Assuming Ecofeminism and Other Elementary Topics

In my valiant and stumbling effort to describe yoga to my grandfather I was confronted with the weight of my own assumptions of reality and shared human experience. He asked at the most basic level, what is a yoga class like? Well, you know, it’s yoga in a room full of people with a person leading you through poses. What else is there to say? Come on, let’s talk philosophy and how all these postures are sweeping me along my spiritual quest! Oh wait, first we have to define and describe the room, the teacher, the poses, and yoga itself and explain what brought me to something as foreign as a four thousand year old discipline anyway…

I cannot keep leaving out the breaths between words, the leaps between aspirations, the years of error and fear and breakthrough that led to the person I am always becoming. I have to account for all that I am now before I can expound on such distant abstractions as spiritual quests. This must be a ridiculously elementary realization, but I know my reflections will root themselves in a constructive version of reality only when I ground my words in deliberate consciousness. For all that I have learned of late, the greatest epiphanies have emerged from interrogating the truths that have long been assimilated into who I am.

Rosemary Radford Reuther‘s Gaia and God: An Ecofeminst Theology of Earth Healing took me months to finish as I slogged through discussions of the foundational myths/ideas of Sumerian, Hebrew, Platonic, Hellenic, and Christian traditions – I am sure I am missing a few that she discussed at length, but I was just trying to get to the good stuff. The “good stuff” ended up being the last thirty pages in which she largely agreed with Carol Christ and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (with notable exceptions) and expressed her own theories on how we must live in mutuality with this earth and pursue a biophilic existence. She talked about reimagining energy production and transportation and the food chain and communities – all of the hard stuff that we refuse to hear is necessary to stop global warming (even if we secretly fear it really will be that hard). I skipped millennia of religious thought to get to the bit where she corroborated everything I believe already. After countless generations of destructive, wasteful, egomanical regimes bent on domination, the world is horrifically screwed up and only a lived philosophy based in the interdependency of all living things and the transience of the self will redeem us (but not in the Judgement Day sort of way…). Did I actually gain anything from this book besides a few interesting quotes and a vague reminder of the divisions inherent in Platonism and the negation of the material in Augustine? Is it a failing of the volume itself that the majority of it was taken with outlining the bitterness of patriarchy rather than defining an “ecofeminist theocosmology”? Is there really that much ground to cover regarding the cultural norms of the West that have made the subjugation of women and nature normal and even necessary to the propagation of civilization as we know it? Granted this book was written in 1992 and two theses on the spiritual aspects of Irish women’s poetry leave me in the unique position of having already absorbed the basic truths of Reuther’s thesis without forcing me to unlearn several thousand years of history. She was born in 1932 and I was born in 1979; the choir that educated me had been preached to quite effectively and was nicely won over before I even started questioning the absolute sovereignty of Christianity.

What I wish this book had given me was a coherent narrative that could inform my seemingly inherent belief in the sacredness of the earth and the human responsibility to all life on this planet. I realize my inability to draw such arguments from this book stems from my own lack of attention and the fact that I was an English major not a theology major (Boston College didn’t seem open to teaching my kind of religion as I defined it at 18…). It is my strong academic bent that pushes me to find evidence to support my thesis. I feel I cannot stand behind facts that I have not questioned deeply.

But wait, if my “seemingly inherent beliefs” can be translated into action and become something as fundamental as faith, do I need to find them in someone else’s book?

I introduced Grandpa to yoga. He gave me a bible. Pt. 1

My sister laughed hysterically when I told her that, but that’s what happened last Sunday.

My grandfather is a brilliant man who spent his life in the business world, living on four continents and realizing countless facets of the American dream. Though I know that his Catholic faith has always been an essential part of his being (the family jokes that we’re lucky he didn’t become a Jesuit since none of us would exist), since his retirement, and, also, sadly, I believe, my grandmother’s passing, he has truly been able to dedicate himself to religious study. The divergence between his devotion to the Church and my refusal to devote myself to anything in particular (remember, I was spiritual so I could stay safely outside of any traditions that made any demands on me at all) seemed destined to remain a strictly off-limits topic. I quietly stuck What Makes Us Catholic onto the dustiest of my bookshelves and chose to ignore how difficult it must have been for him to see me married by a female interfaith minister.

At Omega’s Being Fearless conference in New York this past April, several speakers, including Al Gore, talked about the philosophy of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I nudged my mother as we realized this conference, which seemed so removed from the classical Roman perspective that we associated Grandpa, was constantly reminding us of his great hero. The Catholicism that was meant to remain a forgotten aspect of my history like having braces and the belief that I would marry my high school boyfriend continued to resurface throughout the weekend. I attended a day-long session about Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle with Caroline Myss and began to realize that these great voices of Christianity were speaking the same language as the Buddha and the Sufi poets I was learning about in other seminars. When I got home a few days later I awoke well before dawn to write Grandpa a ten page letter about my first in what would be a long string of epiphanies.

Since then we have embarked upon an amazing spiritual friendship that is at once beautifully anachronistic and of a time not yet realized. Suddenly I use the U.S. Postal System to send my grandfather articles and handwritten correspondence in a way that makes me feel like a Jane Austen heroine. I feel as if we are on the edges of living the vision of all beings perceiving that unification of consciousness that is Teilhard’s “Omega Point.” I still have not started The Phenomenon of Man, which Grandpa gave me for my birthday in June (and so sweetly renamed The Phenomenon of (Wo)Man, acknowledging that my feminism is alive and well even as I begin to embrace aspects of the patriarchal Church that I once dismissed entirely). My knowledge of Teilhard’s work is largely limited to a brief mention in Rosemary Radford Reuther’s Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing, which I just completed this afternoon, so I beg forgiveness if comparing our conversations with his theory is terribly ignorant or irreverent. There is so much to learn!