In 1985, Pacific Yearly Meeting provided initial leadership which has helped shaped the quest among Friends to examine the spiritual basis of our concern for the Earth. This seeking has spread widely throughout North America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Here in North America, we have an independent organization, Friends Committee on Unity with Nature (FCUN), with an office and General Secretary in Burlington, Vermont. There are two Quaker-based publications on the concern, EarthLight (total subscriptions and sales of 2,500) and BeFriending Creation (total subscriptions approaching 2,000).
Many Yearly, Quarterly, and Monthly meetings across North America have Unity with Nature committees. A Philadelphia Yearly Meeting minute of January 1998 "encourages the Environmental Working Group to pursue, with other Friends' organizations and other faith communities, ways of bearing witness to the ecological and spiritual imperative that our society transform its relationship with the earth." Quaker United Nations Office is deeply involved in work on the environmental concern at the United Nations, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation gives increasing attention to environmental concerns as part of its work.
The concept of "unity with nature" is still unsettled in Friends' minds. Our committment to the exploration of this concept, made at Pacific Yearly Meeting in 1985, is alive and growing. But how to nurture it? Where will it lead us? Is it an aspect of our deepest spiritual selves, to be integrated into our whole being by quiet contemplation of wilderness and the fascinating intertwining of God's living Creation? Is it the motivating force behind our action to preserve the wilderness and to adopt sustainable lifestyles? Or is it both at once, like most Quaker Testimonies?
Unsettled as we are, we are not without direction - in fact, a number of directions are being pursued simultaneously, as our time and resources permit.
A major activity by Committee members and ad hoc
members is education, aimed at increasing the Nature-awareness of children
and adults who have not yet considered the question "What is our spiritual
relationship to the non-human world?" A first day school curriculum,
EarthCare for Children developed within PYM has been published by
FCUN (the national Friends Committee on Unity with Nature) and is now available
for purchase. For adults, a curriculum entitled "Deep Ecology and Creation-Centered
Spirituality: The Interdependent Web." curriculum is ready, as is,
for sale through EarthLight Magazine.
We are concerned that people working in the environmental movement not lose touch with the spiritual foundation that can motivate and renew their efforts to bring about secular change. To this end, a conference called "EarthVision" was held June 6-8, 1997, at Ben Lomond Quaker Center, with the stated purpose of "...inviting members of nature conservation and environmental organizations to meet with people whose witness for the earth is an essential component of their religious faith. " It was organized by PYM-CUN with the help of EarthLight, the Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter, Bay Area Action, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Peninsula Conservation Center and World Stewardship Institute. In addition to attenders from environmental organizations and Friends Meetings, there were participants from Presbyterian, United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, and Unitarian churches. In small groups and in a Saturday evening session on "What Inspires Us to Witness and Action?" all participants shared what moves us to care deeply about the earth, what moves us to action. A number of attenders agreed to continue working together, focusing on1998 Earth Day programs and activities throughout Northern California.
PYM-CUN has sponsored backpacking trips for groups
of teens and adults. Opportunities exist not only for recreational experience
but also for Quakers to participate in perservation and restoration of the
natural world. PYM-CUN recommends that meetings become familiar with local
organizations that arrange tree planting, wildlife habitat restoration and
creek, lake and seashore clean-up days. Individuals and groups of Friends
who join in such activities will find themselves being healed as they try
to undo some of the harm done by human inattention to the health of our
mission consists primarily of publishing a magazine, but potentially could
expand into a whole spectrum of communications media. EarthLight
endeavors to convey the message that "Spirituality is not divorced
from the world ...", drawing ideas and inspiration from a broad range
of human experience: "...indigenous traditions, the world's great faith[s],
... contemplative practice, eco-feminism, ... science and the new cosmology."
PYM-CUN hopes that Friends will make greater use of EarthLight as
a vehicle for stimulating thought within PYM as well as in the larger community
of "spiritual ecologists."
As we work for peace in the world, we search out
the seeds of war and destruction in ourselves and in our way of life. We
refuse to join in actions which lead to human death or to destruction of
the fragile web of life on earth. We seek ways to cooperate to save life,
to strengthen the bonds of unity among all people, and to live in unity
If we believe that there is that of God in all living things, what actions can we take that are consistent with this, especially in relation to creatures that we kill, whose habitats we appropriate, and those that kill or harm us (i.e., cattle, endangered species, malarial mosquitoes)?
Can we apply concepts such as simplicity and right sharing to other living things while continuing to apply them to people?
What does spiritual relationship to the earth mean?
What does Quaker spirituality have to do with our relationship to creation?
If we sense that of God in all creation, how do we consciously and deeply live?
From a Minute approved by Netherlands Yearly Meeting (1998):
We live in a society where political and economic choices are more often dictated by greed than by need, and powerfully shaped by corporate power. What choices do we make as individual Friends?
If the dominant life-style, the dominant economic model is causing.detrimental effects, even the extinction of God's creatures, should not Friends question it?
Throughout Friends' history we are reminded not only of the "Words of God" but also of the "Works of God". Who are we to put these works of God at risk?
We are called to sound stewardship in order to care for the integrity of Creation. How do we let our lives speak in answer to the love of God?
"I am in wonder, awe and joy at the possibilities for experience with God in All; I feel I have become open to a beginning awareness. Training and discipline helps. Seeking helps. Life's gifts help. Death's gifts help. Teachers help. ... Grace and love pervade everything. I know God this way, although I seem to forget this sometimes in particular situations. It is also a faith and a core teaching. Would I have set myself on the path to know God when I was 8 years old if I hadn't been heard some wonderful teachings?... Would I have heard the teaching if my soul wasn't already open to the possibility? What inspires openings to possibilities? .."
"It takes years of sitting with trees to hear their voices and discern their personalities (there are cranky ones, and warped ones as well as noble and serene). But the underlying of all creation is Love. In talking with people about mystical experiences over the years, it has been interesting to see the number of people who felt closest to God in the presence of trees, animals or beautiful sunsets. There are times when we feel unity with other humans and times when we feel unity with non-humans."
From an attender at 1998 PYM Junior Yearly Meeting, illustrative of the cross-generational concern and the thoughtful consideration of young people about their future world:
"For me, the key word is 'creation.' We wake up in life and the more we look at it, we see we're part of this ongoing creation. I stand in awe of this whole process and wonder how I fit into it all."
"To say that we feel a sense of stewardship toward the world does not convey the depth of our concern. Friends have long felt that war and oppression anywhere in the world afflict each of us, and demand personal action of us. Just so are we coming to feel that exploitation or disrespect of the natural world wherever it is happening is a matter of personal concern. We are beginning to be able to feel as our own the pain felt by the land, the air, the water and all that live therein.
"As in the case of individual action prompted by the testimonies of peace and equality, not everyone feels the disharmony of human life with the nonhuman world to the same degree. Some of us will feel that this is the central issue of our lives, and will spend all the time we can to promote environmental wisdom and to reduce the harm we do. Others will support such people as their representatives, while devoting themselves to other causes. It is no small part of the discipline of being Friends for those of differing priorities to be patient with each other, while still remaining one community.
"As belonging to a community conflicts with self-determination, and living in simplicity conflicts with the demands of society, and achieving peace within oneself as well as between nations requires control of innate violent tendencies, so also does harmony with the natural world entail resolution of inner conflict. The human drive to be a unique individual makes it difficult to consider the non-human world as anything but subordinate. Most of us will resolve the conflict only temporarily and partially, before we revert to placing ourselves first. To be always aware that the rest of creation is equally loved by God is the mark of sainthood.
"The proper place of mankind in the universe is one of the great Questions, unanswerable either by purely rational or purely intuitive reasoning. We have become aware that we are not so separate from nonhuman Creation that we can justify a place in dominion over it. We sense that modern civilization has exaggerated our separation to the point that both we and Nature are suffering. Neither are we mere biomechanisms, subject to unalterable rules that absolve us from responsibility for the welfare of other species inhabiting our home planet.
"What does it mean to be human? It is a Friends' tenet even deeper than the testimonies that we are part of God's continual creation, that we have direct access to God which is perceptible through our practices of life and worship, that there is Light within us."
-letter to PYM-CUN, 1999
From a letter to the FCNL General Committee from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's Environmental Working Group, November 8, 1999:
We write you out of deep concern about what human activity is doing to Earth's communities of life and the contributing role of US government policy. ... Seeking "an earth restored" will soon become the overriding task of the rest of our and our children's lives. The human activity that damages Earth's communities of life is still increasing. This cannot continue. The question is not whether it will be reversed, but how. Will humans do it by choice or will it happen to us? The longer it takes us, as Friends and as a society, to understand the need to change direction and begin work to make this happen, the more difficult it will be for us to succeed. As one Friend put it, this is not just another concern for Friends that may break the camel's back; it is the holy ground on which the camel stands.
An initial suggestion for revising FCNL's statement of legislative policy:
Part IV. "We Seek an Earth Restored. . ."
We recognize the intrinsic value of the natural world as God's creation, beyond its use by humankind. We belong to the intricate web connecting all that is natural. We are grateful for the blessings of this earth, and bound to respect purposes not our own. We are also bound to be faithful stewards of the means of human survival and well-being. To peoples of other nations, we owe a commitment to curb our own production, marketing, and consumption of material goods, and the pollution and waste that ensues. We are mindful of Friends' historic testimonies regarding simple living and right sharing. These are urgent responsibilities, in both local and global settings.
The health of the earth's ecosystems and their ability to support life have been seriously impaired. It is now well understood that human activities are having cumulative effects. We are urgently called to promote the creation and improvement of policies, laws, and institutions that respond to these problems. Restoring balance between natural and social systems requires us to recognize that Earth is a finite planet with a finite carrying capacity. Human enterprise cannot continue to expand without continuing to devastate the community of life on which it depends. To prevent this, we must learn to:
* Limit the accumulation of ecologically disruptive substances in the biosphere ...
* Stabilize and then reduce human numbers, and shape our social and economic structures to accomplish these purposes.
* Limit the amount of land we expropriate so that we preserve the biological diversity and productivity of ecosystems.
* Limit and manage our use of natural resources so our technologies and economies are more sustainable and compatible with the earth's biological and geological cycles.
What must be accomplished will require both an unprecedented degree of international cooperation and equity, and a restoration of greater self-reliance and responsibility to regions and communities. Little of enduring consequence will be accomplished if we do not address the extremes of wealth and poverty within the human family, or if we try to manage environmental problems without regard for both local and global ecological limits.
From the New England Friends in Unity with Nature
(NEFUN) Committee letter of Nov.1, 1998:
The call to reconsider the truth of our work in the light of new changes and conditions in our world is urgent and challenging, but this is also a joyful opportunity to grow in truth. Our concern is spiritual....
We also look to John Woolman's words: "...to impoverish the earth now to support outward greatness appears to be an injury to the succeeding age."
(John Woolman, 1772, as quoted in
Britain Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice
25.01, from "Conversations on the True Harmony of Mankind")
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