A Sermon by Marilyn Eanet and Kristen Ivy Moses
Marilyn Eanet has been a member of First Unitarian for over 30 years. She is a past president of the congregation and currently active with the Green Team, Chalice Circles, and the Women’s Alliance. Kristen Ivy Moses is the Executive Director of Rhode Island Interfaith Power and Light and chairperson of First Unitarian’s Green Team Environmental Task Force.
To listen to opening words, click on the arrow below, at the left side of the box
“A human being is part of the whole — called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature.” — Albert Einstein
To listen to part 1 of the sermon, click on the arrow below, at the left side of the box
Sermon text part 1 by Marilyn Eanet
Good morning, thanks for being here today. Our purpose in doing today’s service is to encourage us all to look again at the issue of environmental justice and rededicate ourselves to study and useful action. My talk today will begin with a commercial, continue with a brief book review, and conclude with a meditation from that book.
But first a quick personal story. I grew up in rural Missouri, and my mother was the person who first taught me about the natural world – whether it was helping her in the garden, on walks in the woods to search for wild flowers or mushrooms, or just in daily life. After I moved to Rhode Island and had started attending this church, she came for a visit and attended a service with me. Her comment after the service: “The problem with your church is that they talk too much about nature and not enough about God.” I think we could have long philosophical discussions about the pros and cons of that statement, but I am sure you can see why it came to mind as we planned this service.
On to the commercial:
“Our congregations demonstrate their commitment to environmental justice by aligning their values with their actions through becoming certified Green Sanctuaries…. Created in 1989, the Green Sanctuary (GS) program historically provided a path for congregational study, reflection, and action in response to environmental challenges, worshiping and acting – grounded in justice and Unitarian Universalist values. 254 (25% of UU congregations) have achieved GS accreditation….” (UUA website)
So, some history. Back in 1989, one of the creators of the Green Sanctuary program was Bob Murphy, a member of this church. Bob went on to become a UU minister. So, alas, the truth is that we here at First U have been aware of the Green Sanctuary program since its inception, and yet, almost 30 years later, we still have not completed that process. The good news is that we will. We have a current, active group – the Green Team Task Force – led by the very able Kristen Ivy Moses, and we are determined to get it done.
It is a congregational effort though, and so we can’t do it without your help. You are welcome to join the Green Team, of course, but you can also help by participating in a congregational survey that will be happening via email this fall. (End of commercial!)
You know, we often speak of the environment as something that we live in. We think of the Earth as the ground beneath our feet. But our common ways of speaking really fail to do justice to the reality.
In his book Love Letter to the Earth, the wonderful Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that, that indeed, we ARE the Earth. Like, Einstein, in our opening words, Thich Nhat Hahn believes we need to move beyond the concept of the “environment” as it leads people to experience themselves and Earth as two separate entities and to see the planet only in terms of what it can do for them. He encourages instead that we develop an ecological mindfulness, a deeper relationship with Earth.
Part of the book consists of some love letters to the Earth, prayers that express his views. Let us use one of those now as a meditation:
Dear Mother Earth,
I bow my head before you as I look deeply and recognize that you are present in me and that I’m a part of you. I was born from you and you are always present, offering me everything I need for nourishment and growth. My mother, my father, and all my ancestors are also your children. We breathe your fesh air. We drink your clear water. We eat your nourishing food. Your herbs heal us when we’re sick.
You are the mother of all beings. I call you by the human Name Mother and yet I know your mothering nature is more vast and ancient than humankind. We are just one young species of your many children. All the millions of other species who live – or have lived—on Earth are also your children. You aren’t a person, but I know you are not less than a person either. You are a living breathing being in the form of a planet.
Each species has its own language, yet as our Mother you can understand us all. That is why you can hear me today and I express my heart to you and offer you my prayer.
Dear Mother, wherever there is soil, water, rock or air, you are there, nourishing me and giving me life. You are present in every cell of my body. My physical body is your physical body, and just as the sun and stars are present in you, they are also present in me. You are not outside of me and I am not outside of you. You are more than just my environment. You are nothing less than myself.
I promise to keep the awareness alive that you are always in me, and I am always in you. I promise to be aware that your health and well-being is my own health and well0being. I know I need to keep this awareness alive in me for us both to be peaceful, happy, healthy, and strong.
Sometimes I forget. Lost in the confusions and worries of daily life, I forget that my body is your body, and I sometimes ever forget that I have a body. Unaware of the presence of my body and the beautiful planet around me and within me, I’m unable to cherish and celebrate the precious gift of life you have given me. Dear Mother, my deep wish is to wake up to the miracle of life. I promise to train myself to be present for myself, my life, and for you in every moment. I know that my true presence is the best gift I can offer to you, the one I love. ( from Love Letter to the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2013.)
To listen to part 2 of the sermon, click on the arrow below, at the left side of the box
Sermon text part 2 by Kristen Ivy Moses
Sometimes people speak as if human activity is killing the Earth. While our actions have indeed rendered some species of plants and animals extinct, the Earth itself is strong, and we will not kill it. What we will do is render it inhospitable to human life.
If we want to preserve the Earth as a place where our species can continue to exist, we must take Einstein’s advice from our opening words, and “widen our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature.” We must start to value the Earth, and each species of plant and animal, as we value other humans.”
My talk today is entitled What Does the Earth Ask of Us? To answer this question, we need only look as far as our own seven principles. We’ll start with the 7th principle and work our way backward to the 1st principle. In order to grasp a better connection, I’ll be referencing the simplified kids’ principles.
Our 7th Principle states: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. In simpler words, we believe in caring for our planet Earth, the home we share with all living things. By all living things, we mean plants, animals, and other humans. If we value all living things equally, we must begin to treat each species of plant and animal, as we treat other humans.
Our 6th Principle states: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. In simpler words, we believe in working for a peaceful, fair, and free world. In this world, all species of plant and animal deserve a peaceful, fair, and free world. No species should be oppressed, abused, or neglected. All species should be free to thrive as nature intended.
Our 5th Principle states: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. In simpler words, we believe that all persons should have a vote about the things that concern them. Humans affect many things that concern plants and animals, yet they have no say in it. Maybe we need to expand our definition to all living things. Do plants and animals deserve advocates to vote on their behalf?
Our 4th Principle states: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning. In simpler words, we believe that each person must be free to search for what is true and right in life. Let’s broaden this definition and say that all species must be free to search for what is true and right in life, as nature intended.
Our 3rd Principle states: Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. In simpler words, we believe that we should accept one another and keep on learning together. We must accept all species and seek out what we can learn from them. What can nature teach us? How can nature inspire spiritual growth within ourselves?
Our 2nd Principle states: Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. In simpler words, we believe that all people should be treated fairly and kindly. This is the principle which relates most clearly to issues of environmental justice. People who live in low income and communities of color often experience disproportionately high levels of pollution. This is not fair. All people deserve clean air, easy access to local parks, reliable clean water, affordable transportation options, and fresh healthy food. Now let’s broaden this definition of people, and say that all species should be treated fairly and kindly. It is not fair to pollute the ocean with plastic and endanger the lives of marine animals. It is not kind to slash and burn forests in order to produce palm oil cash crops.
And lastly, our 1st Principle states: The inherent worth and dignity of every person. In simpler words, we believe that each and every person is important. So, one last time, let’s broaden this definition and say that all species are important. We need to value the worth and dignity of every species. Not just our own.
So, what does the Earth ask of us? That we value one another equally to ourselves and each species equally to our own. When we do this, we will begin to fall in love with the Earth all over again.
To listen to part 2 of the sermon, click on the arrow below, at the left side of the box
The closing words are by Leonard Ren:
“The overwhelming power, mystery, and unity of the Universe calls upon us to respond to our environment with love, humility, gratitude, and belonging. For all things are pervaded by Divinity. From the highest to the lowest. Both human and non-human life. All Earth and life are sacred.”