From FUEL 4, e-newsletter from the Edmund Rice justice community, 10/06

Hi friends, I think fondly of our time together in Kolkata. I am presently flying back to Australia after several deep ecology workshops in the US and Canada.

For myself, the spiritual awakening that took place while participating in the defence of the rainforests of northern NSW in 1979 has until now obviated the need for any other form to experience the divine - the Earth itself has become my sacred text.

However, it is clear that many people's love of Earth is mediated thru one of the great faith traditions and that each of those traditions has within its texts and liturgies, many expressions of ecological sensibility and love of Earth.

The Earth suffers under the thrall of the religion of the market place, the dominant spiritual mode of these dark times. Both nature and the faith traditions falter under the onslaught of the most pious religion the world has ever known, worshipping mammon in skyscraping temples and shopping malls not just one day a week but seven; with worshippers all the more fervent by virtue of being completely unconsciousness that their supposed secularism is, in fact, a profound spiritual faith.

The most visible spokesperson for the forces seeking complete global conversion to the Religion of the Marketplace, President Bush, has on numerous occasions made clear (whether wittingly or not) the faith dimension of this worldwide evangelical enterprise. Perhaps the most striking instance was in the course of his first televised address to the US public following the tragedy of September 11, 2001. With millions of Americans waiting to hear from their leader how they should best respond to the crisis, Bush issued a clear directive in the strongest terms possible: Go out and shop!

We need to build bridges and coalitions between those who love and care for Earth and those whose love of God acknowledges the sanctity of His creation. Certainly there are initiatives in this direction from both the ecology movement and from each of the major religions, and “Ecology and Spirituality” aims to highlight these and to explain why it is of the utmost importance to nourish the growing shoots of ecological concern in the faith traditions and of spiritual understanding in the conservation movement.

My recent presentations in North America were sponsored by various churches whilst earlier this year I co-facilitated, along with Rabbi David Seidenberg, a weekend titled "Judaism and Deep Ecology" at a Jewish retreat Centre in New York.

These presentations included stories about the overlap of ecology and Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Earth is where all these mighty faiths meet, each has grown from the soil of this planet and it is in the Earth that they are reconciled. Here is one of the stories which was included in “Ecology & Spirituality” via our film “Reweaving Shiva’s Robes”.

Arunachala is one of the most sacred sites in India because, in the Hindu tradition, the story is told that their supreme deity, Shiva, manifested as a column of light stretching from infinity to infinity. He was so dazzling that the others gods in the Hindu trinity, Brahma and Vishnu, complained that they were being dazzled beyond endurance.

In his compassion, Shiva took on a new form as this mountain, Arunachala and a vast temple was built at its base. Many believe that walking the 11 km around Arunachala is the fastest way to enlightenment and pilgrims by the millions have thronged there since time immemorial.

In the long line of illustrious sages who have taken up abode in caves on Arunachala was Ramana Maharshi, one of the most celebrated Hindu mystics of the 20th century who died in the '50's. In 1987, the Rainforest Information Centre received a letter from one of the nuns in Ramana's ashram telling us that when Ramana had arrived at the mountain as a young man, it had been clothed in a mighty jungle and tigers could be met walking along its flanks. But now, nothing remained but thorns and goats, couldn't we please do something?

We helped the nun set up an NGO and raised funding including two substantial grants from the Australian Government aid agency while volunteers from Australia spent more than seven years helping to reclothe the sacred mountain. After some years, the authorities from the main temple invited us to move our tree nursery inside the temple walls and allowed us the use of their precious waters. Consequently, we initiated the regeneration of the temple gardens, growing flowers for their ceremonies as well as hundreds of thousands of native tree seedlings each year.

When I returned to Arunachala after leaving Kolkata last December, I was heartened to find that more than 10 new NGO's have sprung up around the base of the mountain. These inspired groups have constructed native tree nurseries and are engaged in tree planting, environmental education, fire prevention and fire fighting. Not only was I able to walk in the cool shade of the trees our project had planted, but I was able to witness also the regeneration of the ancient association between plants and temples, nature and spirit, God and Earth.

Here’s to planting trees in God’s beautiful temple that we all share.

John Seed