Archives For Gulf of Mexico oil spill

Covenant of the Goddess member Peter Dybing, who was on the ground providing emergency services in Haiti in the aftermath of their earthquake, has been working for the US Fish & Wildlife Service Incident Command Team in the Gulf for the past 50 days. He has sent me a message about his thoughts and experiences, and I’d like to share it with you here in its entirety.

Walk The Talk

From the Rockies to the great heart of America each drop of rain starts it journey toward the peace that only the vast waters of the Gulf can grant. Today, however the gathering of waters is met with ecological disaster on an unimaginable scale. These waters, Gaia’s womb of life in our hemisphere, are fouled by arrogance, greed and mankind’s endless thirst for fossil fuels. Many pontificate on who is to blame, ignoring their own participation in this insult to the Goddess.

Instead let’s examine our use of resources: recognizing that these are gifts of the earth, do we hold sacred these exchanges or participate in the ever-growing arrogance of consumption? Do we sanctify our use of fuel, food and resources or revel in unabashed self-indulgence? In seeking justice for this wound inflicted on Mother Earth, will we first look to ourselves, our Pagan community? Have we matured sufficiently to seek first our own responsibility?

After 50 days working for the US Fish & Wildlife Service Incident Command Team in the Gulf these are the questions I asked of myself. In some ways my efforts to save wildlife helped my spirit keep peace with the Great Mother, yet my own answers to these uncomfortable questions left me unable to ignore my own culpability. Suddenly I was mindful that as a witness, responder and perpetrator of this event, life couldn’t continue as it was.

Each day we fight the great patterns of our planet, when it is cold, we burn fuels to warm our homes beyond what is necessary. When it is dark we light every nook and cranny. When it is hot we consume electricity to cool our homes.  We who profess to worship Mother Earth are not unaccountable for the grieves injury recently inflicted upon her.

None of this is stated to imply that our community does not lead in promoting responsible use of resources, we do. Yet, for most of us, western life overwhelms our desire to do that which we know is right. It is seeing this in myself that drives me to call on our community to redouble our efforts to protect that which is sacred to us.  Before we lay our sights on others, should we not first gaze upon ourselves in the fullness of insight that this disaster has produced?

This is a call for us to examine how fully our collective magik can be realized if we have not added to our intention our own changes in behavior.  Today, will we take an action that will reduce our use of energy? On an ongoing basis let’s commit to be mindful of our energy use choices.

Pagan sisters and brothers, join me in an effort to further the healing of our mother through direct action that starts in our homes, covens and communities.

Peter Dybing
Member COG
Federal Incident Management Team Member

As this crisis in the Gulf unfolds, as more sacred bodies of water are found to be too polluted for human interaction, will our communities be able to provide leadership on this issue? Can we lead the way in the sort of direct and personal action Dybing calls for? What role do you think the Pagan community should take in the aftermath of these events?

When I was at the Pagan Spirit Gathering in Missouri, the ongoing oil disaster in the Gulf Coast region was right on the surface of many of our minds. Throughout the week there were calls for a healed earth, for a re-dedication to the earth-centered and environmental principles many of us shared, culminating in a ritual where Gulf Coast residents became a focal point of our collective will towards a solution to this crisis. For me, and the other participants, this wasn’t surprising. Modern Pagan religions and environmentalism, particularly in North America, have largely walked hand-in-hand since the first Earth Day in 1970. Embracing, in the words of Chas Clifton, not simply the “Cosmic Nature” of attuning oneself with the cosmos, but the “Gaian Nature” that positioned us as an environmentally concerned grouping of faiths.

Modern Pagan faiths are not alone in these environmental attitudes. Hindu monk Ramdas Lamb recently put forward a forceful call towards living in balance and harmony with nature, and that we all shared culpability in the disasters that result from our needs.

“When there is harmony in the world, there is peace. Disharmony leads imbalance, disease, and destruction. The BP oil spill is a product of an approach to nature that reeks of an attitude of destruction and has little or no sense of respect or harmony for nature. This does not mean that we cannot use things in nature for our benefit, and sometimes this includes animals, but that we should do so in a respectful way. As citizens of a country that uses more energy than any other country, we have to share with BP a moral, if not financial, responsibility for what has recently happened. How many of us who complain about the ongoing environmental degradation have altered our lives to use alternate energy instead? How many of us drive only alternate energy vehicles, have solar panels on our homes, recycle all our waste, plant trees wherever we can, and stop adding to the massive pollution caused by the livestock industry? Not many. There is an environmental crisis that is apparent today and has therefore gotten most of our attentions, but there is a morality crisis that has been going on for a long time in the way we treat Mother Earth and her residents, and very few of us even think about it. While many individual Christians, Jews, and Muslims act in environmentally conscious ways, it is time that Western religions themselves start including in their teachings a genuine and proactive concern for nature and for the other beings that share the Earth with us. They claim to believe that all of creation is from God. It is time they begin to treat these divine creations with the respect they deserve.”

Nor is Lamb the sole Hindu voice on that matter, as Hindu American Foundation (HAF) co-founder Aseem Shukla reminds us that Hinduism, like modern Pagan faiths, sees divinity within every part of nature.

“For panentheistic Hindus, who with many Dharma faiths and Pagan traditions worship Earth as a manifestation of the Mother Goddess, divinity is found within every part of nature just as it transcends an earthly realm.”

These Pagan and Hindu voices are joined by indigenous communities and several other minority faiths; yet when AP environmental writer John Flesher decided to look at the “Green religion movement” within the context of the Gulf spill, you would think that “eco-theology” was a concept dreamt of solely by liberal (and not-so-liberal) Christians.

“Religious leaders who consider environmental protection a godly mission are making the Gulf of Mexico oil spill a rallying cry, hoping it inspires people of faith to support cleaner energy while changing their personal lives to consume less and contemplate more. “This is one of those rare moments when you can really focus people’s attention on what’s happening to God’s creation,” said Walt Grazer, head of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment.”

To be sure, I welcome those Christian and Jewish voices calling for a new balance, a new ethos, in how we approach the environment Their involvement is needed if we are truly to change the way we live. But this piece renders millions of “green” religionists invisible in order to give Jim Wallis yet another press clipping. A “green religion” movement without indigenous leaders, without Pagans, without Hindus, is one missing vital information on how to move beyond theology and into practice. A concern voiced by Yale historian Mary Evelyn Tucker in the article.

“Very few of the world’s religions were making any statements about the environment 20 years ago, and now virtually all of them have,” said Mary Evelyn Tucker, a historian of religion and founder of Yale University’s Forum on Religion and Ecology. “The challenge is to put them into practice.”

How to practice “green religion”? Let’s start by recognizing that there are religious traditions that have been working on this very issue for decades, and some that have been living that seemingly elusive practice for generations. When journalists focus almost solely on Christians who are for and against embracing environmentalism and an “eco-theology”, they can miss the bigger story of how many of us are approaching Green Religion entirely out of that context.

As the Gulf oil crisis continues, people are turning to religion and religious leaders for answers, guidance, and comfort. I’ve been keeping track of Pagan reactions to this catastrophe, and there are two new instances worth noting. First, Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary is interviewed along with several other religious leaders by the Religious News Service. In the article, reporter Nicole Neroulias notes that nature-based religions are welcoming the growing recognition that our planet is sacred and that we cannot blindly continue down the path we’ve been traveling.

“Nature-based religions welcome this growing recognition that caring for the environment is a spiritual calling, and that the oil spill is “a wound in the earth,” said Selena Fox, a high priestess at Circle Sanctuary, a Wisconsin-based pagan resource center. Fox said she has been meditating and conducting outdoor prayers several times a day, lighting a pentacle of ritual candles to channel her energy toward five areas: stopping the leak, helping the cleanup, healing the impact, learning from the disaster, and hoping that people become more respectful of the circle of life.”

Meanwhile, at the On Faith site, Hindu American Foundation (HAF) co-founder Aseem Shukla weighs in on the welfare and value of animals affected by BP’s negligence and our country’s lack of regulation.

“For panentheistic Hindus, who with many Dharma faiths and Pagan traditions worship Earth as a manifestation of the Mother Goddess, divinity is found within every part of nature just as it transcends an earthly realm. The suffering animals endure in our blind pursuit of black gold to support a craven addiction will bear the brunt of the consequences of karma. It is empirical that every action has an equal and opposite reaction; while today the shrimpers and oyster harvesters are enduring for our collective sins, we must know that all of us will be affected as the dominoes of suffering fall.”

I think it’s encouraging that Shukla is expressing solidarity with modern Pagans in his column, and it hints at a possible fruitful alliance between Hindu and modern Pagan organizations in matters of mutual interest. Perhaps this terrible tragedy has caused some rethinking, even our president said recently he grew up with the notion that the ocean is sacred and that he “understands the emotional connection” people have to it. That kind of language, even in passing, hearkens to a time when America’s nature religion was more fully expressed in our leadership. We can only hope the (righteous) anger and concern evolves into a new ethic of care for our planet (and there is some evidence that this may be happening), instead of collapsing into cynicism and despair.

If you want to do something to aid the Gulf in this crisis, here’s a list of suggestions, and here’s one more. For those wanting to do spiritual work, Lorna Tedder has some suggestions.

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.