Intangible Communion (Greg Futch, mDiv.)
From guest contributor, Greg Futch. Personal reflections from his upcoming memoir.
March 18, 2014 --
Spring is still a few days away, in the calendar sense. But buds are already on the tips of branches. There is more singing from our winged neighbors: the jay, the mockingbird, and the titmouse. The air is changing, and one feels, somehow, the renewal. It is sunny, but not hot. A slight breeze, so a pleasant day as I sit in the park.
I was born in May, deep into springtime, in the year 1949. So, on May 9, I will be 65 years “old”. I don’t really feel 65, maybe about 50! Some kind of blessing this is. And nature and Mother Earth have been part of a greater sense of blessing since childhood. I have so many fond memories of outdoor kid adventures that they tend to blur together. This love of the natural world has never diminished in me. And so, in these early days of the 21st century, I feel both hope and pain when I contemplate our planet. Humanity seems to be more destructive to our natural home than ever before. There is a sense of foreboding, and a despair that human beings feel either overwhelmed, or indifferent, to the continuing trashing of our world.
At the same time, I have a deeper, more fundamental experience of reality, which colors all of my emotions and thoughts. Simply put, this is a consistent, enduring sense of an ultimate Benevolence in the universe. An all-encompassing and timeless Presence and energy that is neither indifferent nor hostile. This Presence, this ineffable Mystery has been spoken of, written about, contemplated, worshiped, and argued about for millennia. But It is ever-fresh and always New to each one who encounters It. New and Old at the same time.
This persistent sense of “Something Greater” affects my awareness of the Earth in many different ways. One of those ways is that I don’t consider the Earth, this reality, or this life, to be my only and final home, if you will. This sentiment can be easily misunderstood, and also easily misrepresented. This feeling of non-finality by no means reduces my love and wonder, my sense of reverence with respect to Nature, and to the Universe in general. I feel completely at home in this wonderful world of sun and storm, birds and bears, cycles of water and wind, growth and decay. At the same time, the intangible, and usually invisible Reality which is manifested through this physical world, is also, in some deepest way, my home. “The two worlds”, some have called it.
Our sentiments, feelings, and thoughts, are all deeply conditioned: by our families, cultures, and times. And so it is with me. My own awareness of, and affection for, the natural world, is deeply rooted in my childhood, my parents’ own outlooks, and in some form of intangible Communion, which endures through all the vicissitudes of my life. Through time, I’ve also been greatly moved by the writers who have shown a respect and admiration for Natures similar to my own. Whether it be Thoreau, Emerson, Peter Matthiessen, or Mary Oliver, writers express a wonder and awe many of us feel in our encounters with Nature.
As I write these words in 2014, natural systems, and the Earth itself, seem to be under threat as never before in human history. And much of that threat is coming from us, the very creatures who totally depend on this wonderful world. From climate change, to the extinction of many species, to the maxing out of available water and land, to the changing of ocean chemistry and temperature, the list of circumstances potentially threatening to human life is troubling and long. For those of us who already have grandchildren, the feeling of unease ---and even despair--- can haunt our daily lives. Will the world our grandkids inherit be more hostile than the world our generation has known? This is a common, very disturbing concern for many now, not just those of the “baby-boom” cohort.
My grandparents on my mother’s side grew up on farmland in deep South Georgia. They did not know electric lighting or indoor toilets in their childhoods. They did know the work of milking cows, plowing behind mules, the cultivation and harvesting of corn, tobacco, and cotton. They did know the Great Depression of the 1930s. But they also knew love and community; singing and church going; aid in times of need; and huge Sunday feasts. Their world was hard in so many ways. But they escaped the worse of privations felt by many others, especially during the Depression. They always had what they needed to survive. And they both felt, for they sometimes told me, an abiding faith in, and sense of, Something Greater. In this, I share a real faith with my grandparents.
My grandparents struggled for a fulfilled life in a very different age. The same is true of my parents who lived through WW II. The world had become much larger for them, in that far-away lands and events became critical for their own lives. And now, we live in a global consciousness. For me, the crisis of environmental degradation, and the quality of human spiritual maturity are intimately entwined. Spiritual growth should expand awareness and wisdom. Thus, from my perspective, only the continuing “evolution” of individuals and societies ---in morality, compassion, and insight--- can improve the chances that Mother Earth will remain hospitable for human life.
In my own journey, I see the awesome issue of climate change, and the related issue of sustainability to be challenges of the first magnitude. And they require of humanity an evolution of consciousness and a change of heart which might be beyond our capacity. I choose to believe not.
To the satisfaction of the majority of thoughtful people, science has demonstrated the direct affect human activity has on soil, water, forests, jungles, and climate itself. We Homo sapiens, as a “life form”, have come to dominate the planet, for good or ill. Our stewardship of the natural world can be viewed economically, politically, biologically, ethically, and even spiritually. In fact, for many of us, the human treatment of Earth’s dynamic systems is indeed most fundamentally a spiritual issue. That is, our values, our priorities, our awareness and wisdom are all reflected in our treatment of Nature. And what we see mirrored back is not comforting.