The Environment

Saturday 26 July 2008

Been thinking about our propensity to refer to this giant slab we live on and depend upon at 'the environment'. There's something a bit creepy about that term to me. It's always bothered me. It's like a reminder of someting that we vaguely know is important, but there is a disturbing emptiness about the term, a commodification of the land which is pretty apt, when you think of the way we treat it.

Maybe it's living in suburbia. AS we get out on sealed bitumen roads, maybe 'the environment' becomes the tree we see outside the shopping complex, the far-off place where the vegetables in the little plastic containers come from.

Some people go for days and days without feeling anything but man-made fibres under their feet. What happens, if anything, when your body touches mainly plastic, nylon, laminate? Does it make us more plastic, less grounded?

There seems to be an inbuilt need for us to return to basics, to the earth, to doing stuff with our hands. Maybe this is why more people are doing craft work. We can only consume so much that's made by hands or machines we will never see or touch before we start being unable to see ourselves.

I think about how for the majority of human existence people lived in environments where they could look around and see everything familiar because they'd made it themselves or someone they knew did. I wonder what they would think of our houses, packed to the scuppers with stuff made by people who don't even live on the same continent? How strange that would seem to them, how cold. Maybe scary, when they see the extent their kind can stretch into alienation given the right environment. Maybe they didn't think it was possible.

Or maybe it would be completely understandable to them, how easy it is to live alienated in this world? Maybe they would look at us, and see our helplessness to change the system, our unwillingness to enter into ourselves and God because we are terrified of how little we will find there (or how much). How the system shapes us. But we are bigger than the bottom line and than what we consume, whether a little or a lot. But our consumption makes it harder for us to enter in the dark door. We have unlearned all the necessary things or not been taught them in the first place. What a strange little society and what bizarre times we live in.

It scares me how us people love to be so ignorant, love to think we know when we don't, love to have someone else tell us what to think and say and do. We are a people who live in the terrifying place that rejects the authentic and embraces the counterfeit and we can't even tell the difference half the time. We clamour for kings and reject the King, because he is a pauper. We scare me, how easily we slide ourselves into small places advertised as spacious, and even in there can still reject the small dark path that leads to cracked-open reality.

I think we call it 'the environment' in the same way that we call God a small bastard and ourselves random matter. We have lost touch with all of those things. And so if any of us feel we have had encounters with those intangibles that are called Reality and God and OUrselves, it is not through coercion, or control, or condemning people to hell that they will begin their own journeys. It is not through reminding people of their unworthiness. They already know those things, whether filling the void with plasma TVs or chroming it up through a plastic bag. People don't need to be brought low - they already are. They need to be loved. Any of us who claim to have touched the ineffable need to be willing to allow God to do whatever needs to be done to enable that to happen in us and through us. The way has always been sacrificial.

True contemplation, true religious experience, dissolves the fortress of "I" by abandoning its defences. It looks out from a place of perfect simplicity. You can't stay there, I know, but if you know this simplicity once it is enough for a whole lifetime. If the veil parts once, and you know life is radically okay, then you are - to use the normal Christian language - a child of God. You are in union. There is nothing to prove. Nothing to attain. Everything is already there. It is simply a matter of recognizing and honoring and trusting. All spiritual disciplines exist to help you rust this personal experience of yourself, which is, not surprisingly, also an experience of God. People are usually amazed that the two experiences coincide: when we know God, we seem to know and accept our own humanity; when we meet ourselves at profound levels of recognition, we also meet God. We don't have any real access to who we are except through God, and we don't have any real access to God except through forgiving and rejoicing in our own humanity.
- Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs


  1. Great post, Sue! I'll be pondering this throughout the day.

  2. Sue, it is a gravitational pull that we seem to have to be aware of all the time. But I love how Richard describes it, that once the veil has been removed just once and we see that we are adopted children of God it has a way of burning that realization deep into our mind and heart that forgetting it becomes impossible. And everything about our lives gets caught up in the gradual process of renewal and transformation.

    This post was a great reminder.

  3. Really good post, Sue, I'd never thought of the word 'environment' in quite that way. It's a bit like Habitat, which now to us in the UK simply means an upscale store where you can buy stuff for your home habitat/environment.
    Yes, that separation, that sealing off, is deadly.


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