“No straw, please,” I say to the waiter, committed to contributing one less bit of plastic to the burgeoning landfill or the Pacific garbage gyre. Can I trust the menu that indicates this seafood is “sustainably fished” or should I pull out my latest app to double check? For that matter, I wonder, can any fishing really be sustainable given the state of our oceans? A restaurant meal can quickly become a nexus of commitment and concern. (Are these tomatoes local? Free of pesticides? Were the workers paid a living wage? Oh, wait; they’re out of season anyway.) We’ve changed our light bulbs, switched to sustainable power, and drive a hybrid. And yet these day-to-day choices we make in the hopes of living sustainably seem not only confusing but woefully insufficient to the challenges of our time.
Sustainability is often defined as balancing economic, environmental and human well being in a way that meets the needs of the present without compromising the future. To say that we are a long way from such a balance is a gross understatement. We continue to far exceed the carrying capacity of Earth in spite of warnings from scientists that should strike fear in our hearts: “stratospheric ozone depletion, air and water pollution, the collapse of fisheries and loss of soil productivity, deforestation, species loss and catastrophic global climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.” Our country’s economy shows increasingly greater disparity and stacks the deck against people of color. The quality of living indices show that in spite of, or perhaps because of, our continued emphasis on productivity and growth we are neither happier nor healthier.
Before we leap into a “head” conversation about how to rebalance for sustainability, there are some questions of “heart” that beg attention. What really are our needs? Not “wants”; needs. Whose needs are we considering: people who look like us, people only, all beings, Earth? What, exactly, are we seeking to sustain? How we answer these questions will make all the difference – to us and to all Creation. The stories we choose to live into, the spiritual tenets we embrace, the practices in which we engage – these inform and shape our understanding of sustainability and help to illuminate what is ours to do.
Creation Spirituality opens us to a sense of sustainability that is based in relationship and oneness. Rooted in an appreciation for Earth’s miraculous evolution, we ground our actions in a deep listening for what is being invited now. Eyes bright with wonder for what is, and drenched by tears for what we’ve destroyed, we glimpse possibilities for co-creating with Earth her vision of healing. With increasing awareness that environmental, economic and social injustice is fed by the story of separateness, we find strength in aligning with others who stand for a world transformed by compassion and unity. “We are not lacking in the dynamic forces needed to create the future,” wrote Thomas Berry. “We live immersed in a sea of energy beyond all comprehension.”
I will still refuse the plastic straws and opt for local food – and honor those who create such movements on behalf of sustainability. I know that I may get side-tracked by the din of details in my desire to “do good.” My deepest prayer is to remember that Earth has been nurturing and sustaining life for hundreds of millions of years; she holds rich and abiding Wisdom – and she offers it freely to us. May I listen and respond to her call with deep gratitude and humility, and with a willingness to serve born of love.
Dr. Rampy is co-teaching a class on Sustainability and Beyond: The Call to Creation Spirituality this summer, see below.