Prayer for the earth is vital in today’s spirituality. Why would this be so?
Prayer is a response to a need, our need, the Beloved’s need, and at this present time most pressingly, the need of the earth. In whatever way we are drawn to pray, there is a vital need to include the earth in our prayers. We are living in a time of ecological devastation, the catastrophic effect of our materialistic culture on the ecosystem. Our rivers are toxic, the rainforests slashed and burned, vast tracts of land made a wasteland due to our insatiable desires for oil, gas, and minerals. We have raped and pillaged and polluted the earth, pushing it into the dangerous state of imbalance we call climate change. Creation itself is now calling to us, sending us signs of its imbalance, and the soul of the world, the anima mundi, which the ancients understood as the spiritual presence of the earth, is crying out. We can see these signs in all the recent floods and droughts, feel it in the poisoning of the land from pesticides and other contaminants. Those whose hearts are open may hear it too, in the cry of the world soul, of the spiritual being of our mother the earth. It is a cry of need and despair: human beings, who were supposed to be the guardians of the planet, who long ago were taught the sacred names of creation,95 have forgotten their responsibility and instead have systematically and heedlessly desecrated and destroyed the earth on a global scale. And now the earth and its waters are dying.
We are the children and inheritors of a culture that has banished God to heaven. Early Christianity persecuted and ultimately largely extinguished any earth-based spirituality, and the physical world became a place of darkness and sin. Then after the Age of Enlightenment, the prevailing world view that grew out of Newtonian physics framed the world as an inanimate mechanism we could easily master, indeed were meant to master; we simply needed to discover its laws to tame it to our own ends. As a legacy of that view we have developed a materialistic culture that treats the earth as a commodity that exists to serve our own selfish purpose. Our greed now walks with heavy boots across the world, with complete disregard for the sacred nature of creation. We have cared only for our own material comforts and well-being, and as a result live in a dying world whose soul cries to us in despair. And yet, because for centuries we have been taught to see ourselves as separate from the world and the world as just an object we should try to control, we have forgotten that it even has a soul. We have cut ourselves off from the living world in all its interconnectedness. Our Western culture no longer knows how to relate to the world as a sacred being.
Now the world needs our prayers more than we know. It needs us to acknowledge its sacred nature, to understand that it is not just something to use and dispose of. It needs us to help it to reconnect with its own sacred source, the life-giving waters of creation that can save it from destruction. It needs us to remember it to the Creator. We are needed now to reclaim our sacred duty as guardian, or vice-regent,96 of the natural world. Externally we must help the earth return to balance, help our ecosystem to physically heal itself. And within our own hearts and souls we must help to redeem what has been desecrated: we are needed to pray for the earth and all its creatures.
In our prayers and devotions we need to reconnect with the sacred substance in creation, what the Sufis refer to as the “secret of the word ‘Kun!’ (‘Be!’).” We need to place the earth within our hearts and nourish it with our love and offer it in remembrance to God. We know how to pray for our own troubles; we have cried the tears of our own pain of separation and turned in our despair back to our Beloved. Now we must do the same for the earth with which we are so interconnected, which sustains and nourishes us even as we abuse it. We need to reaffirm the bond of love between the Creator and the creation, just as we need to affirm our own bond with our Beloved. The mystic knows that only divine love can heal and transform what has been so neglected and abused. Love is the greatest power in creation and through our prayers we can help to bring this love into life, into the planet, into its soil and rivers. Through our prayers we can once again honor the Divine as a living force within creation.
If we acknowledge our sacred role as guardians of the planet we will see the power of our prayers, our capacity to reconnect the earth to its sacred nature just as we have cut it off. Through our hearts and souls we can reunite spirit and matter; our prayers can bring grace and love where they are most needed within the world. Many of us know the effectiveness of prayers for others, have seen how healing and help are given, even in the most unexpected ways. The world is part of our being and needs our prayers too. The world needs the grace that can only come from its Creator. It is in such a desperate state that it needs the miracles that can only come from God. And human beings are the connection between the worlds. Our prayers can be the prayers of the whole of creation, reconnecting heaven and earth.
There are many ways to pray for the earth. First it is essential to acknowledge that the earth is not “unfeeling matter” but a living being that has given us life. It can be helpful to ask ourselves, how would we like to be treated just as a physical object to be used and repeatedly abused? Then perhaps we can sense the earth’s suffering: the physical suffering we see in the dying species and polluted waters, the deeper suffering of our collective disregard for its sacred nature. Perhaps, if we open our hearts and souls to the being we call the world, we will be able to hear the cry of the anima mundi, of its soul. For centuries it was understood that the world was a living being with a soul, and that we were a part of this being, the light of our own soul a spark, a scintilla, of the light of the world soul.97 As a culture we have forgotten that, but this understanding is the foundation of the prayer that is needed now. Through it we make that connection conscious once again; we help bring our light back to the world soul.
Once we remember in our minds and in our hearts that the world is a sacred being of which we are a part, once we hear its cry, our prayers will flow more easily and naturally. We will be drawn to pray, each in our own way. One simple way is to place the world as a living being within our hearts when we inwardly offer our self to God. We remember the sorrow and suffering of the world to the Creator, and ask that the world be remembered, that divine love and mercy flow where they are needed. We pray that “His mercy be greater than His justice,” that even though we continue to treat the world so badly, God will help us and help the world—help to bring the earth back into balance. We need to remember that the power of the Divine is more than that of all the global corporations that continue to make the world a wasteland, even more than the global forces of consumerism that demand the life-blood of the planet. We pray that our Beloved can redeem and heal this beautiful and suffering world.
Sometimes it is easier to pray when we feel the earth in our hands, when we work in the garden tending our flowers or vegetables. Or when we cook, cutting up the vegetables that the earth has given us, mixing in the herbs and spices that give us pleasure. Or making love, as we share our body and bliss with our lover, we may feel the tenderness and power of creation, how a single spark can give birth. Then our lovemaking can be an offering to life itself, a fully felt remembrance of the ecstasy of creation.
The divine oneness of life is within and all around us. Sometimes walking alone in nature we can feel its heartbeat and its wonder, and our steps become steps of remembrance. The simple practice of “walking in a sacred manner” in which with every step we take we feel the connection with the sacred earth is another way to reconnect with the living spirit of the earth.
There are so many ways to pray for creation, to listen within and include the earth in our practice. Watching the simple wonder of a dawn can be a prayer in itself. Or when we hear the chorus of birds in the morning we may sense that deeper joy of life and awaken to its divine nature. At night the stars can remind us of what is infinite and eternal within us and within the world. Whatever way we are drawn to wonder or pray, what matters is always the attitude we bring to this intimate exchange: whether our prayers are heartfelt rather than just a mental exercise. It is always through the heart that our prayers are heard, even if we first make the connection in our feet or hands. Do we really feel the suffering of the earth, sense its need? Do we feel this connection with creation, do we feel ourselves a part of this beautiful and suffering being? Then our prayers are alive, a living stream that flows from our heart. Then every step, every touch, will be a prayer for the earth, a remembrance of what is sacred. We are a part of the earth calling to its Creator, crying in its time of need.
This chapter was excerpted from Prayer of the Heart by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee by permission of Golden Sufi Center.
For more of this book, please visit http://goldensufi.org/book_desc_prayer_heart.html
And, coming soon from Golden Sufi Center and Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth
Find out more at http://spiritualecology.org/publication/spiritual-ecology-cry-earth/press-materials