Monday, April 7, 2014

Many Faiths, One World: Interfaith Earth Day

Written by Karin Frank
Outreach Coordinator for WAIPL

More than one billion people worldwide in 192 countries participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world. While it is a civic observance, in many ways Earth Day is the first interfaith holiday. April 22 is a day observed around the world by religious communities of all faiths through services and activities. Earth Day does not belong to any one religious or cultural tradition, but addresses something that is central to all faiths – our relationship with our planet and the ecosphere that we all exist within.

Jan Brueghel, Garden of Eden
In the Jewish and Christian traditions, this relationship forms the very basis of human existence. At the very beginning of our scriptures, as humankind is formed from the Earth, we are told that the meaning and purpose of human existence is to “till and to tend” – to live in, care for, and cultivate creation. In Islam, the created order is a sacred prayer to God and an ayat, a sign of the Creator that humans have been created as stewards of. In the dharmic traditions, interconnectedness means that we are a part of a larger web of existence in which we should strive to maintain balance and harmony. All of our faiths, in unique ways, challenge us to live out a healthy relationship with our larger world. Earth Day is an opportunity for people of many faiths to gather around something that is central to all faiths but proprietary to none.

All faiths have wisdom to share on the human relationship with nature, and they all have an obligation to do so. As Iranian-American philosopher and Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr argues, "the environmental crisis is fundamentally a crisis of values." Religions are accountable for the values of the cultures they inform and so they bear responsibility for the impacts of our cultures on the environment.

Learning how to coexist with one another as a global community of diverse cultures and traditions is inherently tied up in how we learn to coexist with the planet we share. Humans do not have a choice but to figure out how to coexist with one another in a way that is in accordance with the well-being of the larger world. Our shared humanity is inherently tied up in our shared residence on the Earth, and intercultural or interfaith work can ignore neither. It is for this very reason that Earth Day was originally envisioned as a day of not only environmentalism but also peace

This year, Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light and Seattle University's School of Theology and Ministry, Interreligious Dialogue Initiative, and Campus Ministry are gathering people of many faiths to explore how each of our diverse traditions puts people in touch with the natural world. Speakers from five different communities - an Orthodox rabbi, Muslim community leader, Episcopal priest, Zen Buddhist, and Swinomish tribal elder – will be sharing what their faith teaches about the human relationship with nature. If you live in the Seattle area, we encourage you to join us, and over one billion people worldwide, on April 30, 2014, 4:30-6:00pm, at Seattle University, Student Center 160. For more information, click here.