What We Did Yesterday:
Not quite two years ago, I wrote this really long post on why replacing disposable plastic matters, and ways that they can be replaced in the home. I’ve also written a bit on how we pick up trash at our stretch of beach, as an active devotion to the place where we live (since we worship it as if it were a deity).
A few weeks ago, I was reminded of why this matters.
If it comes in a single use, disposable container that isn’t reusable (or that you won’t end up reusing), biodegradable, or recyclable (or that you won’t end up recycling), you can refuse it.
The simple fact of life is that plastic ends up in the ocean. From here on out, every time you see a juice bottle, a soda bottle, a water bottle, a container of body wash, a milk jug, shampoo and conditioner, throw away lunch containers, Styrofoam, lighters, shopping bags, produce bags, or anything else you can think of, I challenge you to think the following:
This is going to end up in the ocean. If I were an albatross, would I want my baby to eat this? If I were a minnow, would I want my stomach full of this? Do I want my food chain filled with the same chemicals parent’s won’t allow in a container their child drinks from? Should our children (or ourselves) have to play on polluted beaches, building castles from plastic sand? As a Pagan, what kind of reverence am I showing (and teaching my children) for the home of the gods we worship (not to mention the home we share with every other living thing)?
I get it, sometimes its just not convenient, efficient, or effective to eschew the plastic-wrapped whatever. I’m certainly not perfect–I’ve been known to pick up individually packaged applesauce for pint-sized guests (less dishes, and apple sauce containers make awesome jello molds and paint containers). And sometimes there’s just no alternative–I’ve yet to find certain products that aren’t in plastic packaging (medication) or I can’t afford the alternative as part of my shopping habits (milk in glass bottles is about twice as expensive as milk in a plastic jug). Just as often though, its an easy change to make–pick up the eggs in the cardboard carton instead of the plastic or Styrofoam one (plus, when you are done with them you can make fire starters from your dryer lint in them or use them for noise reduction).
But I think that as Pagans, we have the duty to be what my bloggy friend Deb calls “lessatarian”. To examine our privilege and its accompanying consumption habits (as individuals and in our communities), and to make conscious decisions about the resources we use and the waste we create. If we don’t do at least that, how can we claim to either be revering the Earth itself or celebrating the cycles of the Earth? How can we claim to be paying homage to the Spirits of a place we’ve treated like a dump? How can we claim to honor the Spirit of the Bear or the Fox or the Turtle, etc when we are destroying the habitat and poisoning the young of bears and foxes and turtles? How can we claim to be respecting our ancestors when we fail to preserve a legacy for our children? How do we claim to be worshiping gods that represent the forces of this world, our world, if we aren’t respecting that world?
We need to start asking ourselves: Is this necessary for our physical existence? Is it necessary for our mental or spiritual health? Is this a luxury that is worth the cost of its production? Can we get it used? Is there an alternative with less packaging, or more product for the package? If there is not a feasible alternative, is it reusable? Is it recyclable, compostable, biodegradable? If not…why the heck are we buying whatever it is? And if we aren’t buying it because of how its made and how its packaged (or if we have no choice), why aren’t we letting the company in question know?
I’m not calling on us to be perfect. I’ve already admitted that I certainly am not. I’m not pointing fingers, and I’m not making any claim to moral or ethical superiority. I am calling upon us to do better when and where we are able. I’m calling upon all of us (myself included) to be honest with ourselves, to admit when and where we are being hypocritical, and to commit to a future where our purchases are made with more than just ourselves and our convenience in mind.
There is no place on this wide earth–Be it the vast expanse of Oceans’ span, or peak of wildest mountain, sky-caressed–In which the ever-present power divine in every force of nature’s not a shrine.
In our family, conservation is seen as an experiential sort of integration of our values as a family–hospitality, service, respect, and honoring sacredness and plurality. Conservation is an extension of xenia and the responsibilities of the guest in the home of another should be that of the responsibility of the individual for the greater oikos of the Earth. For us, reconciliation of our place in the greater plurality and sacredness of all living things is as much a service to an imminent divinity as it is to ourselves.
We are sacred. Children of the gods, of the Divine, of the Earth, or of the Universe…whatever you want to call us. Because Life is sacred, so are we that live–not just human kind, but all our kin. Sacred does not mean up on a pedastal. Part of the reverence for creation and existance comes from revering its destruction as well. Life exists on life–even plants feed from life on a celestial scale, and from the microbes and organic matter decaying in the soil. Respecting the life we take to feed our own, respecting the lives of those that help make ours possible, and respecing the life of those that have passed before us are all part and parcel to respecting the sacredness of life.
I still find this to be true. Particularly more so having completed a degree in biology with course work in ecology and conservation biology and other environmental topics in preparation to enter a graduate program in environmental science or environmental studies. Though I don’t believe in mixing my spirituality into my science, I have no problems using science as a lens to examine spiritual topics, and in this case, I think one of the most important aspects of conservation is the human factor. Like it or not, we are also nature–but by virtue of cultural and technological evolution we have developed the capacity to globally wreak havoc like beavers in Argentina. As such, I think it is essential for us to learn to live with the rest of nature in ways that allow the plurality of live to survive, and maybe even thrive.
If you do not allow nets with too fine a mesh to be used in large ponds, then there will be more fish and turtles than they can eat; if hatchets and axes are permitted in the forests on the hills only in the proper seasons, then there will be more timber than they can use… This is the first step along the kingly way.
The biggest place impact that we have is where we are the most consumer-driven, and our family has endeavored to minimize that impact as much as we can in our lifestyle. We are not a vegetarian family, but we make a conscious effort to buy foods that are locally grown and sustainable to minimize the impact of foods transported thousands of miles. When we can, we take the kids to pick your own (PYO) farms and orchards to support local farmers and actually see where their food comes from and how it grows. We buy in bulk for minimum packaging. We have reusable water bottles, homemade reusable produce bags (mine aren’t that fancy) and use reusable shopping bags. We freeze our veggie ends and pieces for stock (someone with a yard could then compost them, and get an extra use) rather than throw them away. We utilize yard sales, thrift stores, craigslist and freecycle both as a means to for acquisition and disposal. We aren’t perfect though–cloth diapering has been an on-again, off-again endeavor, mostly dependent on how much of a part-time SAHM momma has been able to be (though, hopefully Sharkbait will be potty trained soon, he has expressed some interest–he likes to flush, but still doesn’t quite *get* it), I’ve had lackluster results with container gardening my favorite produce, and we often lack the room to effectively recycle (cans are usually about all we can manage).
Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai used to say, “If there be a plant in your hand when they say to you, ‘Behold the Messiah!’, go and plant the plant, and afterwards go out and greet him.”
Talmud, Abot de Rabbi Nathan, Ver. B, 31
Other than lessening one’s consumer footprint, I think the most important aspect of conservation is to experience nature. There are many practical benefits to this, but ultimately, I think that if we are worshiping an imminent divine (gods that are here and now, regardless of how one exactly believes in them), then we should be meeting them in their own settings. You might be able to *meet* Poseidon in your living room, but (at least in my experience) you certainly cannot *experience* him there. While I often hear the idea that “I’m not an earth-worshipper” or “not all Pagans are environmentalists” (both of which are factually true), I somehow doubt that “the spirits of place, the Landvættir, nymphs and naiads, “the something old and mysterious that inhabits a place”, etc (that) steep the land in sacredness (or) the spirits of one’s ancestors” appreciate being covered in Styrofoam McDonald’s coffee cups, Wal-mart bags, and car exhaust. At the end of the day, that someone going out and encountering nature in their own neighborhood, making some effort to ensure its health and welfare is serving both the spirit of the land as it is the life that depends upon it.
Experiencing nature *as it is* goes beyond going outside (though that is a great start) to actually getting to know the land where you reside. As Chas Clifton, in his essay “Nature Religion for Real”, points out, we are not part of Neolithic Europe and that “We have no Stonehenge. We have nothing to “go back to.”” He asserts that, as Pagans we should “learn where you are on the earth and learn the songs of that place, the song of water and the song of wind. Yes, Western science is flawed, but it is our way of knowing, so take what it offers: its taxonomy, its lists, its naming. Start there — then build a richer spirituality from that point.” Even better, he offers a quiz for guidance on precisely the questions to start with. I think though, that it is ultimately our duty to go one step further to serve the land itself, and in doing so, serve ourselves and our gods.
They gave the sacrifice to the East,
the East said, “Give it to the West,”
the West said, “Give it to God,”
God said, “Give it to Earth, for Earth is senior.”