Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Deep Tradition of Celebrating Earth

written by our Program Intern, Michaela Wolf

April 22nd of 1970 is the spring day that President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter dedicated to celebrating the Earth. This dedication came at a time when the growth of industry and consumption in the United States far outmatched awareness for the environment. The EPA was also born in 1970.  Although there are lengths that we as a culture, and I know myself as an individual, have yet to travel in order to live more in balance with the environment, this federal organization sets policies and standards to help us recognize and care for the elements on which we rely.

Earth Day is an important holiday to celebrate and brings up concepts I think we should consider more than one out of every 365 days. I also think Earth Day provides a great opportunity to observe the variety of cultures, religions, beliefs and experiences that exist in America. We come from all different places and traditions, each with unique ways of honoring and celebrating Mother Earth, for our environment is truly what sustains us all and what we all do share.

Paul Pajak, senior Fish and Wildlife Biologist of the Northeast Region’s Fisheries Program, describes that although only one out of five Americans are anglers, or people who fish for pleasure, spiritual values may be the thing “that will help people transition toward a more sustainable society” and care for the surface waters and watersheds on which we depend. An Episcopal Diocese in Massachusetts put this into practice when they renamed their congregations for the watersheds in which they resided. Following this, canoe trips were held on the rivers for which each diocese was named.  These events included talks about ecological and spiritual matters and raised awareness about both watershed appreciation and sacred functions of water such as mikvah and baptism, to name just two. The events were reported by organizers as the most successful of those they had conducted and brought together many generations from parishes both urban and rural.

Many Hindi hymns praise rivers, and the Ganges River is considered a goddess. Doshi Professor of Indic and Comparitive Theology at Marmount Univesrity, Dr. Christopher Chapple says that Hinduism’s spiritual and intangible focus, (such as in Advaita Vedanta) has often removed it from physical and material concerns, like Earth (viewing them as illusion or maya). However, many Hindu tenets do highly revere physical life and also environmental conditions. In South Asia these principles are motivating many to understand ahimsa and dharma in ways that more closely involve the ecological community. As all faiths include some consideration for the respect of our natural environment, many may also contain elements that challenge us to recognize the importance of environmental awareness among various spiritual concerns. It is imperative that we make these considerations though, as this space we walk in is shared and our behaviors are not without consequence.  Issues like climate change and water insecurity are very real and are changing lives presently.  To honor the living and those who will live we must address and not evade such challenges.

In the Jewish faith, humans are viewed as tenants and not owners of the Earth. According to a Jewish earth ethic, humans are acknowledged for their unique ability to benefit from the Earth’s bounty but all living creatures are seen as having intrinsic value and created by G-d. Although in this post I cannot recognize so many of the ways religions around the globe and throughout history revere nature in their texts, devotions and actions, I do believe it comes through in so many traditions because our environment is what we cannot live without and what has given and gives us life. Respect for environment is a pillar in spiritual health recognized in many religions and spiritual traditions. This wealth of knowledge and tradition is of huge benefit to humans today and should be embraced by communities and individuals in order to help preserve and maintain life and spirit.

Pajak explains that the ecological crisis is a moral and not a technical problem.  Every individual has their own rules that guide them. Some of these may come from religious or spiritual traditions. Through these rules we discover in the environments of our own lives, we impact our social and natural environments. World religions have many striking images to influence and inform us on the role of the natural world and our place as humans within it. Such powerful and beautiful explanations not only illuminate the glory of life and our dependence on natures reserves, but also the opportunities we have to find ways to collectively and creatively honor such valuable resources.

Michaela Wolf is the program intern at Project Interfaith. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies with a focus in Biology and a minor in Sociology from the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. She currently attends Clarkson College, pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. Her interests include reading, writing, running, the outdoors and art.



1)    Chapple, C.. Hinduism, Jainism, and Ecology. Earth Ethics, 10.
2)    Fink, D. B. . Judaism and Ecology: A Theology of Creation. Earth Ethics, 10.
3)    Siemer, W., & Hitzhusen, G. (). Revisiting the Stewardship Concept: Faith Based Opportunities to Bridge From Principles to Practice. American Fisheries Society, 55.

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