Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter and the Environment: Spiritual and Cultural Transformation

The symbolism of Easter offers an opportunity to reflect on the importance of the natural world and the shift of consciousness required for the survival of life on this planet. If we are to find a way forward we urgently need to address climate change and environmental degradation.  To alter our perilous trajectory we need to assume responsibility for the state of our world. Science alone will not take us where we need to go. We need a spiritual transformation that will enable us to address the wide range of human activities that are adversely impacting the Earth's geology and ecosystems.  James Gustave Speth is an environmental scientist who believes that science cannot solve the crisis we face.

"I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy." Speth said, adding, "to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation - and we scientists don't know how to do that." Speth is the dean and professor in the practice of environmental policy and sustainable development at Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

The egg is a prominent symbol of Easter and a fitting metaphor for the Earth. An egg symbolizes the promise of new life and at the same it is fragile and can be easily broken. As a Christian event and as a festival celebrating the return of spring, Easter calls us to remember the cycles of renewal and the interconnectedness of life and death.

Above all, Easter symbolizes rebirth, and renewal. From an ecological perspective this is precisely what is required as we engage the serious work of being better environmental stewards. A number of symbols have become part of the Easter tradition. Some are directly related to the life of Jesus Christ and others are rooted in pagan traditions.

For Christians, Easter is a celebration of Christ's resurrection, the ultimate symbol of rebirth. Easter's known pagan origins date back to the 8th century, specifically an Anglo-Saxon fertility goddess known as "Eostre," whose name may be derived from "eastre," meaning spring.

Easter eggs are derived from Celtic and Teutonic pagan traditions. Eggs are directly associated with springtime festivals in many older texts and narratives. From a Christian perspective, Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus' emergence from the tomb and resurrection.

Decorating eggs for Easter is a tradition that dates back to at least the 13th century. One explanation for this custom is that eggs were formerly a forbidden food during the Lenten season, so people would paint and decorate them to mark the end of the period of penance and fasting, then eat them on Easter as a celebration.

Judaism celebrates Passover around this time of year and it commemorates the Hebrews' escape from Egyptian enslavement. This is metaphorically relevant to ecology as a symbol of freedom from the bondage of environmental destruction.

With so many around the world seeking to renew our relationship to the Earth, Easter is particularly relevant in modern times.

Easter is an opportunity to reconsider our relationship to this planet, and a good time to reflect on the truly transformational work that lies ahead. Easter is also an aspirational homage to the possibility that we can live in harmony with our environment.

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