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Holy GroundHoly Ground
A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation
Edited by Lyndsay Moseley and the Staff of Sierra Club Books

Paperback (ISBN: 978-1-57805-167-0)

264 pages

Religions worldwide celebrate Earth’s abundance and sustenance, and call on humankind to give thanks, practice compassion, seek justice, and be mindful of future generations. Here, leaders from many faith traditions, along with writers who hold nature sacred, articulate the moral and spiritual imperative of stewardship and share personal stories of coming to understand humans’ unique power and responsibility to care for creation. Holy Ground features essays, sermons, and other short pieces from, among others, Pope Benedict XVI, Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I, Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Rabbis Zoe Klein and Arthur Waskow, Evangelical pastors Joel Hunter and Brian McLaren, environmental justice proponents Allen Johnson and Kristin Shrader-Frechette, Native American novelist Linda Hogan, and writers Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder, Terry Tempest Williams, and David James Duncan. In a world polarized by “culture wars,” religious extremism, and political manipulation, this collection is a sure sign of hope.

Excerpt:

From David James Duncan, “The Book of Salmon”:

Salmon are holy . . . because on the Bible’s very first page God says, “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life. . . . And God created great whales and fishes and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and God saw that it was good, and blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas.” Does that sound like a description of an industrial pond full of tilapia or a brown tide of net-penned salmon-sewage? Salmon are holy because “the Earth is the Lord’s” (Psalms) and because “everything shall live whither the river cometh and the fish shall be exceeding many and ye shall inherit them . . . (Ezekiel). Does that sound like the Snake Anti-River that has killed 90 percent of our divine inheritance in thirty-five years? . . . Salmon are holy because they’re the life’s blood of fisher folk, and the first disciples of Christ were fisher folk, so it’s the trade of Peter, James, and John we’re fighting to defend here.

Salmon are holy because, when their flesh feeds even the most intractable salmon-haters among us, they are literally “loving their enemies and doing good to those who hate them.” Salmon are holy because, when they feed their young bodies to kingfishers and otters and eagles, and their larger ocean-going bodies to seals, sea lions, orcas, and their magnificent, sex-driven, returned-to-the-river bodies to bears and Indian tribes and sport and commercial fishers and fly fishers, and then even their spawned-out nitrogen-rich bodies to salmonberry bushes, swordferns, cedar trees, and wildflowers, they have served us from one end of their lives to another as a kind of living gospel themselves.

From Linda Hogan, “The Great Without”:

Soul loss is what happens as the world around us disappears. In contemporary North American Hispanic communities, soul loss is called susto. It is a common condition in the modern world. Susto probably began when the soul was banished from nature, when humanity withdrew from the world, when there became only two things—human and nature, animate and inanimate, sentient and not. This was when the soul first began to slip away and crumble.

In the reversal and healing of soul loss, Brazilian tribal members who tragically lost their land and place in the world visit or reimagine nature in order to become well again. Anthropologist Michael Harner wrote about healing methods among Indian people relocated to an urban slum. The healing takes place in the forest at night, as the person is returned for a while to the land he or she once knew. Such people are often cured through their renewed connections, their “visions of the river forest world, including visions of animals, snakes, and plants.” Unfortunately, these places are now only ghosts of what they once were.

The cure for susto, soul sickness, is not in books. It is written in the bark of a tree, in the moonlit silence of night, in the bank of a river and the water’s motion. The cure is outside ourselves.

From Joel Hunter, “One Pastor’s Question and Hope”:

The worship of God requires a taste for that which is beyond the material, practical, and even the religious practices required for us to thrive. Worship is about a soul’s connection that goes beyond the mind or body. The development of that connection, I have found, depends much upon one’s sense of beauty.

We get the picture of God as artist when we see Him evaluate His work in Genesis 2:31, “God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good.” The Hebrew word used here is not just one of moral evaluation, but of “fitting.” In other words, it is an appraisal of symmetry and beauty as well as functionality.

Remember how Jesus appreciated the beauty of nature and told his disciples to do the same: “And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil or spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself as one of these” (Matthew 5: 28-29). This passage is not merely about anxiety control; it is the kind of relaxation and trust that can come only with an appreciation for the beauty and wonder of nature. It is not a mental adjustment; it is a spiritual exercise to connect us to the Creator.

Creation Care is a spiritual practice that develops one’s soul when we take time to appreciate the awesome capabilities and imagination of the Creator.

From Rabbi Zoe Klein, “Splitting the Sea . . . So What!”:

Who is like You, Almighty God, who split the Sea of Reeds for our people to cross . . .

You split the sea. Big deal; it was one sea, one time. Such limited power; it’s not even such a big sea! Let us tell You about power. You split one sea, while we, made in Your divine image, have resurrected an explosion of primitive organisms in all seven seas, killing all sorts of larger species of fish. Because of our might, 90 percent of the world stocks of cod, tuna, and other big fish have vanished over the last fifty years. We have wiped out most of the once-colorful coral reefs off our most popular coasts. . . . We have adopted the un-Jewish belief in an unnatural heaven, a place above and beyond this world. It’s a heaven that deludes us to trust that after all the mess we make, we ascend, we get out! Our souls are pristine and unsoiled. We have rejected our ancient Hebrew faith that eternity was not in a separate heaven, but in the promise of a future reconciliation on earth, a return to the Garden of Eden, with our swords beat into plowshares. The oldest form of afterlife belief in Judaism is resurrection, the belief in the precious reunion of body and soul, or earth and spirit. . . .

You made us very powerful when You said You created the world for our sake (Genesis 1:2629). You made us powerful enough to ignore your plea: “See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world—for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it” (Kohelet Rabbah 7:28).

You split one sea to redeem one people, our people, in Your love for us, and we’ve churned and corrupted all seven seas for our love of nothing but ourselves. Who is like You, Almighty God, who limits Your immeasurable power, by only splitting the Sea of Reeds!

From Larry Rasmussen, “The Baptized Life”:

The waters of life. . . . You were born in it, your mother’s warm womb waters, and it’s surer than taxes that you die without it. Millions have lived without love, no critter in all creation has lived without water. Life itself likely emerged from the waters of the sea, and most life is still in the salty brine. Water births, it cleanses and purifies, it heals, it revives, it transports, it rains down and wells up. The planet, in fact, should be dubbed “Water,” not “Earth,” since it’s 70 percent H2O. And all the rest—that other 30 percent—depends utterly on this miniscule molecule sent from heaven above.

The waters of life. When will you know that God has been raptured to Earth and the New Jerusalem has descended from heaven? Not when houses of worship are planted on every corner. There is no temple in that redeemed city, as there was no temple in Eden—no “minstrel show of hate,” “no sanctimonious piety,” no “bruised and bloody grass,” and no empire, in Maya Angelou’s phrases. There is the throne of God and “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.” . . .

“[F]lowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb,” the baptized Lamb, baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptizer. And did you know that just as you breathe the same air Jesus did, so, too, you were baptized in the same water as Jesus the Lamb—just a different river or a different Samaritan well. The sum of water has been fixed since prehistoric times, far longer than we late arrivers have been spilling it, splashing in it, and baptizing with it. So be forewarned: Jehovah’s not making any more of the waters of life.

From Janisse Ray, “Holy Land”:

It has been my great fortune to tread in the wilderness, simply looking at rocks and trees and waters, and suddenly find a thing that I did not come looking for. How many times have I encountered this unassailable feeling, a knowledge that I was in the presence of something holy, divine, and transcendent, in which I could find faith, and in which revelations would be given to me. Lo and behold, God was in the old-growth longleaf and in the cypress swamp and in the desert and on the mountaintop and in the coral reefs and in frozen rivers. In those places, I could not help but worship, without prayer, without tithing, without fasting, without tarrying. Being there was worship.

Once I saw a small wooden building alongside a highway through the Ocala National Forest in central Florida, and a sign on the roadside chapel, which had no parsonage or parking lot, said, Forest Community Church. I thought then, with some elation: this is the church for me. “Revelation comes in two volumes,” said Thomas Aquinas, “the Bible and nature.” The volume I could read has been nature.

From Matthew Sleeth, “Confessions of an Evangelical Tree-hugger”:

It is not by accident that Christ dies on a tree, nor that he worked with wood in his father’s shop. Nor is it a coincidence that the word “tree” is mentioned over five hundred times in the Bible. The human story begins with the tree of life in the garden. The last chapter of the Bible tells of two trees of life, and an unpolluted river that flows between them. The leaves of these trees, we are told, will heal the nations.

It took us a thousand years to prove this Biblical truth: that trees are, indeed, the breath of life. The transfer of life-giving gas from tree to human is not intuitive. Only in relatively recent human history was it discovered that oxygen comes not from rocks, but from trees and photosynthesis.

God is not subtle about his feeling for trees. “I love the tall cedars,” saith the Lord. Abraham plants an oak. The symbol of Christ’s birthday is a pine. We decorate them and sing “Oh Christmas tree.” Essays are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree. The kingdom of heaven is, “like a tree,” Jesus said. So, yes, call me a tree-hugger. So was my Lord.

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