Where do we get hope, and the motivation to persevere? For many in the sustainability movement, that motivation comes from a deep connection to the wellspring of Spirit, by whatever name one chooses to call the ultimate mystery at the source and end of life.
Fritz Hull, a founder and co-director (together with his wife and partner Vivienne) of Chinook Learning Center on Whidbey Island, studied at Princeton Thelogical Seminary and San Francisco Seminary, and he has devoted the past two decades to exploring the new forms our relationship to Spirit must take in the context of our emerging ecological knowledge. Fritz and Vivienne were also guest editors of IC #24 on "Earth and Spirit," which is intended to serve as an informal briefing packet to the international Earth and Spirit Conference that Chinook is sponsoring in October, 1990. For more information on Chinook or the conference, write PO Box 57, Clinton, WA 98236.
Alan: Chinook has been in existence for 18 years now, yet it seems to be in a state of perpetual questioning. How would you describe the question?
Fritz: I suppose the question that we entertain all the time in our minds is, "What is happening in our world, and what response is being called forth from us? What, in fact, is being required of us?" As Thomas Berry says, the Earth itself is mandating a response that’s never been asked of any previous generation, and we have a new responsibility commensurate with our new understanding and knowledge. A lot is required of us, and quickly, because there’s also a lot to lose. Those of us in Chinook feel that this is not only a time of great opportunity, but a period of tremendous peril.
The environment is truly endangered, probably far more than our minds are able to comprehend. There will be much more understanding and acceptance of that in the next few years as the data rolls in. So Chinook has always tried to sense the true situation on the planet, and what’s being asked of sensitive, awake, responsible human beings.
Alan: What is your current best answer – understanding that all answers are partial and provisional – to that perpetual question?
Fritz: The first thing that is required is that we not hide from, or in any way deny, the true facts of our time, especially in terms of the environment. That’s a very hard thing to do. It’s tremendously sobering – and frightening. There are moments when I feel an apprehension growing in myself as I watch, out my own window, the destruction of the physical environment. So I have to call on that part of myself which is hopeful, which is able to envision a world beyond that destruction, and to give myself hopefully and creatively to the realizing of that world. We really must do this. It is essential now to envision the world that we want, because what we envision will draw us into it. In large measure we will create it … or co-create it.
Alan: Chinook embodies beautifully the balance between developing and nurturing oneself and being concerned with the needs of the world. But how can the person who doesn’t have access to a support system like Chinook develop that balance – and deal, for example, with the incredible power of the feelings that come up around these issues?
Fritz: There’s a relatively unexplored and, at times, misunderstood dynamic operating here. We need to couple our focus on our own growth and well-being with self-giving service and love for others and for the planet. The two belong together; they are not mutually exclusive. Service will not always cause burn-out. I think service has been given a bad rap over the past couple of decades in our society.
For a lot of us, there has been tremendous attention focused on individual growth – all those workshops on personal empowerment and becoming a truer, stronger, self-determining person. That’s probably a tremendous advance, but at this point it doesn’t appear to be well-balanced. Some people are unable to connect with the wider environment. They are unwilling, and perhaps afraid, to discover how giving oneself to others and to the world is, in fact, empowering. It is nourishing. There is a way that our personal needs are more than met as we seek to meet the needs of the world. For me, it’s best expressed by Jesus, who says "The one who seeks his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life will find it."
Now, with the demands of a deteriorating environment pressing in upon us, I think more and more of us are going to find ways to serve each other and to serve the whole earth community. We need to support each other in those endeavors, and to discover the ways that this is going to be a nourishing and not a depleting activity. The natural world itself will support us. The earth will nourish us – it always has. So we need to make ourselves available to the power and the great blessing that will come to us from the natural world, from the created order.
Sometimes even the very drama of activity and involvement, like participating in a great march or demonstration, is exhilarating and life-affirming. People will be given strength through banding together and working collaboratively on all sorts of projects to bring health to the planet. We will enjoy the activity.
But what we must guard against is approaching the damaged environment as one more in a long list of social ills. Sometimes it’s tiring even to think about trying to be responsible for one more thing that’s gone wrong. In a creation-centered theology and spirituality, it is our calling and our challenge to bring healing to the planet. But it comes out of a spirit of great compassion and connection, feelings of deep kinship – what Theodore Roszak calls a "vital reciprocity" between ourselves and the rest of the natural world. It begins with affirming our role as part of nature.
During the last three hundred years we’ve been cocooning ourselves in a human-made environment, and positioning ourselves as Olympian observers over and against nature. It’s no wonder that we have so mindlessly bludgeoned the natural world, because we’ve not felt that identity with it. We are one species among millions. We must quickly rekindle that part of ourselves that knows our identity as part of the natural world, and then reconceptualize our unique role as humans on the planet – what Tom Berry calls "reinventing the human." We must learn quickly what our role is now and play it. We must be unafraid of it, and assume our true position in the creation.
Alan: This is a way of thinking that goes much deeper than simply being "planetary stewards."
Fritz: Yes, it’s a sense of our role as the ones who, through love, exercise creative vision for all of life. We have already taken on that role on the planet anyway. In many ways we really do have life in our hands. We’ve brought ourselves to that point. And it would be easy, perhaps, to panic at this point and step back from that responsibility and challenge, when truly the only thing to do is to step forward into it with an ever greater mindfulness of the repercussions of our creative action. We must ask, "How will this affect planetary existence?" We must have a greater sense of the longer term or broader range results of our actions.
Compassion will do that – compassion for our children and our children’s children. We need to imagine the life that we are bequeathing to them, to care about that, and act from that sense of love.
Alan: It’s a very inviting road you’re describing. But where on this evolutionary pathway do you see the religious institutions?
Fritz: Many religious institutions, in this country at least, are disoriented. They’re profoundly confused, and they don’t know what to do. They’re hardly even begun to awaken to what could be the role of religious institutions with regard to the natural world. The "main line" churches are falling in membership every year, and they’re often obsessed with maintaining their own institutional life. And it’s almost an impossible task to maintain the organizational life of these institutions and be creative.
There’s an emerging planetary spirituality that has a life of its own, and it’s developing very quickly across all the borders, boundaries and categories of spiritual life. It’s also happening to some small degree in religious organizations – although the people in them are often torn between loyalty toward older institutions and the unnerving creativity of something that seems not quite within the boundaries of accepted religious thought and language. Outside these conventional structures there’s great work underway to create the new thought forms and the new language to express the activity of Spirit that’s now afoot.
Alan: Will the institutions reemerge like the phoenix, with a new sense of identity and purpose, or will we see the emergence of a completely new order?
Fritz: It’s not my inclination to prophesy. These things usually end up to be some kind of mixture of old and new. But the traditional institutions will be under increasing challenge by an emerging spiritual life definitely will take form. This could even appear as new forms of the church. The new wine of Spirit will again, as always, require new wine skins.
Alan: Clearly there are some big challenges ahead on the road. What do we need to be prepared to confront?
Fritz: What is required of us now is a fearlessness in facing the power, albeit fading, of those religious institutions that would still wish to control thinking by insisting on acceptable theologies and hymns and prayer books – and extending that control over the hearts and minds of people. These organizations could become panicky as they lose their power. We must speak our truth to that power and say "no" to it. We must not allow our lives to be lived under the tyranny of any religious system or organization, from Protestant fundamentalism to the rigid aspects of the Roman Catholic church.
We need to break out of the confinement of traditional and stereotypical religious thought and language. At the same time we must keep hold of what is of value within our traditions – all those things that are, and probably always will be, empowering and freeing. For me personally this centers on the life and teachings of Jesus. We must not lose the heart and genius of our traditions. That would be a terrible error and arrogance.
The other side of that is to feel the power in ourselves to create at least the transitional or provisional new forms, so that people can come together and express themselves and do creative work.
Alan: More like what the early Christian church used to be.
Fritz: That’s right. There is that ever present need in the human heart for a deep level of community and openness to the visitation of Spirit. We have a lot of work to do to create those forms, and I think Chinook is one of them. We’re not presenting this to the world as a model, except in the sense that we have taken upon ourselves the responsibility of seeking to create a new form. The form itself isn’t exactly the model; the intent to create the form is the model.
Another challenge is that we must work always and only in the spirit of collaboration. We must bear witness in all of our organizational endeavors to what we now identify rather glibly as the interdependence of all life. The danger would be in falling back into patterns of rivalry and competition and assumed superiority, born of feelings of inadequacy. We must require of ourselves a heightened willingness to cooperate. Each organization fulfills its own unique purpose and function, and they all are truly part of the whole. We need to be permeable and helpful and catalytic for each other, and to unmask as quickly as we can the fears that underlie our insistence upon simply doing it our way. We can’t afford to do that anymore, and we won’t get very far if we do. And we won’t be bearing witness to the cooperative, ecological model on which planetary life is based.
There is a new spirit of hope in the world, particularly because of what has just been happening in Eastern Europe and the USSR and other places, that is drawing us out of the mood of feeling impotent to change anything. But, as we understand the magnitude of the environmental crisis, we could become depressed and angry. We’ll be challenged to find the reserve of hopefulness and creativity with which to successfully engage this crisis. We cannot lose the spirit of confidence, and resilience, and eagerness to look for solutions, and acting out of a spirit of courage – and we can’t forget to have a good time as we go! An element of playfulness or fun is a basic ingredient in building a new, sustainable life on the planet, because humor and playfulness give a sense of proportion and are in themselves empowering.
Alan: Do you think we’re prepared for what’s ahead?
Fritz: I’m afraid to say it, but I think a lot of what will happen is going to be far worse than we ever imagined. How could it not be, with burgeoning populations of peoples, and threats to all the major life systems of the planet? At the same time, I’m imagining that some things are probably going to break open for us in positive ways beyond our present imagining, as has just happened in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and with the new and rapid acceptance of the environmental movement.
In the next few years, everbody is going to become an environmentalist. There will be a lot of activity that will, in fact, begin to slow the crisis in certain areas and bring us to a consciousness that we can create a better world for ourselves. That will also require of us a willingness to live in radically different ways. But I think we’re going to cross a point where we will, almost quite suddenly, be willing to do that. We will begin to think in new ways and develop a new ethic around creating a sustainable future.
Alan: I often like to end interviews with "the unasked question." What question did I not ask?
Fritz: There is often an unasked question for many of us. And that is: Is the universe a friendly place? Is there anything happening on our behalf that exceeds what you and I think we can do? Are there unseen hands helping us, not only as individuals, but working on behalf of the whole planet, the whole universe? Is there a destiny that is calling the whole human family, and the whole planetary family, that we can trust?
I have a basic confidence that there is a great love and grace working in the universe that has always sustained the development and the history of the planet and all of human life, and it will continue to do so. That’s one way that our own confidence is informed, by knowing that there is a far greater power working on our behalf, making accessible to us all the resources we need to create the way in which we are to go as a species. It doesn’t have to be called God – this can go by any name or no name – but my sense is that we’re all increasingly open to a sensibility about this reality … this power.
There is a greater acknowledgment of this mystery working around us and in us and between us, and we are quickly learning to access and to trust and to co-create with it more than we ever have. We need only to open our inmost sensitivities to this source of love and truth and to maintain our hopefulness and our creativity and our personal vitality, and to work together.
by Robert Sund
Singer in the shadows, wake up.
A song is required that has never been before.
A cleansing wind will announce you.
Afterwards, the sea will fall silent
and you will sing and then be lost again
as the sea commences.
A small stone set before the door of eternity
the day you were honored.
by Robert Sund
The running stream
On the bank, in the shadows,
a small yellow flower
with sunlight at its feet
puts my life together.
The little bird that is
going to heal me
is hopping around in the bushes.
From As Though the Word Blue Had Been Dropped Into the Water, 1986, Sagittarius Press