Monday, October 04, 2010

Breathe Into Us A Spirit

by Emilie Oyen

Many years ago in New York City, I attended

a peculiar Sunday service at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The "largest church in Christendom," St. John the Divine is breathtaking even among New York City's towering skyscrapers. Peacocks wander around the sculptures of its yard; deceased artists and writers are buried in its crypts; famous tightrope walkers pay for residency there by plying their trade to change the high-up lightbulbs. It is a gorgeous, strange, ethereal and spiritual place.

The morning I attended, thousands of people were crammed into the pews. Hundreds of dogs, cats, parrots, iguanas, fish, chickens, snakes, sheep and geese were also crammed into the pews. It was 1994, and the feast of St. Francis of Assisi (celebrated yesterday), a day when animals are blessed in the spirit of this patron saint of animals and ecology.

Incense burned in pagan-esque clouds at the altar as the procession entered; hymns were sung; the lessons were read. And here we were, with God's creations commingling among the ritual of worship. Carl Sagan spoke that day too, though I don't remember his message. Once suspicious of religion due to its historical role in war, Sagan eventually realized that religious communities were allies on the subject of ecology. He is now buried at St James.

Despite the controlled chaos, the smell of the animals and the enormity of the gathering, peace and harmony held the congregation together. And so when the priest asked for quiet and calm, the great cathedral went silent. I held my breath as an elephant was led into the cathedral and swayed down the central aisle for his blessing.

This blew off the boundaries of church as I had experienced it growing up in a small New England town. I could see, for the first time, the true connection between earth and worship and God, and how it is all One.

Years later, I returned to St. John the Divine for An Interfaith Evening for the Climate with Bill McKibben. The speakers made it again clear: When we worship God, we worship creation; and people of all faiths have an obligation to this earth to protect it. The earth is God's creation, and we are God's stewards.

McKibben was concrete in how to act: Legislation is the answer and a campaign of civil disobedience from our religious tranditions is required. High officials of various traditions can use the value of language to have an immediate impact. The can use their sermons as a tool; congregations as a receptive audience.

Religion can also be a source for faith during the darker hours of fear and anger when working to protect the environment----to breathe into us again a spirit. "God's design is being abused," McKibben began. "But we can turn to the deepest part of our traditions to sustain ourselves."

To read more on subjects of Faith and the environment:

No comments: