Bioregional Quakerism—Spiritual Ecology and the Collective Gifts of the Spirit

December 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

Just as individuals have certain spiritual gifts, so do religious communities. The Quaker movement has been endowed with quite a few, and some of them equip us uniquely to practice spiritual ecology, to engage as individuals and as local meetings with our local landscapes and ecosystems as channels of divine revelation.

Direct experience of the divine

The most important of our collective spiritual gifts equipping us for a religious culture of place is the very core of our faith and practice: our experience of direct communion with G*d, our experience of the Light and of the gathered meeting. Quakerism is already shamanistic.

We already know how to seek and find what we call continuing revelation. We already ground our social witness in this experience of G*d’s leading. We already expect that leadings can come to anyone, not just the officially ordained, and that leadings can draw one into a very broad range of ministries, not just preaching and pastoral care. We already understand earthcare as a religious ministry, as a testimony to divine truth revealed inwardly and collectively about our earth-keeping responsibilities.

Many religious communities do not have this gift for direct revelation available to all in the community.

We also have a tested spiritual infrastructure for testing and supporting earthcare leadings—the faith and practice of Quaker ministry . . . in theory. In fact, most Friends only know committees as the way to structure witness activities; they are used to using visioning exercises, brainstorming, and open discussion within a committee to seek for revelation. A shamanistic Quakerism will rely on prayer, meditation, and worship for revelation . . .

. . . and time spent in the land that is our meeting’s landbase. We will want to join the annual Audubon bird count around Christmas. Find, join, support local nature centers, preserves, and so on.

Science

And we will need to study. We will need to learn our earth science and the place we call home. Even if we live in a city, we will want to know where our water comes from, where our waste goes, what natural features have survived development, which ones haven’t, where the fault lines are, where underground rivers and streams are, where they have been buried by development, where the wetlands are and where they have been filled in, where the holy places are, the places that play indispensable roles in the overall ecosystem.

This is our second strength. We tend to be well educated and we have always embraced science as a tool for human betterment.

This should include political science. We will want to start tracking the local ecological commissions, planning and zoning boards, and other local governmental bodies that have jurisdiction over our landbase. A meeting that has a consistent, respectful, and well-informed presence at the local government level can have a really meaningful impact on its decisions.

We tend to think bigger than that. We call this testimony earthcare and we seem to naturally focus on the big issues and the planet as a whole. And that’s important. But our chance for the most significant impact is at the local level, where many of the decisions that directly affect people you can talk to and work with actually happen.

Theology

Finally, liberal Friends at least have a unique religious worldview that opens us to new forms and channels and messages of revelation.

Our theological diversity is mostly a weakness, I think—diluting your tradition with foreign and even contradictory elements confuses people and leaves them wondering who they are as a community. The only real value in having so many members with different religious and even non-religious worldviews is that it makes you open and flexible; it opens you to revelation—as long as you still rely on deepening, prayer, and worship.

Some Friends have been extending the tenet that there is that of God in everyone to saying there is that of God in all creation. Some Friends actually turn to this belief as the foundation of their witness.

As many of my long-time readers will know, I have a lot of problems with this trend of basing our testimonies on “that of God” thinking, and I think the thinking itself is usually so sloppy, shallow, and unconsidered, and so ignorant of our real tradition, that it strains the testimony of integrity.

Nevertheless, this phrase, this thinking about “that of God”, does work for a lot of Friends. The neo-Platonic “divine spark” idea behind the modern liberal Quaker interpretation of Fox’s phrase has a very strong appeal and it applies nicely to earthcare witness, as long as you are willing to uproot it from Quaker tradition, or at least, from its context in the writing and thinking of George Fox. “There is that of God in all creation” sounds great, as far as it goes.

However, let’s be clear: we are led into earthcare witness, not because we believe that there is that of God in all creation, but because that of God in ourselves—the Light—has revealed to us the truth of earthcare as a witness concern and has given us a passion for it. This passion is a religious leading.

We also need to be clear about what we mean when we say that there is that of God in all creation. My own experience is that there is, in fact, that of God in creation. But I don’t mean by that that nature is to be worshipped, only that in nature we can encounter the Divine. As Jesus did at his baptism, as Moses did at the “burning bush”, as Ezekiel did by the River Chebar, as Peter, James, and John did at the transfiguration. As I have many, many times, though less spectacularly than these biblical figures.

So I think we need to really work out what we mean by “that of God in all creation” more than we have. Many Friends just don’t like or trust theology. They are happy just to use a phrase that works for them and leave the religious ideology alone. This is especially true, in my experience, with “witness Friends”.

But without a religious understanding of your language and your work, you will end up—as our witness committees so often do—relying instead on just the language and thinking and tools of science, politics, and the secular social change nonprofit world. But that aspect of earthcare has already been covered by the secular environmental movement. Our strength, our unique contribution, is the moral and religious argument.

Which is why we can’t afford to just jettison the Bible—but still must know our science. That’s why I keep combining the two in this thread. We need a shamanistic science and a scientific shamanism for a bioregional Quakerism.

Next—what is “bioregionalism”? What is a bioregional Quakerism?

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