Today is Earth Day.
Established by Senator Gaylord Nelson and some college students back in 1970, Earth Day records and honors a moment when many Americans decided to honor their home and make a personal commitment to protect it. At its root, Earth Day encourages a shift away from the ideal of domination to one of care-taking.
Earth Day offers an alternative vision to the religious and secular insanity that sees our proper role as lords and masters of “creation.” It is one of the finest legacies of the Sixties.
It is hard today to imagine the wild schemes to treat our planet as a stone on which human elites would carve the sculptures of their choice, an attitude that dominated the early 1960s. There were serious proposals to cut the tops off the hills around San Francisco Bay and use the fill to build subdivisions by filling in the Bay. There were plans to detonate an atomic bomb under part of Panama and to build a sea level canal instantaneously. Others sought to dam Alaska’s Yukon River to make the biggest reservoir of all time. The Bureau of Reclamation and the private interests supporting it advocated damming the Grand Canyon. America then was as drunk on the power of technology as it is drunk today on the power of violence. Their common denominator is power, but back then at least the visions were positive.
Earth Day and what it represents reminds us of an alternative that never departs. It reminds us there is a larger context to human life than our power to anonymously kill others on the other side of the globe, larger than the egos of our political and industrial elites, larger even than the fantasies of those who would ultimately make the universe their toy.
We can access at least a taste of this alternative any time we take a hike or even walk through a garden. As Pagans most of us honor this alternative when we honor the powers of earthly existence: the Wheel of the Year and the primal dance of Feminine and Masculine through our lives, a dance that reaches its climax in love, harmony, and beauty. In this alternative our power serves deepening our immersion in beauty, in peace, and in appreciating our relationships with the other-than-human as well as the human world.
Heart and Power are two eternal poles within human beings, pulling in different directions. Our challenge is to bring them into harmony. The heart connects with spirit, which is inexhaustible; power connects with the mundane, the world where survival requires meeting our needs. To live well we need both to be in harmony. Everything rides on their relationship.
For better or for worse when heart is everything we are no longer able to live well on this earth. But when power is everything we are not able to live at all on this earth for very long. To live well we must walk a balance, one of harmony.
To my mind the degree to which Earth Day is honored is a good indicator of the balance in how we exist as a society. As with individuals, when America’s collective heart is growing, so too is concern and love for our earth. Power therefore becomes increasingly the servant of heart. But when the relations are reversed, and the smaller context of power seeks to squeeze the larger one of heart into its bounds, the result is inhuman as well as ultimately suicidal.
Inhuman because we are more than power, and that part of us that is more is crushed and distorted. This happens regardless of what religious frosting the society (or the individual) sports to try and show off its pretended virtues.
Suicidal because power is ultimately motivated by fear our needs will not be met. When it becomes everything it is because we have become consumed by fear, fear of the earth, fear of other peoples, fear of Americans who are different from us, and ultimately fear of everyone because at some point everyone is different from us. We are intrinsically beings of relationship, and when our relationships become threats unless subject to our power, we tear at one another and destroy ourselves and the context that sustains us.
Earth Day is a reminder for a civilization long grown blind towards the rest of the world, a reminder that we are not the only beings that matter and that just because we have the power to do something does not mean we should do it.
Take a hike or visit a park or garden. Open yourself to the more-than-human and remind yourself experientially that without it, without being able to immerse ourselves within it, we are less-than-human.