Monday, October 19, 2015

The Web of Life

"A Delicate Balance"
- along a wilderness trail-

After church yesterday I was speaking with someone who was very knowledgeable about the severe drought we are experiencing here in California. He told me that, although “above-average” rainfall is expected for the region this winter, it probably won’t do all that much good because the earth is already so dry and hardened that the rains will be unable 'to penetrate the surface of the ground. He went on to lament over how we have really messed up the delicate balance of nature and it's going to take a lot more than a few heavy rainfalls to rectify the situation. He also said that most people don’t quite realize how bad things are: “we may never recover from this drought.”

I am reminded of something American Buddhist author and ecologist, Susan Murphy, once said:

The earth sustains our life with its magical weave of infinite relationship,
mutual dependency between all life forms and the elements that sustain them,
water, air, soil, minerals, sunlight.
Some call this peerless magic ‘ecology,’ or ‘nature.’
I think of it as the grace that animates creation

Failing to trust and protect this perpetually self-renewing gift,
attempting instead to exploit it as bounty earmarked for our exclusive use,
we are tearing apart the web of life.

In my conversation yesterday about our severe drought, it struck me that our selfish exploitative, profit-driven human hubris is indeed tearing apart the web of life and so a severe drought has ensued, and the web is so damaged that it will very difficult to repair.

The drought in places like California didn’t happen because it hasn’t rained in a while; rather we suffer from this profound water shortage because over the years oil tycoons and big corporations decided to limit public transportation so that they could make a “ton of money” by manufacturing personal automobiles that clog the highways, pollute the air and block out the rays of the sun. We suffer from a severe drought because big “agribusiness” corporations have misused and abused the available water supply in the irrigation and production of the crops that feed the entire nation so that now even the underground aquifers have almost dried up.   

The earth has been ravaged and depleted because we human beings have “earmarked the gift of nature for our exclusive use and exploited it as our bounty.”

As I see it our problem here goes even deeper than using the natural world to “make a ton of money.” Maybe contemporary society has evolved to a place where we have failed to realize our place in the natural world, that nature doesn’t belong to us; rather, we belong to nature. We “are” the one web of life, everything and everyone is dynamically  interdependent, and so if the web is torn apart life cannot be sustained.

The fate of the planet goes far beyond the agenda of “tree-hugging liberals,” the fate of the human race and the fate of the planet are one and the same.

Scientist and ecologist, Thomas Berry, once made this very astute observation:

Ancient people lived in a universe, in a cosmological order.
Today, people of the industrial world no longer live in a universe,
we live in a political world, a nation, a business world, an economic order.
We live in cities of concrete and steel, in a world of business and work,
highways and parking lots and shopping centers .
We no longer see the stars at night or the planets or the moon,
summer and winter are the same inside the mall.

This makes such great sense to me. I know that in my own life, now that I drive far less on Los Angles highways and walk far more on wilderness trails I have developed a new sensitivity to the grandeur and sacredness of the natural world. The first time I stood out in the desert and looked up into the cosmos blazing with the stars of night, I knew I lived in a cosmological order. I was part of a universe and this universe was holy ground.

Maybe part of the solution to problems like a severe drought is for more people to spend more time out in the natural world. If we experience that we all belong to the web of life we may be far less willing to tear it apart.

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