Chicago Studies Spring/Summer 2020

Page 18

On Earth as in Heaven: Toward an Ecological Ethos and Worldview By Rev. Archdeacon John Chryssavgis, Ph.D. Introduction: The Sixth Day of Creation Permit me to take you on a journey . . . back to what churches and theologians like to call “the beginning.” This would be their preferred starting point for speaking about the environment. Yet, whenever people think of the Genesis story, they focus on themselves, on our creation by a loving God and forget our connection to our environment. Whether this is a natural reaction or a sign of arrogance, the truth is that Christians tend to overemphasize our creation “in the image and likeness of God” (Gn. 1:26) and overlook our creation from “the dust of the ground” (2:7). I would claim that our “heavenliness” should not overshadow our “earthliness.” Most people are unaware that we humans did not get a day to ourselves in the creation account. In fact, we shared that “sixth day” with the creeping and crawling things of the world (1:24–26). We don’t have to talk about human beings in exceptional or hubristic terms; perhaps our uniqueness lies simply in our peculiar relationship to nature. 1 The creation story—just as the Noah story—tell us that saving humanity is inseparable from saving other creatures. It is helpful—and humble—to recall this truth. In recent years, of course, we have been painfully reminded of our egocentric reality resulting in cruel flora and fauna extinction, irresponsible soil and forest clearance, and unacceptable noise, air, and water pollution. Still, our concern for the environment cannot be reduced to superficial or sentimental love. It is a way of honoring our creation by God, of hearing the “groaning of creation” (Rm. 8:22). It should be an affirmation of the truth of that sixth day of creation. Anything less than the truth—the full truth and nothing but the truth—is dangerous heresy. And speaking of “heresy” in assessing the ecological crisis is not far-fetched at all. For whenever we speak of heavenly or earthly things, we are drawing on established values of ourselves and the world. The technical language we adopt or the particular “species” we preserve, all of these depend on principles that we promote, even presume. We tend to call our predicament an “ecological crisis.” But the root of the problem lies in the paradigms that impel us to pursue a particular lifestyle. The crisis concerns the way we imagine our world. It is essentially a battle over images and icons. In classical traditions, human beings regarded themselves as descendant from God (or the gods). They looked on the world as soul-ful, not soul-less; as sacred (like them), not subjected (to them). In their experience, every flower, every bird, every star was holy. The sap of trees was their lifeblood. Nature was not for experimentation or exploitation; and trade was never at the expense of nature. So, when I consider the experience of my tradition, the Orthodox Church, I turn to its distinct symbols and values, which include icons (as the way we view and perceive creation); liturgy (as the way we celebrate and respond to creation); and ascesis (as the way we respect and treat creation). Early Christian mystics recognized that, when our eyes are opened to the beauty of the world, then “we can perceive everything in the light of the Creator God” 2 and discern the face of God on the face of the world. 3