“I promise to be the best lover and defender of the Earth that I can be.”
Those attending the international gathering of the Creation Spirituality Community, held April 26-29 at Jubilee! at 46 Wall St. in Asheville, will have an opportunity to come together to make this vow, says theologian, author and Episcopal priest Matthew Fox.
Fox, 77, will be a keynote speaker at the event, whose theme is Sacred Earth, Sacred Work. “I will be talking about the movements today that are bringing alive a sense of the sacred,” says Fox. “People are invited from all religious traditions or none to take a single vow together. … Like any vow, like a marriage vow, it gives a sense of focus from distractions — social media, the news and all the rest. All our work is dedicated to the awareness of loving and defending the Earth.”
“Just one weekend after Earth Day is a good time to be talking about the Earth and taking our vows,” Fox points out.
Fox addresses the question “What is Creation Spirituality?” in his book, Order of the Sacred Earth, due out in July: “Honoring all of creation as Original Blessing, Creation Spirituality integrates the wisdom of Eastern and Western spirituality and global indigenous cultures with the emerging scientific understanding of the universe and the passion of creativity.”
Gail Ransom, president of Creation Spirituality Communities and one of the organizers of the conference, explains that creation spirituality is “an appreciation of the spirituality of all of creation — we live within it, breathe it, move in it all the time. It causes us to have awe and gain wisdom. We find traces of it in all the different religions.”
Ransom, who is based in Pittsburgh, says the planet needs creation spirituality for its very survival: “We are part of the Earth. We don’t just walk on top of it. … Our only hope for this ecological crisis is to treat the Earth as if it’s divinely created, an expression of the divine.”
Although creation spirituality has been around since the first human gazed at a sunset and felt awe, says Ransom, Fox ignited the movement in the United States in the 1980s. He “was expelled from the Dominican Order of the Catholic Church in 1993 for teaching that people are born in original blessing, not original sin, and for other statements outside of traditional Catholic teachings,” she notes.
The conference will draw approximately 140 people from across the United States and three other countries, according to Ransom. It kicks off Thursday night with a concert by Abraham Jam, she says. The interfaith trio — Billy Jonas, David LaMotte and Dawud Wharnsby — are “brothers” from the three Abrahamic faith traditions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The concert is “a big deal for Asheville,” Ransom says, because each performer is an internationally renowned musician in his own right, and the group has played in Asheville only once before, even though two of the three (Jonas and LaMotte) are locals.
Ransom notes some of the other highlights of the weekend: On Friday morning, an Earth-activist panel composed mostly of locals, including Jeff Firewalker Schmidt, shaman from the Asheville-based Eagle Condor Council, and Daniel Barber, coordinator of instrumental music at Jubilee!, will discuss actions people are taking in Western North Carolina to promote ecological justice.
And on Friday night, author and worship designer Marcia McFee, who hails from Lake Tahoe, Nev., will give a keynote address launching six new services for progressive Christian churches seeking to incorporate elements of creation spirituality into their worship.
A Cosmic Mass, led by Barber, caps off Saturday’s activities. Fox describes the Mass as “a new way to worship.” “The idea came from young Anglicans in Sheffield, England, that were part of the rave movement [and] brought the rave into church, into liturgy,” he says. Instead of putting people in pews and trying to keep them awake during a sermon and readings, he explains, worship leaders design a liturgy in which people dance in the presence of postmodern art, including DJs and visuals.
After dancing, “we do grieving together, then we do communion,” Fox says. “And the last part is another dance to stir up the warrior energy that makes a difference in the world.” He adds that the masses tend to draw people from different religious traditions.
Fox gives a nod to Asheville as “a special place to be gathering. … It’s been drawing artists for a long time. … And Jubilee! Church has a long history of being on the edge of what a church is often considered to be.”
“Jubilee! is the most long-term and most successful creation spirituality community,” says Howard Hanger, minister at Jubilee!. “We’re the mothership. We started in 1984 …. offering an alternative worship experience.”
Hanger notes that he will present as part of an elder panel at the conference, lead the Sunday morning worship service and participate in the welcoming and closing ceremonies.
Creation spirituality is about “finding the spirit in the universe — the holy, the divine,” says Hanger. “You get filled with something beyond yourself. Checking out the spring flowers coming up can knock your socks off.”
The imperative to care for the Earth stems from its holiness, he says. “You don’t trash something that’s holy,” he says. “As you begin to regard creation as holy, then it’s a no-brainer — to give it not just high regard but high care. If the mountain is indeed a cathedral … then you sure as hell don’t trash the mountain.”
He explains that creation spirituality people “don’t recycle because the city says to recycle. They recycle because that’s the way to treat the holy.”
Most ecological activism, Hanger says, is focused on human survival. “This whole environmental program is not really about saving the Earth,” he says. “It’s about saving our place on the Earth so we humans can survive. It’s very species-centered.” Creation spirituality, on the other hand, advocates caring for the Earth because “there’s holiness here, sacredness here. It’s a whole different orientation,” he says. “It’s about treating the Earth as you would a god or goddess.”
Fox also emphasizes the importance of going beyond “human narcissism” or “anthropocentrism,” which he says, “makes all its decisions on the basis of human needs, not on the basis of the needs of other beings and other species.” The problem, he continues, is that “when you begin with the human agenda, you rarely get out of it. So then everything is determined by the bottom line, how much profits corporations and their shareholders are making as distinct from what we are doing to keep the Earth healthy for future generations — not only of our children and grandchildren but of other species as well.”
Sustaining the health of the Earth is vital to all life, he says. “As the Earth’s health diminishes, the health of our children, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the soil we grow things in, the trees and other animals will be affected,” he says.
Fox advises that “people from Asheville and Western North Carolina should … get together to wrestle and debate their own local issues.” But he adds that “we’re always dealing with communal issues that are are bigger than the local as well. It’s a ‘both/and’ thing — the local and the larger community. … We are our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper. Compassion does not just end at our neighbor’s door. We’re all neighbors today, and we’re all going to go under or we’re going to resurrect.”
Climate change is real, he maintains, even though “half the politicians are in complete denial and won’t even use the word.” But there are solutions, he notes. As an example, Fox notes something he learned at a scientific conference last year: “We could create a floating island 1,000 miles off the Atlantic Coast. … [with] turbine windmills that would provide all the electrical needs for North America. We wouldn’t need oil or gas or coal ever again. We currently have the technology to do that.”
Old and young together
Fox says the upcoming conference will have “a special emphasis on the intergenerational dimension,” with several young leaders attending. “I think it’s so important that the elders are opening the doors to the young people to speak [of] their spiritual needs. Many of them do not find their needs being nourished by churches or religions in their current state.”
He says the March for Our Lives, a student-led demonstration against gun violence which took place on March 24 in Washington, D.C., and other locations across the United States, was “an amazing example of how young people can lead and will lead from conscience, not just their investments.” He calls the march “a sign of resurrection, of Passover, of Easter — it’s all about stories of liberation from the death spiral.
“There’s a lot in our culture today that’s in the death spiral,” he continues. “All our institutions — education, politics, economics, religion, certainly the media, too — have to be penetrated by a sense of the sacred and conscience.”
Sacred Earth, sacred work
Ransom says the conference will help us “connect whatever we do during the day, all day long, to creation, with its sacredness. So if I lift my fork, I can do it with awe and wonder [and] a sense of the larger life of this planet, which is part of the larger life of the universe.”
She adds that it’s important for people who are not already part of the creation spirituality movement to attend the conference “because they can get structure or scaffolding of what they naturally feel already. They can find words for it and find company to appreciate it and articulate it and make it work in their own lives.”
Ransom sums up the main reason for the gathering: “It’s urgent that we attend to our relationship to creation and find something more true to our nature … that helps us preserve this beautiful Earth that is such a gift.”
WHERE: Jubilee! Community Church, 46 Wall St.
WHEN: Thursday-Sunday, April 26-29
Creation Spirituality Communities
Order of the Sacred Earth
Jubilee! Community Church