Editorial and Introduction to Issue #25:
Learning to Eat the Sun
by Lauren de Boer
Spring 1997, p 3
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age...
The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood...
When Paul Burks passed the torch as editor of EarthLight to me last October, "Theology" wasn't on the top of my list as a topic for an issue. Let's face it -- theology isn't something most of us jump up and down about when thinking of connecting with place, or the Earth, or of creating a sustainable future.
At best, we may have our own armchair version of who -- or what -- God is, something we speculate excitedly about with friends until the wee hours, but then leave behind us when we enter the work-a-day world. At worst, theology is seen as something churned out of divinity schools and religious studies departments, but with little apparent application to the "real world." Some of us consider the earth sacred. Or, at the very least, we consider ourselves "good stewards" or "religious environmentalists." But what does something as potentially dry, boring, and lifeless as theology have to do with it? The point becomes, eventually, that theology isn't dry, boring, and lifeless when it is inclusive of the living Earth. Then it becomes something which resides at the core of our being. Cast in the light of kinship with the non-human, theology takes on a different hue. And if you bring the cosmos into the recipe, you've got a wondrously different animal -- so says Catholic feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson (EL #25, p 8). When we start thinking in kinship terms, boundaries melt away and we begin to see the potential for reconnecting with the earth, for healing the "Divide," as Tom Hayden (EL #25, p. 7) calls it, that has created the illusion in our minds that we are separate. At the same time, Sallie McFague reminds us (EL #25, p. 10) that we aren't all just undifferentiated soup. We are unique, diverse, beautiful individuals with difference and interiority to be honored as deeply as our kinship. I am reminded of Thomas Berry's three principles whereby the cosmos operates: subjectivity (inner depth), differentiation (diversity), and communion (kinship). Not a bad start for a renewal theology for the new millennium. The story (not just the reality) of our kinship is what is being newly articulated, both through science and theology. Here's a story about one of our kin -- the prokaryotic cell. About 3.9 billion years ago, life on the planet faced a major crisis. The early Earth's generation of chemically rich compounds which provided food for the first prokaryotes, was beginning to slow. At the same time, the prokaryote population was expanding at an exponential rate. A major die-off was imminent. Genetic mutations occurred. Some prokaryotes learned to feed on the bodies of their dead. Others -- incredibly- learned to capture photons hurtling at the speed of light from the sun and convert them to food. Instead of a die-off, a new way of being. The creation of photosynthesis was a creative act, write Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, of "unsurpassable elegance -- from a being one millionth of a meter across, weaving a molecular power astounding to behold, and doing so without a brain, without eyes, without hands, without blueprints, without foresight, without reflective consciousness." (The Universe Story) What's behind this moment of cosmological grace? I would call it Creator Spirit. Some would call it God. The Great Mystery. Or, the "force that through the green fuse drives the flower..." It's driving the story -- our story, and standing in awe of it is what gives our lives meaning. How we talk about it is "theology," I suppose. And not very dry and lifeless. We find ourselves, now, in another planetary crisis. What makes our situation exceptional is the most unique characteristic of our species: our conscious self-awareness. We are faced, unlike the prokaryotes, with making conscious choices about our future on the planet. And one choice we can make is to embrace the reality of our kinship with creation and stop the destruction. Like it or not, we're the point species coming into the new millennium. There isn't an ecosystem on the planet that isn't feeling the effect of the human. If we can make the choice to "eat the sun" in our own way, and preserve a habitable, vibrant planet for our children, we'll have pulled off one of the most creative acts in evolutionary history. An exciting challenge. So meet some of the "sun eaters" on these pages: Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Quakers, Native peoples, and the unchurched, all exploring and innovating in their own ways. And I hope we hear from you about your own theology -- "armchair" or otherwise.
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