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Sometimes, when thinking deeply about some social affliction, I realize that if we don’t address climate change, very little else will have a lasting effect.
Scientists indicate that at this rate, many of us won’t be here to experience improved social conditions if we don’t implement serious measures to heal Mother Earth.
Last week our Bushwick-based devotional gathering focused on environmental stewardship. We opened with prayers that relied heavily on metaphors from the world of nature, which led to a beautiful and enlivened conversation about how physically and spiritually interconnected we are with the world around us.
… O God! Be Thou their supporter and their helper, and in the wilderness, the mountain, the valley, the forests, the prairies and the seas, be Thou their confidant—so that they may cry out through the power of the Kingdom and the breath of the Holy Spirit.
Verily, Thou art the Powerful, the Mighty and the Omnipotent, and Thou art the Wise, the Hearing and the Seeing. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, p. 176.
Those beautiful prayers then led us to a lively conversation about our physical and spiritual interconnection with the world around us.
All in one conversation, we discussed the importance of including voices of varied cultural backgrounds, the special spiritual destiny of Native American people, and how anthropological bias characterizes our approaches to climate change. The host of our devotional, Lizzi Duff, who worked as an environmental activist for years, and my good friend Omotayo Balogun, brought up one point that hadn’t occurred to me before: when we look for ways to improve our lives, we often overlook examples in nature of how to cohere with what the Earth needs.
We can become so focused on our own ability to create solutions for problems that we forget to look at the world around us to gain inspiration. We forget that many of our issues relate to one another. For example, because of racism and systematic forms of oppression, many large, influential companies and governmental entities neglect to learn from certain populations that have cultivated a healthier relationship with the Earth. If we don’t find ways to elevate everyone’s voices and share the socio-economic power of our world, then we restrict many people from contributing to the creation of solutions.
The unity in diversity that I imagine exists in the animal, plant, and mineral kingdoms, which contain endless examples of how drastically different species co-exist with one another and enhance one another’s well-being.
When, however, thou dost contemplate the innermost essence of all things, and the individuality of each, thou wilt behold the signs of thy Lord’s mercy in every created thing, and see the spreading rays of His Names and Attributes throughout all the realm of being, with evidences which none will deny save the froward and the unaware. Then wilt thou observe that the universe is a scroll that discloseth His hidden secrets, which are preserved in the well-guarded Tablet. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 41.
Because of the blatant urgency of the issue at hand, it is not enough to say that we respect and love Mother Nature. Even if we do believe that we are spiritually interconnected with the natural world—which some might call a radical belief—how can we actually show this love in action? A love shown in words and thoughts alone isn’t really love, is it?
Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, said:
Every one must show forth deeds that are pure and holy, for words are the property of all alike, whereas such deeds as these belong only to Our loved ones. Strive then with heart and soul to distinguish yourselves by your deeds … – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, pp. 48-49.
It can seem hard to act when we don’t know all the solutions to such a widespread, universal problem. Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old author and activist who recently took a stand against climate change, recently told The New Yorker something very insightful: “Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking. We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.”
Even if we aren’t one hundred percent sure that what we do will solve the problem, we need to try something. We can’t let fear of imperfect solutions keep us from change. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, wrote about taking action even when we have doubts:
Act as though it had all been answered. Then act with tireless, ceaseless energy. And as you act, you, yourself, will become a magnet, which will attract more power to your being, until you become an unobstructed channel for the Divine power to flow through you. – Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Baha’i Administration, p. 91.
Though we may not yet have all the answers we need to effectively resolve the damage we have done to nature, we have to begin to take action—to gather together diverse perspectives and put forth concerted, responsive attempts to address our pressing environmental epidemic.