Religious Wisdom the World Needs Now

forestThis was my first visit to the Zen Center. One of the Buddhist priests had invited me to encourage his students to engage in interfaith environmental work. I was a little nervous, but something about this group—their open spirit, perhaps, and honest questions—quickly put me at ease and helped me speak from the heart. At some point, I found myself saying, “The Buddhist tradition has beautiful teachings about how all life is interconnected, and the world desperately needs this wisdom! Please share it.” 

Global warming is a huge behemoth of a problem. It challenges us to work together across the globe in new and unprecedented ways—ways we clearly haven’t figured out yet, as international climate talks repeatedly fail to produce significant agreements. Meanwhile, individual people are waking up to the climate crisis, struggling to make sense of it, and wondering how to respond.

One of the ways that people of faith are responding is by turning to our religious traditions. From them, we seek teachings and practices that might inform our actions as we try to meet these challenges. And we are finding them! Each of the world’s religious traditions offers tremendous wisdom about how we should live in respectful relationship with the earth and with each other.

As I drove home from the Zen Center that evening, I got to thinking: If what the world in climate crisis most needs to hear from the Buddhist tradition is that all life is interconnected, what does it most need to hear from other religious traditions?

Of course, religions can’t be distilled into pithy one-liners—and each tradition has multiple teachings to offer, not just one. Religions are incredibly rich and complex expressions of the Mystery that some people call “God;” of the totality of human life and experience; of our relationship to God and to each other and to the earth (what the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions call “creation”). Also, and as I’ve noted before, while I know some things about some traditions, I am by no means an expert in any of them.

That said, I made a list of short summary statements for some of the world’s traditions anyway. Here it is:

Religious wisdom the world in climate crisis most needs to hear…

  • From the Buddhist tradition – The interconnectedness of all living things.
  • From the Christian tradition – The Incarnation. That God entered fully into human flesh in the person of Jesus speaks volumes to God’s participatory concern for us and the earthly realm.
  • From the Muslim tradition – The perfection and beauty of God’s creation, and our role as Khalifs, or guardians.
  • From Hindu traditions – A celebration of diversity, as reflected in a plurality of Divine forms. Similarly, nature overflows with diverse forms of life, each one an important part of a larger whole.
  • From the Jewish tradition – Our obligation to act God’s partners in a process of co-creation.

The Interfaith Power & Light movement—along with other religiously-based environmental organizations such as GreenFaith, COEJL, the Eco-Justice Program of the National Council of Churches, and others—encourages people of faith to raise their voices in a common call to respond to global warming as an environmental, human, and spiritual crisis. This year’s annual Interfaith Power & Light Preach- and Teach-In on Global Warming is coming up soon; over the weekend of February 10-12, 2012, leaders of all faith traditions across the country will teach and preach about a faithful response to global warming.

The Torah portion for that week is Yitro, Exodus 18:1-20:23. It just so happens that the one-liner I’d previously ascribed to Judaism about a partnership between God and humanity is beautifully expressed in Yitro. In this parsha, God tells Moses to tell the people, “All the earth is Mine, and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6).

There are a multitude of sermon possibilities in just that one sentence!

“All the earth is Mine.” The earth belongs to God. All of it. Who are we to mess with it? “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” We people who are in partnership with God—in a covenantal, holy relationship—are to be holy as God is holy. Part of our responsibility in this relationship is caring for God’s creation.

A few verses later, “All the people answered as one, saying, ‘All that God has spoken we will do!’” (Ex. 19:8) Again, more multitudes of sermon possibilities from this one verse. For starters, here we have the people’s promise to do, to act. It is not enough to see, or understand, or believe—we are to act on God’s Teaching.

Also illustrated here is the power of all the people speaking and acting as one—the power of coordinated, collective action and commitment. We would be more effective in responding to climate change if we worked together, speaking and acting as one. And that is what the Teach- and Preach-In on Global Warming is all about—the power and the possibility of people of all religious traditions speaking and acting as one.

I wonder what connections you’d make after reflecting on the teachings of your religious tradition, seeking wisdom and guidance about how we should respond to the climate crisis. Whether it’s for the upcoming Teach- and Preach-In or not, I invite you to explore what your tradition has to say about our relationship to and with the earth—and to and with each other—and what that might mean for us as people of faith living in a world in environmental peril.

I wonder, too, what wisdom from your religious tradition about caring for people and the planet you think the world most needs to hear. The way I see it, the world needs a lot of wisdom right now! Let’s not hide it away. Let’s speak and teach and pray and work—and find a way to do it together.


This post originally appeared on State of Formation. Photo used courtesy of targut via Flickr Creative Commons.

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