Week 7 & 8

Our mini-course together ends on a pragmatic question: how do we “translate forward” Swedenborgian theology into 21st century contexts? What actual, practical inflections into every day life do Swedenborg’s writings have to offer for an environmental ethos?

We will be conversing via Adobe Connect next week (exact time and date to be determined) with Lincoln Smith, founder of Forested Creative Ecology and life-long Swedenborgian. He has suggested we look at his website (click on hyperlink above) and read an essay by Garth Brown on adapting Swedenborgian thought to Aldo Leopold’s land ethic.  I would also like you to read, as planned, the short text from Leslie Sponsel’s Spiritual Ecology (all texts available under the Texts tab).

As background on Leopold — and how and why his ideas might (or might not) mesh well with Swedenborgian teachings — please see first the video posted under minilecture 7 / 8 — instead of me blathering on as usual, there’s a really good excerpt from a current documentary of Leopold’s life and work that brings out the ways his thinking has great utility in contemporary environmental contexts. It’s not very long, at around fifteen minutes, and I’d suggest you watch that first before reading into the other materials. While Leopold was not a direct reader of Swedenborg in the ways that Emerson or Muir certainly were–Garth Brown briefly talks about Leopold’s relationship to Christianity in his essay–Leopold was very much influenced by the work of the Russian mystic philosopher P. D. Ouspensky , who wrote out of an “occult” or “esoteric” context where many Swedenborgian ideas had come to diffuse themselves by the end of the 19th century.

I’d like the discussion  below to be more of an open-forum, where you can write your own reflections. As a kick-starter, I am posting some observations that Lincoln wrote up after looking at some pieces here on the blog, and the course of the conversations we were having.

Here’s what Lincoln had to say:

A forest garden is a planting modeled on the forest but designed to produce large yields for people. One reason I came to forest gardening as a Swedenborgian Christian: I had a wish to play more gently with the beings of God’s creation. The poet Tennyson’s famous lines from “In Memoriam” sum up the roots of one of my recurring crises of faith:
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law [I did, because of Swedenborg]
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed
How could an all-loving God create a world where everything survives by preying on other living things? I still wonder. But it helps to know that today’s mainstream science hold that there is at least as much mutualism in natural communities as there is predation and parasitism. For example, here’s a quote I share with my students about the interaction between forest plants:
Extensive underground subway-like networks [of root fungi] may link a wide variety of plants growing in the same area. A large oak tree may be feeding not only its fungal partner but also other plants nearby. In forests, light levels may be too low for short seedlings to photosynthesize. Organic compounds in the mycorrhizal pipeline can power seedling growth to a size large enough to intercept sunlight for photosynthesis.” Plant Biology (Graham, Graham, Wilcox), page 366.
But these kinds of mutualistic interaction are severely limited in conventional industrial monocultures—corn plants cannot feed other corn plants, or divide up the resources available in a piece of ground, because they are all seeking exactly the same resources at exactly the same time. They all occupy the same niche.
What could be the correspondential spiritual cause of these monocultures replacing ecosystems, of a new human-caused mass extinction (mentioned by Mary Evelyn Tucker in her video on your blog)? Our agricultural monocultures are currently doing a rather amazing job of feeding 7bn people, but they are also strangling global biodiversity. 40% of the world’s land is now dedicated to producing food for people—it is a land use larger than any ecosystem type such as forest or grassland. Can we as a species accept our responsibility to re-design these vast supply systems to restore biodiversity? This depends, I think, on where the globe goes spiritually.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.…God blessed [the people], and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth. Also to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth in which there is a living soul, I have given every green herb as food.” Genesis 1:1, 28, 30.
Created the heavens and the earth:  “’Heaven’ means the internal man, and ‘earth’ the external man prior to regeneration.” Secrets of Heaven, Swedenborg, number 16
Will we follow God’s command to fill the earth and subdue it? i.e., will we fill our natural self with spirit, and subjugate our natural desires to God’s higher spiritual calling? If we can fill the earth and subdue it within ourselves—become more spiritual and therefore less grasping of treasures on earth—perhaps biodiversity in the natural world will recover, as we stop over-exploiting its resources. Perhaps forest gardens can be part of our sustainable future as a way of tending the garden God planted, rather than desperately destroying it.

2 responses to “Week 7 & 8

  1. Thank you, Lincoln, for sharing that. I look forward to “meeting” you on Friday!

  2. I enjoyed reading the prologue to “Spiritual Ecology.” Sponsel’s definition of spiritual ecology as stated on the first page, is very satisfying. As a Christian who is also an evolutionist, I sometimes feel cornered by the combination of secularists and conservative Christians. Sponsel’s definition is inclusive without being amorphous.

    I was encouraged to read about the Interfaith Power and Light Project, and am wondering if the denomination has been invited to join, or has joined it? Also the Forum on Religion and Ecology and the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture offer hope.

    I profoundly agree that the “ecocrisis” we are facing results “from human alienation from nature combined with the disenchantment, objectification, and commodification of nature.” With regard to whether or not humans are all born with the capacity to see the intrinsic value of nature, I believe we are. And that the combination of nature/nurture plays into it the way it plays into darn near everything else.

    Likewise I enjoyed Brown’s paper, “Toward A New Church Land Ethic.” When he began the portion dedicated specifically to Swedenborgian theology, I thought he was being aggravatingly left-brained, and wondered what I was in for. I calmed down when he suggested that since ES writes that the sun may be seen to correspond to our father and the earth like our mother, that we therefor are enjoined by the fourth commandment to respect the land. I loved the Wendell Berry quote that he finishes with, as well as the quote from Psalm 24:1.

    I’ve enjoyed the course very much. I expect to be doing further reading on the relationship between spirituality and ecology.

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