History and Exegesis of Nature and Religion, by Marshall Massey

[On the history of Pacific Yearly Meeting's concern for the spiritual roots of environmentalism]

How did this happen? It began with a chance remark to Shirley Ruth, then-editor of Friends Bulletin, in 1983. I said, we Quakers really ought to be bearing witness on the environment, but I don't see us doing it.

Well, you ought to write something about that for Friends Bulletin, answered Shirley.

So I did. I wound up writing a whole series of articles, and Shirley published them all in Friends Bulletin in 1984....

As a consequence of the articles, I was invited to address Pacific Yearly M eeting in 1985. That address brought about the founding of the Friends Committee on Unity with Nature (FCUN). And *this* caused a stir among Friends all over North America.

4 Sept 1993


... this one's for ... anyone who has managed to overlook the frequent use of Nature as a source of inspiration in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. It's only a brief list of resources, but I hope that you will find it inspirational.

First, some good places to start in our Judaeo-Christian Bible:

1) The book of Job, passim.

If you would learn, then ask the beasts, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the valleys and hills, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all humankind. -- Job 12:7-10

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? ... when the morning stars sang together...? -- Job 38:4,7

2) Psalm 104. "The ecological Psalm." A part of the Wisdom material in the Jewish Bible, despite its presence in Psalms; a sampling of the natural history knowledge of its day, compiled as a lovely witness to God's kindness.

3) Hosea 2 describes how the Lord will win back the love of Israel, his faithless people. Salvation, says the prophet, will be found when we allow ourselves to be lured back into the wilderness, where we will rediscover God, and where God will restore our lost harmony with Nature:

Therefore, behold, I am going to allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak intimately to her. And there I will give her her vineyards.... And she shall answer as in the days of her youth.... And in that day, says the Lord, you will call me "Ishi" ["my man/lover/husband"], And no longer will you call me "Baal" ["my master/ owner/overlord"}. ... And I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground.... -- Hosea 2:14-16,18a

4) Romans 8 testifies both to the centrality of the Spirit which we wait upon in Quaker Meeting, and to our unity in that Spirit (that breath) with all Creation:

...It is not a spirit of slavery [we] have received ... but a Spirit which makes us God's children. ... For the Creation waits in eagerness for the children of God to appear. For Creation has suffered subjection to human vanity ... [but] one day it too shall be freed from bondage to the forces of destruction, and enter into freedom with the children of God. We know that the whole Creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the Creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly.... ...[But] the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. -- Romans 8:14-15,19-23,26

I could multiply these examples, for the Bible is full of meditations on our relationship with Nature, and how the success or failure of that relationship depends upon our attitude toward righteousness. The quote from Hosea, for instance, involves a backward reference to the Noachic covenant, to which Nature was a very explicit party (vide Genesis 9:8-17). The Mosaic laws of the Sabbath, the Sabbatical and the Jubilee prescribe that Nature be not abused and exhausted, and there are vivid warnings of the ecocollapse that will occur if we fail to walk the path which God has laid out for us.

Our own George Fox and John Woolman have left us marvelously moving statements on our relationship with and duties toward Nature, all of which are strongly anchored in Christian and Biblical tradition. Other early Quakers such as Isaac Penington and Anthony Benezet made similar statements, albeit at shorter lengths. And there were numerous early Anabaptist and Mennonite leaders who preached in much the same vein.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and Walter Rauschenbusch, the great Social Gospeller, both offered public witnesses against pollution; and Martin Luther King, Jr., was beginning to express a similar concern in the final two or three years before he died.

John Muir, who relied in all the public speeches and writings of his life upon vivid Judaeo-Christian imagery, was the founder of the Sierra Club and perhaps the most influential deep ecologist in all history. Liberty Hyde Bailey, his contemporary, toured the U.S. from coast to coast preaching the Christian gospel of Nature, and wrote several influential books on the subject.

Rene Dubos, the world-renowned microbiologist, was also a prominent exponent of Judaeo-Christian Nature spirituality and Judaeo-Christian concern for Nature's welfare.

Among the great Christian environmental preachers of the present day are the Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch, the Protestants Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson, the evangelical Protestant Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, the Presbyterian Richard Cartwright Austin, and the Catholic brothers Thomas and James Berry.

Other notable post-Biblical, pre-1970 Christian witnesses to Nature spirituality include St. Benedict, John Chapman ("Johnny Appleseed"), Liberty Hyde Bailey and Joseph Sittler.

The exaltation of Nature as an inspiration and witness to the Spirit by ordinary church- and synagogue- goers is a commonplace. The summer church camps where pious Americans have sent their kids by the tens of thousands each summer for the last sixty years or so are generally located in natural settings, and their worship invokes the witness of Nature. Easter sermons customarily bear witness to Nature. Soil and Water Stewardship Week has held an honored place on the calendars of rural churches in several major denominations for decades.

In more recent years, the U.N.'s Environmental Sabbath and Earth Day have been added to the liturgical calendars of many tens of thousands of churches nationwide. Many Reform Jewish congregations now include an environmental Al Chait (liturgical prayer of atonement) in their observance of Yom Kippur.

9 Nov 1993


e-mail to Marshall Massey: mmassey@earthwitness.org

The Environmental Projects Center, 4353 E. 119 Way, Thornton CO 80233

More by Marshall Massey can be found at Quaker Environmentalism.


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