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Seeing God in nature

Earth is in dire straits — a “near apocalypse” — with global warming, extinctions, soil loss, ocean rise, weather extremes, wildfire and eco-refugees, all opening the door for a necessary spiritual awakening to lead civilization to better times. That’s the message of famed author-priest Matthew Fox, keynoter at last weekend’s interfaith forum at Havurah Shir Hadash, called “Ecology & and Deep Ecumenism: In the Image of God, the Cosmic Christ, and Buddha Nature.”

Nature has not been the focus of religion during the last several millennia of major religions, but God is in everything, everywhere, so love for the planet is inherent in all religions and must be brought to the fore in these times of climate crisis, he said.

This will not be easy and people must approach it as creative artists offering new seeds, said Fox, the author of “Creation Spirituality,” a radical book that aligned religion and ecology, getting him silenced in 1993 by the Vatican and triggering his jump from the Dominican to Episcopalian orders.

The evolution to a nature-inclusive kind of spirituality in a time of chaos and division will take the same kind of courage that civil rights proponents had to call on decades ago, he notes.

“The time of breaking down of things is the time of courage,” he told a crowd of a couple hundred people. “Joy grows the heart; fear shrinks it. Fear is the door in the heart that lets evil in. Where do we learn courage? From courageous people. They are there to teach us.

“What you call courage, I call trust. You trust the universe, which is a blessing for us. Then you take responsibility for being here. Courage is in all of us … If we’re going to be authentic spiritual warriors for Mother Earth, we must water our hearts with courage.”

Fox emphasizes the importance of ritual in religious practices — and the audience joined in ceremony honoring the fourfold journey laid out before seekers as they do their inner spiritual work: 1) "Via Positiva," awe, amazement; 2) "Via Negativa," uncertainty, darkness, suffering, letting go; 3) "Via Creativa," birth, creativity, passion; and 4) "Via Transformativa," justice, healing, celebration.

The Rev. Christina Kukuk of Ashland’s First Congregational United Church of Christ says mainline, progressive Christianity needs to “decolonize” the way it looks at religion, like a library of wisdom to choose from — but all of it white European male voices which are “experts speaking and we are doing the receiving.

“Do we see how we are still dominating? We are but one of many voices in the human family.”

The Rev. Norma Burton of Unity in Ashland cited “ego run amok” in our society, along with a “fascination with the exotic” in religion and “complacency in our privilege” among like-minded people in Ashland.

Burton praised Fox’s “panentheism,” which says God is bigger than the universe yet interpenetrates it completely — and, more and more, people are realizing this is “at the root of all religious traditions.

“God is in the rocks, trees, rivers, us, and that is very radical because we know God is healing Earth. This gives us great hope and trust, to realize we’re not alone. God created the universe and is birthing and deathing and doing it all, all the time.

“This is radical for Christianity to accept, as it evolved by us putting humans at the top, but that’s breaking down now. There was a lot of narcissism in the evolution of Christianity, as the empire-builders took it over and dominated instead of listening.”

Rabbi David Zaslow of Havurah said “our spirit is intrinsically rooted in the creation (nature) and we missed the point when we split spirit off from environment.”

Now, he adds, “We need to look at our indigenous teachers” and a cross-pollination of Eastern and Western traditions, "where the West offers to teach the prophetic warrior tradition of a changing world, while the East teaches us the mystical tradition of the changing self.”

The event was sponsored by Red Earth Descendants, Kagyu Sukha Choling Buddhist Center, Trinity Episcopal Church, Unity in Ashland, First Congregational United Church of Christ, Havurah Synagogue, and the Rogue Valley Manor Department of Spiritual Care and Wellbeing.

—John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.