A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. – Isaiah 40. 3
Christian Spiritual Ecology – A Lone Voice in the Wilderness
There is very much a sense that a Christian’s most natural dwelling place is in the wilderness. So often we see the prophets and the early church mystics retreat to the wilderness where they could find a greater communion with God. They weren’t isolationists as some might assume. They often made their way back to the city to speak truth to power. Additionally, countless pilgrims would seek these prophets and holy ones out for advice, guidance, and help. The purpose of dwelling in nature was to create a space to connect with God, through the natural world.
Today, there is a small, yet growing movement of Christians who are also retreating to the wilderness for restoration, meditation, and communion. This movement is often composed of believers who are sympathetic to a theological field known as Christian spiritual ecology.
What is Christian Spiritual Ecology?
Generally speaking, spiritual ecology is a movement within a variety of religions that is beginning to acknowledged that the solution to our ecological crisis isn’t technological nor political, but spiritual. The Christian version of spiritual ecology specifically believes that it is Christian spirituality and theology that is the solution.
The current ecological crisis is not ultimately an external problem, but an internal one. It stems from a larger, deeper cancer that resides within us. The ecological crisis we experience is but a symptom of that deeper spiritual cancer. Therefore, the root of our crisis is not physical, but spiritual. Thus the solution must also be spiritual. Merely treating the physical symptoms won’t ultimately cure the disease. The root must be attacked. The root of this ecological crisis is mankind’s abdication of his role as creation’s priest.
The Abdication of our Role as Nature’s Priest
According to Environmental Historian, Lynn White, as early as the thirteenth century, the Christian West began to see nature as a vast reservoir of energies to be tapped and used. This attitude promoted a violent, arrogant, and domineerting relation toward creation. This lead us away from seeing ourselves as part of nature, to being an exploiter of nature entitled to exercise a now characteristic ruthlessness toward nature. – The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis
Since the age of enlightenment, the western world has viewed nature as commodity to be exploited and used. Enlightenment philosophy viewed the environment largely as a great machine populated by animated robots. This mechanistic view led to the disenchantment of nature and ultimately towards the disenchantment of the entire world.
Today we can scarcely imagine anything so real and enchanted as technology. Our entire experience of the world is mediated by technology. We almost don’t know what a real flower looks like, nor what the soil feels like. We therefore cannot fathom a solution to the ecological crisis that doesn’t somehow involve technology or policy.
This mechanistic view of creation however, has not always been the prevailing view. The ancient Christians viewed the world as very much alive, and the human being as an integrated part of nature. Creation wasn’t viewed as a commodity to be dominated, but as a brother or sister to be lived with, loved, and cared for. Early Christians understood that their role was to be nature’s priest. That role involved self-sacrifice, and asceticism.
The Christian Spiritual Ecology of Paul
“For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” – Romans 8.19-22
Throughout the sacred scriptures we get a very clear sense that the earth doesn’t belong to humans. Instead, humans have been entrusted to its care. Paul demonstrates our responsibility towards nature in his letter to the Romans. In the eighth chapter, he clearly explains how the natural world has been subjected to frustration and decay because humans have failed to live a life of righteousness. Humans have failed to live the life to which God had called them. Rather than using their God given power to cultivate creation and transfigure it, humans have instead subjugated it and placed it in bondage.
But creation waits in eager expectation for humanity to once again exercise its holy dominion by living a sacrificial life. Through this self-sacrifice, the earth will not only be healed, but transfigured and glorified. We see that Paul identifies both the problem and its solution as having spiritual origins. The spiritual fall of humanity led to the physical fall of the earth. The spiritual salvation of humanity will lead to the physical salvation of the earth.
Christians Spiritual Ecology and the Priesthood of all Humans
The salvation and healing of the earth depends on the spiritual disposition of humans. If humans continue to live self-centered lives dedicated to satisfying every earthly desire, then the earth will continue to suffer. But if humanity comes to repent of its errant ways, and begins to live sacrificially instead of insatiably, then healing can take place.
What is ultimately needed is to cease from living to satisfy our desires by worldly means, through consumerism and consumption, and instead to re-orient our lives towards the only One who can truly bring lasting satisfaction: Christ our Savior. When we realize that many of our unsatisfied desires are simply misplaced, then we can begin to be filled and satisfied with that which is eternal. Then we can begin to understand that the earth is not a resource to be mined, but a beloved brother and sister worthy of our care.
Join us as we strive to create a more peaceful world as we seek to meet the Creator, through the creation. Strive with us to develop an authentic Trinitarian communion, as we honor our God, demonstrate love to one another, and show compassion upon all of nature.
Rewild Church .:. Christian Spiritual Ecology and Wilderness Church Community .:. Hunterdon County New Jersey NJ