God immanent in all living things ...

Friends' Own Beliefs on what "Unity with Nature" means

When Faith was four or five, she started asking me, "Where do people come from?" and "Yes, but where did the first people come from?" I had to tell her a clumsy story about evolution, really not an easy idea to get across to a childmind, I thought, and half-wished I had a better myth, at least one easier to explain. She listened patiently to my story several times, letting time elapse to allow me room to get my story together. Finally, after mulling it over rather a while, she summed up her understanding with wonder and pleasure: "You mean, that Berna [her best friend] and I are related, because if you go back far enough we have the same great-grandmothers!" She then extended this idea to the thought that she is related to everyone on earth, for the same reason.

A year or so later, she took her thinking another step further, that she is related to everything alive on earth, for the same reason: "if you go back far enough, we have the same great-grandmothers." Living out on the border of the forest as we do, her feeling of cousinship with the plants, trees, and animals around her is naturally very strong.

I was raised in a city. I went to Sunday school and church, but my spiritual experiences as a child were in my bond to nature: trips to the ocean, to the giant redwoods. As a confirmed agnostic adult, I met god for the first time (I had no other word than god for the overwhelming experience which came to me) in the fir trees, and speaking with the voice of the grasses in the wind. S/he lives there for me still, beyond doubt. I will agree that there is that of god in every human being, more or less as an ideal that I strive for, to be able to see the Divine in all these faces; but when it comes to a field of grass in the spring, or an old-growth tree,

I don't have to strive, I just have to be quiet to know that I am in the Presence.

Every cell in my body has been continuously alive since at least the beginnings of life on this planet--dividing, changing, passing on the spark and design of cellular life. I don't feel that there was any one moment in this process (when our ancestors stood up? when they spoke? when they started to kill one another in an organized way?) when god came to dwell within. God has been there all along, and continues to be there, not just in us, but in all our kindred.

I would speak at another time about god in the mountains and rocks, and god in the oceans and waters. Tonight I will just say that I live facing a little part of the California coastal mountains, and that I do (as the psalmist of old did) "lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help."

-Gail Eastwood 11 Dec 1999 <eastwood@asis.com>

As science brings us closer and closer examination of the physical structure of the animate and inanimate, less is revealed about the basic fabric of life. The separation of the animate and inanimate becomes blurred. The origin of life does not reveal itself at any stage of development or complexity. Life is inherent in the electron and the cell -both the physical and biological. Separation from our surroundings vanishes.

It is in the potential for animate life that spirit has its foundation, and life its origin, and it follows, All embraces spirit and life.

Their voices are our being. We are an expression and voice of the universe, and so, how we translate the voice through ourselves is how the world/universe expresses itself.

We are honored when our closest associations reveal themselves, and guides us - to know All. It is our live-long task to open ourselves to All about us, as we exist before during and after "our" life.

We have avoided the hard questions - "when does life begin?" "what is our responsibility for the life embracing us?" - by pleading ignorance. We must find answers to these questions. We must redefine our realm of concern.

-Steve Harris, Humboldt Monthly Meeting <sharris@igc.org> 10 Oct 2000

The previous Faith & Practice contains "Advices & Queries on Stewardship", so this new version has expanded this testimony to include a greater focus on humanity's relationship with nature. While this is a most welcome expansion of Faith & Practice, the word "stewardship" in defining our relationship with nature doesn't express for me the fundamental truth of this relationship. I would prefer the phrase, "kinship with all life," because it conveys the reality that we humans are an integral part of the web of life, and as interdependent as any other beings in the web.

The concept of stewardship implies a kind of separation between us and the rest of life on earth and that we humans are the guardians and protectors of this life. I believe our task is to understand how this web of life works for all creation and live our lives in ways that are congruent with this understanding. I also believe there is more to say about this concept of kinship that is not included in this passage.

The basis of my spiritual practice is the awareness of the interconnectedness of all life on earth. From this truth of interconnectedness, flows values, ethics, and ways of being that reflect a basic respect for the "other"- human and nonhuman - and that takes into account how my actions affect the greater whole.

I'd like to see this idea more explicitly stated in this Advices & Queries passage. Stewardship is a good concept for how we use our talents, time, money, and possessions, but a more encompassing concept is needed when talking about our place and "right relationship" within all creation.

Sandra Lewis <sel27@earthlink.net>10/3/00

Pacific Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice of 1985 posits that Friends are guided by five testimonies: community, equality, simplicity, unity, and peace. The prefatory paragraph suggests that these are sacramental in essence. Is our relatively recent concern for spiritually-led care for the environment deserving of the title "testimony"?

Following the testimonies, there are stated advices and queries. While some of these have the same titles as the testimonies, it is clear that each of the testimonies influences more than one set of advices, which are statements of ideals and practices that have arisen from the testimonies. The queries are a form of self-test, to refocus one's awareness onto the roots of Quaker practice and guard against unthinking ritual.

In examination of Friends' testimonies, one can ask these questions to try to identify and define a testimony:

Is this a theme upon which Friends build their lives? Is it fundamental, underlying Friends' customs and practices? Is it something we strive to understand, but also beyond complete knowing? How does it change and challenge us? What is its source?

There are three ways that a testimony affects Quaker life:

Many of us have intentionally changed our lifestyles and adopted daily practices specifically to reduce the impact of human existence upon the environment: we have interpreted Fox's "walk in the Light" as "walk lightly over the world." Although we fear it may be too late, we are determined to try to live in sustainable ways, so that human and nonhuman life may co- evolve into the far future. But do we do this out of a sense of secular ethics, or because only by doing so can our souls be made whole? We are becoming aware that secular ethics alone is insufficient motivation for either individuals or civilizations to change their wasteful ways.

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.

The traditional ways of enhancing one's perception of the Spirit are by reading of Scripture or post-Biblical works of wisdom, by listening to and learning from those among us whom we recognize as spiritually aware, and by meditation both alone and collectively. All of these may instruct by examples taken from Nature: variations on "behold the lilies of the field" abound. What has changed is our willingness to accept God's presence in the nonhuman world. Where once we read God's word only in Scripture, now we read from words written in cloud and wind and the eyes of a heron standing in a marsh.

The essence of a Quaker testimony of unity with Nature is that the Light within is not an exclusively human possession.

Where will it lead us, our new-found belief that God loves all Creation as we are loved? We are not likely to merge ourselves into Nature so far that we forget we are thinking beings, nor can we easily abandon technological civilization for an idealized pastoral society. One thing is certain: in the future we will feel more pain, as civilization's cumulative stress on the environment becomes more acute. We have hope that the pain will be less than the joy of belonging to and contributing to a sustainable, spiritually whole, living world.

-Eric E. Sabelman, Palo Alto Monthly Meeting, 1/4/97

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