A Pagan Response to Eco-Disaster

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 15, 2010 — 3 Comments

I haven’t discussed the massive, mind-shattering, and ongoing eco-disaster that is the Gulf of Mexico oil spill/leak, a disaster that we still can’t full quantify because the gusher of oil has yet to be successfully stopped (and could gush for years, if not plugged). Just about everyone agrees that it will end up being the worst oil spill in recorded history, and guesses about the long-term ecological impact have been grim, with some saying the Gulf of Mexico could become a giant “dead zone”. I’ve been so overwhelmed by the scale of this, and the heartbreakingly futile efforts to control it so far, that I haven’t had a chance to develop my own response, let alone a “Pagan” response to this crisis.

That said, some tentative forays into grasping the enormity of this have surfaced within the Pagan community, the most elegant and apt of them may be T. Thorn Coyle’s simple poem “A Prayer for My Beloved”. Here’s an excerpt.

Your oceans saline quick, flow in our blood.
Lover, forever we can say, “I’m sorry,”
But actions speak far louder than strong words,
And we, though brave and brash, are also feeble.

Lover, I fall now to my knees before you.
I will not beg forgiveness, not just yet.
My good friends shall be gathered all around me,
Holding hands, we will make better still, amends.

Alison Shaffer at Pagan+Politics, looks at our tendency to see nature as a luxury instead of a necessity, and that we need to recommit now more than ever to changing our relationship with the Earth.

“Yet it is my conviction that in order to remedy our abusive, exploitative relationship with the very earth that sustains us, we must learn again how to live as part of the natural world with awe, with reverence, and with love. It is easy to feel a tug of pity as I watch the pathetically struggling gull gasping in slime, or to feel sentimental regret over the thought that my partner and I might never be able to follow in my parents’ footsteps and see the Everglades as they once were. But there is real sorrow, and rage, when I think on the human species as an animal of nature in its own right, capable of selfishness, ignorance and destruction on such a scale. Confronted with this reality, and the reality of the natural world as itself bloated with strife and death, I swing between despair, and the ugly wish that Mama Earth rid herself of us once and for all and get on with her life. The only thing that can resolve this for me — the only way I can make peace with this reality of the natural world — is through love.

To seek the beauty and balance in the cycles of creation and destruction, life and death, to acknowledge a joy that permeates and lifts up these moments of desperation and depression — this is not a simple task. There is something disingenuous, even dishonest, about those who would criticize a view of the natural world as beautiful and awe-inspiring because it is “superficial” or naïve. Without a capacity to see the beauty within destruction, to seek the spirit and meaning by which we might better live our lives, it becomes all too easy for us to shrug our shoulders at our own acts of violence and dismiss them as “only natural.” But we do not love the natural world because it is lovable. We love the world because we have a bone-deep need of it, a longing to be whole.”

Others, like Sia Vogel, are throwing themselves into clean-up and rescue efforts for a disaster that we may not see the end of (here’s a list of ten things you can do to help), while Wes Isley at The Huffington Post wants to “seize this opportunity” to turn the disaster into a “moment of triumph”.

“But the major religions tell us that the Earth is not our home and that we are to subdue it for our use. The Neo-Pagan community, in contrast, celebrates nature as a great teacher and encourages us to nourish our connections to the Earth, of which we are only a small part. Other religions teach that nature, like humanity, is broken and damaged. Neo-Pagans, conversely, see nature — and humanity — as perfect just as it is, warts and all. So if you view the Earth as family and home, then you’re less likely to trash your front yard and kill off all your resources.

From this perspective, a Neo-Pagan might say that Mother Earth is using this oil spill to test us. What will be our response? Will we simply continue to pursue cheap oil for as long as it lasts regardless of the costs? Or will we make alternative energy a true priority? All faiths often use natural disasters — “acts of God,” they’re called — to teach important lessons. I say this oil spill can be used in the same way.”

While I tend to take a sacral and pantheistic view towards nature, I’m personally uncomfortable with the notion that this man-made disaster is Mother Earth “testing” us, since such a view diminishes the culpability of those truly responsible, and takes us into the murky territory of the Earth punishing us for our environmental trespasses. Such thoughts, in my mind, are only a degree or two away from the mindset that blamed the Haitian earthquake on Vodou, or that it’s an “opportunity” to religiously remake their society. I think re-examining our relationship to nature in the wake of this ongoing tragedy is only natural, and something that should happen, but I think we should be careful to avoid ascribing any supernatural will or motive to this situation.

I think prayers and workings at this time are appropriate, and I think involving yourself in clean-up and rescue efforts is even more appropriate, and I hope that we can stop this “leak” (hardly an apt term, under the circumstance) before things get even worse. We should reject any re-casting of this as a “natural” disaster, and make sure those responsible are held to account.  We can carry on in doing the small things we can do at this stage and hope that life can eventually return to the Gulf of Mexico, that our oceans will be spared an even larger eco-crisis due to these events. We can work and hope for a saner policy of tapping the Earth’s natural resources emerging from this event, and commit ourselves to a better future. To, as Thorn writes, better love this world.

Lover, I fall now to my knees before you.
I will not beg forgiveness, not just yet.
My good friends shall be gathered all around me,
Holding hands, we will make better still, amends.

Together, we will clean, slow down, and listen.
Together, we will sow and reap, and kiss.
We will arc around combusting star in season.
And learn to better love you.

So I pray.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Cole Gillette

    As our President continues to consider repealing the commercial whaling ban and advocate for more offshore drilling (even in the face of this catastrophe of as yet undetermined proportions), it’s fairly clear to me that nothing of substance will happen on the environmental front until the poisonous relationship between monied, vested interests and government is ended.

    I won’t be at all surprised when BP (or Halliburton) is let off the hook for a significant portion of clean up costs, or else can’t actually afford clean up costs, and so is ‘bailed out’ by taxpaying citizens, probably in a manner that conceals most of the theft from the American people.

    The root of the problem isn’t environmental policy, or even Obama’s tepid centrism. It’s an unresponsive, unaccountable state-capitalist government, and the murderous institutions whose interests it serves.

  • http://crackerlilo.blogspot.com GreenEyedLilo

    I’m not one for poetry, but I love T. Thorn Coyle’s response. Thank you for sharing that. Thank you also for trying to articulate a response. It’s so damned huge!

    I’m thinking of going to help this summer, when I can get a block of time off. (Unfortunately, there will still be plenty of work to be done.) I agree with you about not wanting to say that “Mother Earth” is “punishing” us. It’s uncomfortably close to what I grew up with in the Assemblies of God church. My circle did a ritual for the Gulf, its animals and plants, and the people who live near it on Beltane. Obviously much more needs to be done.

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat C-B

    If only we had a socialist government. (I, for one, think Sweden does a pretty nice job.)