane and the Winter Solstice, along with the seemingly ubiquitous Samhain pieces. And that’s in a newspaper here on the Buckle of the Bible Belt. The press in other locations has been even more astounding.
But the phone’s been ringing at another time of year, too, for a holiday that doesn’t appear on my charts of the Wheel of the Year, and that holiday is Earth Day. It’s a little tricky for those of us who celebrate Beltane because it’s only a couple of weeks before, but I’ve grown to love the inherent possibilities of such a secular holiday.
Earth Day is a good interface between the dominant culture and the Pagan one. You don’t have to be a bona fide dirt-worshipper to enjoy the parades with giant puppets and the lectures on recycling and the pretty blue flags. You can be a school-aged child or a soccer mom or a dreadlocked activist. Of course, some of us wear Birkenstocks as well as pentacles, so we move easily through these peaceful waters. Earth Day presents a lot of opportunities to talk to our neighbors–as well as the media–about our love and reverence for the Big Blue Ball. While everyone’s feeling warm and fuzzy (or ashamed and guilty) about the planet, we are often encouraged to talk about Gaia-focused theology. A couple of years ago, I was even asked to do an interfaith Council of All Beings. Amazing.
I encourage all of you “Earth religionists” to write letters to the editor and op-ed pieces, to take leadership in your interfaith communities. Our time has come to talk clearly and sensibly (maybe even poetically) about one of the things we do best–loving the biosphere.
There’s a catch, of course, at least in my community. Mainstream and liberal Christian churches–bless them!–are taking up the cry of “stewardship” and earnestly reading books by Berry and O’Murchu (even Thomas Merton, who went to his reward decades ago, has a new book about environmental justice) and attending meetings. I was part of an interfaith dialogue on the subject in which we were asked to brainstorm some scenarios. #3 began, “If you had a magic wand…” and the facilitator went round the focus group so each could speak. When my turn came, I carefully explained that I actually had a wand (polite titters) but what was really needed was energy and courage and a strong stomach. Less talk and more action. But we weren’t there to discuss action–we were only there to talk about guilt and sin and stewardship. We didn’t even go out and clean-up the roadside after the meeting and, as I recall, the coffee was served in styrofoam cups.
As I’ve said before, it’s vitally (and I mean that quite literally) important that the majority religions in our culture realize the extent of environmental degradation and begin to speak publicly about it. I applaud them for their efforts. No one does conferences, workshops and teach-ins better than those well-intentioned and passionate liberal Christians. Maybe they’ll even convince the Methodist-in-Chief in the White House that caring for the environment is what his god would like for him to do. Now, that’s a tall order.
And though I don’t think the notion of stewardship goes far enough regarding respect for and love of nature, we members of earth-based religions are certainly here to share our knowledge and experience. To be there when the discussion about “magic wands” finally turns to action. I encourage those who can to take opportunities by the media to make points about the interconnected web and the natural world. Fill in those gaps between “taking care of God’s creation” and “this earth is not our real home”. Be helpful and knowledgeable–remind them of the power and bounty of the natural world and how we are part of it, not separate and superior. And to be a part of such a complex and beautifully balanced system is paradise enough.
If you belong to an interfaith group (and I suggest you check out your local Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative), watch the reactions of your colleagues when you speak about the planet and the concept of connection. Another interfaith meeting found us discussing what we nurtures us most about our spiritual path. A Jewish friend talked about the tradition of learning and scholarship in her chosen religion. A colleague from the United Church of Christ spoke movingly about the concept of grace. When it came round to me, I talked about the joy I find in waking each morning, connected to the world around me. As I spoke, I looked at the outdoors through the nearest window and explained why I always take a seat near a window for our interfaith gatherings and why the moment of silence never works for me because it’s too short for a deep meditation and too long to just practice deep breathing. My colleagues laughed. Then I talked about the deep peace I feel when I look out the window at a tree. Any tree really, I’m quite the tree-hugger. I like them in all seasons and I’ve been known to talk to them and listen intently for their reply. I told the group that I never felt alone and rarely fearful because the earth was so strong, so powerful, so giving. And that I am part of all that. When I turned back to the folks assembled at the table, I noticed tears in some eyes. And a retired Episcopal priest said, “I want what she has.”
Earth Day is another educational opportunity for the Pagan community. So take advantage of the heightened publicity, my tree-hugging dirt-worshippers. Right wing talk radio may think anyone who’s environmentally canny is a Satanist, but this holiday is a chance to connect with other people in your community on a subject you know well. Let them know it’s okay to love our home–there’s no place like it! Happy Earth Day!
H. Byron Ballard