Hope is a precious commodity these days, when so many things deserve holy outrage. I am not cynical; there is a sliver of hope in me. Maybe it’s more than a sliver—hope always seems to grow when I actually pay attention to it. My hope comes not from environmental science and activism but from the world of Earth-centered spiritual traditions, old and new.
As a religious educator, I’m inspired by the youth I work with. Their concerns about the environment feel more urgent and personal than mine were when I was their age—their perception of imminent doom visceral. The sense of humanity’s responsibility to the earth they describe to me seems to echo an openness to a different spiritual worldview, an older one that says that the earth doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the earth. If we belong to the earth, then we also belong to each other and to every other being and form of life upon it. If we belong to the earth, she becomes a living entity to us, and in doing so, regains a sense of power and agency in our minds.
I find a lot of hope in that idea of belonging to each other and the earth. I believe that what will help lead us to heal the planet is embracing this as a spiritual perspective, not simply a philosophical or metaphorical one. From the well of spirit, human beings have always drawn the hope that is required to survive constant crises. Spirit moves our hands and flies forth from our tongues with the powerful force of inspiration that bypasses conscious thought and purpose. It is easier to change things from a place of spiritual conviction than moral outrage or empathetic desperation.
Knowing that the planet’s overall lifespan is far beyond that of our species reminds me that the earth is not beholden to me. It is a gift, but not one without an expectation of return. There is a sense of symbiosis that comes with this gift. Whether we recognize it in time to survive is up to us.
To sustain our spirits, we must keep reading and writing poetry and prayers for the earth and her many wonders. We should keep drawing and painting landscapes, soaking in the sunlight and marveling at rain and thunder. We can and should soften ourselves and allow ourselves to feel the sense of love and connection that is inexplicably communicated in the eyes of our fellow beings or felt in the deep breathing of plants, trees, and moss.
Hope can be found in celebrating these things, in the moments of awe and appreciation the earth shares continuously with us. With the generative power of gratitude and finding our hope in these things, we can change the way we think and act. Because we must act. We cannot give in to despair.