“Dear God, Can We Talk?”

Volume 43, Issue 3, by Michael J. Crosbie

For most of the summer we watched an oil well gush in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. A disaster in slow motion, every day for weeks it took its toll on wildlife, recreation, and livelihoods around the gulf. On top of the oil spill, we poured millions of gallons of chemicals to cover up the mess we made. There was a human price to pay – thousands of people lost businesses, some of which had depended on the wealth of the gulf for generations. This disaster was the result of human folly: greed, indifference, deceit, hubris – it is a long list. It is just the latest example of our estranged relationship with our planet, with the land we tread upon, the water essential to life, the air we breathe. Viewed from the vantage of self-preservation, our treatment of the earth is suicidal. We are killing the very host that keeps us alive.

And there was a spiritual price. From a spiritual perspective, our actions are likewise self-destructive. The creation we inherited through birth will be less clean, less whole, less stable, because of our seeming disdain for the gift we are given. People sense that there is something seriously wrong with the way we are treating the natural world – evidence of spiritual bankruptcy, of putting short-term gains ahead of long-term obligations to take care of a place that is not really ours.

The context of our summer of discontent gives the articles in this issue greater potency – and urgency. We explore sacred landscape in a variety of ways. Thomas Barrie, Cindy Pavlinac, and Ashraf Salama consider the historic role of landscape in sacred places in different parts of the world, among different faiths, and at different times. Each of these articles makes clear that humans have been finding the sacred in landscape far longer than in buildings. The first stirrings of religion, worship, and mysticism are rooted in our relationship with nature, and our reverence for the earth and the cosmos. Nature was the first setting for developing a relationship with supreme beings. The articles by Joseph Geller and Deb Michener, Bill Fanning and Daniel Tuton, and Michael Lehrer offer contemporary examples of creating sacred places in the landscape and drawing it into the worship experience. Geller and Michener’s observations about the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, or “fixing what is broken,” is as relevant as today’s headlines about how we have harmed the earth, and continue to make short-sighted use of its resources and beauty.

The late Lutheran theologian, Joseph Sittler, wrote that part of the reason we treat nature so badly is that we do not see God in it, that we believe we have dominion over all creation to do with it as we wish. “Rather than a God apart from ‘nature,’”Sittler observed, “nature comes from God and is capable of bearing God’s glory. There is an interconnectedness of all creation and with God, who is not a distant, supreme being controlling the world.”

Through nature we know God. Through our destruction of nature we sever our relationship with God. This issue is presented in the hope that we can mend what is broken, and begin a new relationship with the creator in the places where that relationship was first found millennia ago: in the streams, the woods, the fields, the oceans, and in all the stars and planets above.

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