Last week I went for a long walk on the beach with a friend of mine. We met at the West parking lot of the Spanish Banks, one of Vancouver’s famous city beaches where the ocean provides a playground for so many urban dwellers. This day was to be the day with the lowest tide of the year. Consequently, at low tide the ocean floor is exposed bare and one can walk far out into English Bay and up the beach. We left at 11:00 a.m. and slowly walked westward on the sand past the infamous Wreck Beach and on to the Northern arm of the Fraser River. There we sat and shared a light picnic lunch, admired the views and the flights of herons, eagles, and other birds and the occasional seal poking its head up from the ocean. There seemed to be a sacred balance in how the creatures of the air and the creatures of the sea moved and had their being over and in the ocean. Later, we headed back towards our starting point. The tide by this time had begun to turn and so on the way back we had to scramble over more rocks than sand and to move quickly so as to not be caught by the tide. We finished our hike about 4:00 p.m. and headed home. Although mostly a cloudy day, the sun did come out at times allowing us to feel ever so blessed.
Earlier that week I had attended an evening focused on climate change and our need to promote sustainable living and renewable energy to counteract our current unsustainable reliance upon fossil fuels. A meeting of local and distant (via telecommunication) environmental activists it was a well-attended meeting held at Christ Church Cathedral. One of the goals of the meeting was to strengthen the movement across the world of people who wish to make climate change and the natural environment a priority for political and economic decision makers. This is a worthy goal given the increasing evidence of the environmental crisis we are living through and the need for humans to change our ways.
This crisis presents us with an opportunity. We can continue to operate in the ways we have for centuries or we can turn our gaze to the ‘other’, in this case the ‘other’ of the natural world, and adapt eco-friendly modes of relating and commerce. We are on the cusp of a great change in global consciousness one that could help human civilization to continue. But, such a consciousness will require action, engagement, otherwise it will be dismissed by historians as a form of twenty-first century Gnosticism. It is for this reason that we need to bring the best of our world’s religions and wisdom philosophies to bear upon the environmental challenges we face for many of these know how to navigate through the dangers of misplaced spirituality and to promote appropriate, engaged spiritualities.
From my own Judeo-Christian tradition I recall the teaching from Deuteronomy, “See, I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendents might live’ (Deut. 30:20). Ah, yes, seeing and choosing, two important moments in living a spiritual life. On top of this I recall the line from Ecclesiastes, “All rivers run to the sea but the sea is never full” (Eccl. 1.7-8). There is wisdom in such teachings. Indeed, all one needs to do is read the newspapers to know that the environmental crisis is real and that hard choices need to be made. Sometimes walking on an ocean floor at low tide and by a sea that is never full at high tide, can help us to regain our focus and our sacred balance.