This week I was reading about surfers who go out surfing at night despite the increased danger of sharks and even though they cannot count on help from lifeguards if there is trouble. The article was entitled: “It’s a Nice Night for Surfing. Beware of Sharks.” (Jared Whitlock)
Helmut Igel is among those who regularly surf the coastline near San Diego. He is 55. Igel has been doing this for 20 years and goes out several times a month. He is a former ship navigator. For Igel, moonless nights are best for night surfing. When there is a full moon even the good surfing spots get crowded. But says Igel: “it’s not only about trying to get away from the crowds. It’s the ambience, which is hard for me to put into words.” It’s the ambience, he says. The atmosphere, the mood, the character of the place. Something that is hard to put into words.
While I am not drawn to surfing – daytime or nighttime – I share Igel’s desire for the ambience, that something which is hard to put into words. That “ambience” is something I encounter in nature away from the crowds. That is what drove me to backpack in Glacier National Park in Montana over a decade ago, and to walk the rain forest trails to Mombacho Volcano in Nicaragua a couple of years ago and to seek out an ashram on the beach on Paradise Island in the Bahamas just a year ago. All those excursions can sound like pretty exotic ways to find that ambience. But it is the same kind of aliveness I find on trails at the Reading Public Museum where I walked on Easter or out in my own backyard just this past week when I planted marigolds.
That hard-to-put-into-words “ambience” is what we Unitarian Universalists often refer to as “direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirt and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.” That is the first of the Unitarian Universalist sources of our faith. This transcending mystery and wonder can be found in books and music and dance. But like me, many Unitarian Universalists, describe nature as one of the places they seek that inspiration. Nature is often identified as the place where we humans have our first and most profound and sustaining spiritual experiences. Nature offers an invitation into communion and harmony with all life.
This kinship with the earth and its creatures is an explicit religious value for Unitarian Universalists. Our seventh principle calls us to “affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” This principle affirms the beauty of the earth, this pretty planet. And it recognizes the wisdom of science, which has taught us that not only are we part of the earth but the earth is part of us.
When that knowledge truly penetrates our consciousness, the seventh principle serves also as a wake up call. Knowing that all life is interconnected is a rallying cry not only to appreciation but also to promote earth-consciousness. To understand our kinship with the earth is a persuasive motivation to advocate for the earth.
David Bumbaugh, a UU minister and historian says that we are called to a ministry of the earth that is both theological and practical. He writes:
We are called to define the religious and spiritual dimensions of the ecological crisis confronting the world and to preach the gospel of a world where each is part of all, where everyone is sacred, and every place is holy ground, where all are children of the same great love, all embarked on the same journey, all destined for the same end.
In the face of the ecological crisis - ice melting at the poles, the loss of coral reefs, the rise of our oceans, the planet’s rising temperature, the extinction of species, the green and hubris of humans who refuse to heed the warnings of science and respect nature – this calling is a moral imperative.
Earth Day is a reminder to recommit to respect for our sacred earth. As Melanie DeMore says, “lead with love by putting one foot in front of the other,” as we sang earlier. We know how to do that. Here’s a short list if you are looking for some new ideas or need to be reminded and reassured of what you are already doing:
- Foster climate literacy
- Advocate for endangered species
- Reduce your ecological footprint
- Eat less meat
- Plant a tree
- Write to congress and senators about climate change and environmental issues
- Stop using disposable plastic
- Learn and teach about the intersectionality of anti-racism and anti-oppression with environmentalism
- Go paperless
- Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs
- Get a compost bin
- Lower the thermostat in winter, raise it in summer
- Skip bottled water
This earth is a garden. It is cradle for humanity, a home for all creatures. May we learn to live our lives in ways that bless the earth and all its creatures. May we learn to live in ways that help us all to protect the beauty of the earth. May we learn to live together in the true peace and harmony that is the Beloved Community. Amen. Blessed be.