Report on Unity with Nature at 2000 Pacific Yearly Meeting

Date: Tuesday, August 8, 2000


I come back from Yearly Meeting with a sense that the work of the Committee on Unity with Nature is more important to people in PYM, and more diverse, and more undone, than we had thought. Our concerns were echoed by many PYM attenders in the course of discussions of EarthLight Magazine's incorporation and the tentative treatment of the idea of "unity with Nature" in the new "Faith & Practice", and in the response of Young Friends who are more ready to acknowledge the centrality of the idea (inclusive of long-standing Quaker testimonies) than many older Friends.

I will send out reports on each of these reactions of PYM to our committee's presentations during the next week. To start with, I append below a statement of my belief of what comprises the Committee's work, which I wrote before PYM began. I expected just to read it to the Committee during its meeting on Monday (I ended up reading it on Thursday), but people who read copies that I gave them said that it was the kind of statement that might replace the text now in "Faith & Practice." On re-reading it, I find the language a little florid, but it may be a good introduction (what do you think?). It was reprinted in the "Daily Miracle", the newsletter put out by the PYM secretariat, so everyone at PYM got a copy.

-Eric Sabelman, continuing as clerk of PYM-CUN and now also PYM representative to FCUN (along with Tom Farley).

What is the PYM Committee on Unity with Nature about?

As is true for other Quaker committees, the people who serve are those whose consciences trouble them, and so are moved to trouble others' consciences who otherwise might be content with things as they are.

We long to hear the voice of God otherwise unheard:

The voice of animals whose deaths are unremarked, known as "roadkill" and accepted as a normal cost of civilization,

The voice of animals killed deliberately, for food or for their decorative body parts,

The voice of trees falling, to be cut into fence boards and shipping pallets,

The voice of unnamed creatures who live on sea floors, smothered by dredge spoil and imported species.

If all the other Quaker committees were completely successful, and humankind dwelt in perfect harmony, still these voices would cry.

Yet it is not our committee's work to list the manifold ways in which humans harm their world; it requires no great spiritual awareness to count and measure our civilization's failings and to project how much worse it will be in times to come.

There is another voice that speaks of hope for our mutual future: our awareness of that part of creation harmed or ignored by human society is growing. We now feel more kinship with the natural world and more appreciation of its subtle beauties than at any time in our history. This inner growth is not solely our own doing, but is in response to the voice that has always told us to love one another.

This voice speaks strongly to the young. It is they who ask hard questions about why we are the way we are. It is they who feel they do not fit into the society we have made, that demands lifelong devotion to jobs and status and striving for pleasure and comfort. That we learn to suppress our questioning and conform to the demands is a sad triumph of human adaptability. If we can, we hope to preserve the idea that the world is a marvelous and Spirit-filled place, an idea we all once had when we were children.

This voice speaks not only to Quakers, but to anyone, anywhere, who listens. As we do, these listeners will rephrase what they hear so as to be understood by the people around them. We will benefit by hearing their interpretation of the voice, both because it may inspire us to listen in new ways, and because it will help us overcome the despairing sense of struggling alone to turn civilization away from a terrible future.

So we bring to your attention words you have not heard before, and we spread your words abroad, that we may all someday turn toward the Source of the inner voice.

-Eric Sabelman; 29 July, 2000 (edited slightly 2 August)

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