“What is the Power of Your Love?” Vows Renewal Ceremony for Eco-Chaplaincy
by Rev. Lauren Van Ham, M.A.
Rev. Lauren Van Ham
I delivered the following homily last June at my Renewing Ceremony. The ceremony was created as a ritual wherein I could renew my 1999 Ordination vows as an Interfaith minister and also profess myself an Eco-chaplain. Similar to a minister whose Call is healthcare ministry or prison ministry, I had come to understand, through a prayerful discernment process, that my Call is to care for the Earth and all Her inhabitants in a very intentional way. With CHI ’s endorsement and the blessing of my spiritual communities, I stepped into this new “office” on June 23, 2007. The ceremony began with an invocation by Jane DeCuir, of the Cherokee Metis Nation.
In seminary I was taught that Interfaith ritual should begin first by honoring the land on which you are gathered and the people to whom it belongs. Thank you, Jane for your presence here today.
I’ve heard that when the Europeans began arriving in America, they confused the Native People by asking them to translate “God” and “nature.” In many indigenous languages, of course, the two words are the same. It’s the newer languages that felt a need to distinguish the God we know in nature as different from the God we know, perhaps, in the train station.
Looking for God, seeking the Holy in a variety of settings, is the work of a chaplain. Just as the chapel is separate from the church or temple, a chaplain resolves to create sacred space in the complexity of hospitals, war zones, city streets, Wal-Mart… At first glance, these intense places may be perceived as separate and God-less. A chaplain’s call is to bring some light; to prophetically state, “Here, too. No matter how horrid, the Source of our Breath abides in this place, too.”
A year ago, I began to see that my work was changing. Caring for the Earth had become my deep love in ministry. I admit I’ve been making it up as I go, but I’ve been calling the work “Eco-chaplaincy.” I say it with love and dread because, after all, what does it mean when our Earth is so ravaged that it too, like a prison or the Iraqi desert, needs a chaplain? And what, exactly, does an Eco-chaplain do?
One of my favorite movies of all times is Mary Poppins. I love how Mary Poppins finds magic in the mundane. I also love her fastidious tendencies. For a good long while now, I’ve wished badly I could snap my fingers and—just like the toys in Jane and Michael’s nursery—have the environment return itself to a lush, forested, healthy planet. In Mary Poppins’ world, it’s fine to use what’s around you and to play with vigor, so long as you put it back…each article in its right place.
Last Fall, I went through a dark, troubling period. In the world around me, nothing was being returned to its right place. I saw 1-person-per-car idling on the freeway, an endless supply of Styrofoam cups and plastic bags being used once and tossed. Then one day, walking down University Ave., I saw a “SALE” sign at Goodwill.
What does it mean when a thrift store has so much stuff it requires storewide liquidation?!? We are clearing the Earth’s forests to the tune of 69 acres per minute, so we can drive to the store and buy stuff, to give to Goodwill, so they can send it to the landfill, some of it contaminating our soil and water for a millennium or more. What is going on??? The whole scene had me feeling desperate, judgmental and angry … a pretty undesirable litany for a minister.
I knew that blame was pointless and staying mad felt miserable, so I did what one is wont to do when feeling sad, afraid, and misunderstood: I turned toward what I love. I spent a lot of time alone, turning toward the rocks, the trees, the smells of nature. With some kind coaching and encouragement, I got strong enough to ride my bike into these hills so I could sweat and breathe Mother Earth’s theology. It’s Her theology, after all, that gives birth to all the others. The miracle of our 15 billion year story on this planet is what, for me, truly makes sense. We are this soil, this water, one great breath, breathing together.
As I connected again with all that I am and what I so dearly love, I began to thaw. The anger melted to grief, and the words of Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy comforted me: “The grief you carry for this world comes from your love for it. It is high time we tasted the power of your love.”
My work as an Eco-chaplain, I’m coming to see, lies in the very heart of this question: What is the power of your love? My guess and my hope is that there are more Eco-chaplains on the way.
I’m not at all certain how this work will continue to evolve, but I would like to close by sharing my present intention for what I will do in this role:
As an Eco-chaplain, I want to remind us all of our True Nature. We are inextricably connected and linked to everything in this universe.
From this awareness, I want to act and serve on behalf of all species, advocating eco-justice. I want, like Mary Poppins, to teach that the magic is in the mundane. I want to celebrate the abundance inherent in simplicity.
In the face of adversity or despair, of which I know there will be plenty, I want to practice not closing down, but rather, “allowing in.” I’ve heard this practice described as “poor man’s equanimity.” With the stakes so high and the enormity of the crisis so deadening, “poor man’s equanimity” frees us to move and act without the guarantee of success. After all, I have no clue how this story ends. The Divine invitation for each of us is to bring our creativity, our compassion and our Whole Self to each moment … one at a time.
And finally, the biggest secret: I want to do this work with joy! An Eco-chaplain’s work, though wrought with a sense of urgency, is wonderfully Joyful! I believe this is so because in caring for our interconnection to all and with all, I can clearly recognize—at least for brief, ecstatic moments—that there is no end to our mutual belonging.
If we humans want to live sustainably on this Earth, we have our work cut out for us, big time. As an Eco-chaplain and fellow human, my vote is that we get busy. And I invite us, like Mary Poppins, to find the magic in the mundane—to draw deeply from the wellspring of joy and love.
The Divine is ready, willing, awaiting our next act.
What is the power of your love?