We are desperately in need of prophets. Those truth tellers who help us differentiate false prophets from the real. Real prophets who orient our moral compass as to what is good, lasting and true. Those who help us differentiate falsehood from truth, goodness from selfishness, sacredness from the profane.
This is particularly true as our natural world is on the brink of global collapse, as our earth heats up causing seas to rise, species to go extinct, humans to migrate and extreme weather to become the norm. In 1957, in the early days of the Atomic Age, with images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki fresh in humanities mind, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit paleontologist and philosopher wrote: "By means of all creation, without exception, the divine surrounds us, penetrates us and moulds us. We imagine creation as distant and inaccessible but that is not so. The world, this palpable world, which we treat with boredom and disrespect, with which we habitually regard with no sacred association for us, is in truth a holy place, and we did not know it."
Such are the words of a prophet. The natural world is 'a holy place and we did not know it.'
66 years later, we have not learned this truth. Indeed since de Chardin's words, creation has been increasingly treated as a commodity rather than as a sacred trust. One need only look to a recent decision by the Supreme Court. On May 25, 2023 five conservative Justices of the Supreme Court decided to weaken the EPA's determination of what waterways should be protected under the Clean Water Act. Their majority opinion gutted the Clean Water Act's definition of the term "Waters of the United States", and undermined the EPA's to protect our precious wetlands. With this opinion, 50% of wetlands lost federal protection. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/25/us/supreme-court-epa-water-pollution.html?smid=url-share
The Clean Water Act of 1972 established the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the USA, including wetlands and regulating quality standards for surface waters.
With this recent sweeping decision, 50% of wetlands (which filter pollutants, mitigate flooding, protect habitat) are at risk of being paved over and returned to a pre-1972 era when wetlands were a dumping ground for pesticides. I am old enough to remember those days.
Is that what we want?
It raises the question of whether these five justices have any sense for the sacredness of creation. How can it be that all five who consider themselves to be Christian (4 are Catholic, 1 Episcopal) are either ignorant or dismissive of the truth, that creation is a holy place and a sacred trust?
Of course, these five Justices aren't an anomaly. They reflect a pattern of many who consider themselves to be religious. We have too often personalized our faith to the point of losing our sense of interconnectedness with all that is. This hyper-personalizing of ones faith leads to selfishness and greed. A hyper-personalized faith (what God can do for me and mine) is the root of sin.
We need prophets to show us the way. In addition to de Chardin, I think of a local boy, approx. 30 miles from where I live, who instinctively knew the earth to be holy. Henry David Thoreau, the author of Walden, lived in Concord, MA from 1817 - 1864.
He lived and traveled in New England, only as far as his feet and his row boat would take him. He wrote: "Nature is full of genius, full of divinity. Nature will bear the closest of inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf and take an insect view of its plane." He went on to say: "A town is saved, not by the righteous people in them, than by the woods and swamps that surround it."
I can well imagine what Henry would say about this most recent callous Supreme Court decision. Henry who spent a night in jail for refusing to pay a tax to support an unjust war, would not be silent or complacent in the face of this war agains the natural world. There are times, he would remind us, when injustice must be met by acts of civil disobedience.
I don't know about you but I'm thinking and praying about what to say and do. I'm listening to the wisdom of prophets past like de Chardin, Thoreau, the poet Mary Oliver. I'm listening to modern prophets like Bill McKibben of 350.org .
I'm listening too and learning from my neighbors in the natural world. Like Thoreau I'm spending time in the swamps and forests near me. I'm immersing myself in the genius and divinity of nature. I'm learning to see creation through the eyes of an insect and the arial view of a bird.
A majority of the Supreme Court may not know or care, that the wetlands are holy ground. But I do. And you do too.
Friends we have work to do. Our local waters are at risk. Henry Thoreau reminds us to not be silent, to not sit back but rather to act.
With you on the journey ~ Kent Harrop
Note: To have your voice heard, find kindred spirits in your community. Get to know your local watershed advocates. Here on the North shore: Ipswich River Watershed Association https://www.ipswichriver.org ; Audubon Society (Audubon.org) ; 350.org