Brian Swimme, scientist, professor and poet, shares this reflection:
The universe has great confidence.
It comes along when we are young, or quiet or pondering,
and it dazzles us with its beauty.
We spend the rest of our lives pursuing that beauty,
responding to that allurement.
The universe holds an alternative to a life of fatigue.
What is required is the sensitivity to be caught up,
to be swept away.
What is needed is just this: the capacity to be enchanted.
In recent days, news about the environment has been bad and getting worse. The world is getting warmer, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are rising, sea levels are rising, storms are growing larger and more intense while droughts are lasting longer, and it is now reported that thousands of species of plants and animals are facing extinction, perhaps in our lifetimes. We are witnessing nothing less than the systematic destruction of this planet’s inventory of life. And how does the current administration in Washington respond to such alarming news? It seeks cutbacks in clean air and water regulations; it turns the Interior Department and EPA into lobbying arms for the fossil fuel industry; it eviscerates the Endangered Species Act; it ignores, indeed mocks, the overwhelming scientific evidence on global warming, even silencing and intimidating government scientists; and it seeks to open millions of acres in the West and off shore to oil and gas exploration with no regard to the impact of such exploration on sensitive environments, animals or people.
In the face of this frontal assault on the environment and the natural world, an assault fueled largely by greed, hubris and ignorance, reality and fact are dismissed as inconvenient technicalities.
What can be done?
Well, regime change in Washington wouldn’t hurt! But what about us — you and me? Back to Brian Swimme: “What is needed is just this: the capacity to be enchanted.” In the face of profound environmental degradation, he proposes enchantment? Really? Since when did enchantment stop a bulldozer? Some words from Thomas Berry, priest, author and environmental activist: “We have lost our sense of courtesy toward the Earth and its inhabitants, our sense of gratitude, our willingness to recognize the sacred character of habitat … In our addiction to progress, we have arrogantly assumed control over other creatures, deluding ourselves with the notion that we know best what is good for the earth and ourselves. Ultimately custody of the earth belongs to the entire earth community.”
What can I do? I can write letters to the White House and Congress, I can demonstrate in the streets, I can give generously to organizations fighting the good fight on behalf of the environment … all good stuff! But I can also pay attention. When Swimme speaks of developing the capacity for enchantment, I believe he is saying that the point is not simply to have more facts about the world, but to be able to move within it in a way that reflects appreciation of the relationships — with sky and soil and everything in between — that enable mutual flourishing. It is nothing less than an invitation to operate with a transformed imagination and a renewed sense of our intimacy with all creation.
A poem from Elizabeth Barret Browning comes to mind:
Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round, and pluck blackberries.
We must be the ones who see! Transformed people, living with a sense of awe and enchantment, dwelling among and relating to fellow creatures in ways that are a blessing to each other. This is our hope for the healing of the earth … and each other. And the bulldozers won’t stand a chance!
The Rev. Gene Nelson is the retired pastor of Sebastopol Community Church.