At first, Jake Sully, was only too happy to be in a body that could walk again. Then he was a loyal soldier helping to discover and dominate a new world full of resources that human beings wanted. But then he met Neytiri and began to see this new world through her eyes.
They met when he got himself lost in a jungle on Pandora and she saved him from a pack of creatures that were determined to make him their dinner. When he thanked her for killing the predators she angrily replied, “Don’t thank! You don’t thank for this! This is sad! Very sad only!” She explained that the creatures, which he felt were nothing more than his enemies, did not need to die. He was out of place and it was his ignorance and arrogance that caused the attack.
As he got to know the people of Pandora he learned to see this planet as they did. And he discovered that they greeted one another (much as the Zulu people of Africa do) with the words “I see you!”. But for him this was not just a greeting; they saw him as he had never been seen before. And he found in himself a capacity to see that he had not known he possessed. And, as a result of this seeing, he became a defender of Pandora against the greed of his human companions.
I was inspired by the spirituality of the movie Avatar that tells this story, and I was challenged by the call to see my human and non-human neighbours, and the planet we share, more deeply, intentionally, and respectfully.
IT MATTERS WHAT WE SEE
Last week I wrote about the importance of falling in love with Creation. I suggested that we need this love to be an integral part of our spirituality if we are to become whole people and participating in bringing wholeness to our Earth. Unfortunately, the spirituality I was taught did not help me in this quest.
I was raised to believe that the earth was a dead thing; nothing more than a God-given repository for all the things human beings need to flourish. Animals, insects, and plants were alive, but without souls, and likewise existed simply to satisfy human need. And I was taught that the earth was not my true home—that was waiting for me in heaven when I died—and it would all be destroyed by God at the end of time anyway.
The result of this religious teaching was that I never really saw Creation at all. Oh, I loved playing outside, climbing trees, going to the beach and swimming in the ocean and rivers. I loved seeing the stars and hearing the rain beat on my windows. But while these things brought me a measure of joy, they didn’t affect my life. I had no real connection with the Earth and I either feared or ignored its creatures (except the domesticated ones that he kept as pets).
But then I read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I was shocked to realise how blind I had been. And I learned that it matters how and what we see, not just when we look at ourselves, or the people around us. But when we look at everything.
SEEING CREATION ON ITS OWN TERMS
This week my wife and I celebrated 35 years of being married to each other. It’s been a complex, creative, inspiring, challenging, and wonderfully expanding journey together. Through the years of learning to love my spouse and our two boys, I have discovered that love consists, to a very large extent, in seeing our beloved not as we want to see them, not as we want them to be, but as they are in themselves. To say “I love you” is to say that I see the person you are, the person you aspire to be, and the person who has dignity and value apart from the value you bring to me.
If we are to fall in love with creation then we need to learn to see the Earth and all of its inhabitants in the same way. How much ecological devastation would have been avoided if we had learned to recognise the spirit and value in all of nature, not just for what we get out of it, but in itself? How many wars and crimes against humanity would have been stopped in their tracks if we had recognised the inherent dignity and humanity in those who are different from us?
It’s easy to look at the Earth and see property, natural resources, or wealth for the taking. Perhaps that’s why our ancestors referred to the Earth as our Mother. Perhaps that’s why St. Francis referred to Creation and its creatures as his siblings and parents.
It may seem foolish to anthropomorphise the natural world. It may seem like heresy to believe that animals have souls of their own. And it may seem naive to put respect for the Earth above profit, but I believe that our own survival, and our personal and collective wholeness, depends on us learning to truly see Creation on its own terms, as a sacred community of beings in its own right, with an inherent value beyond what we can take from it.
WHAT DO YOU SEE?
So what do you see when you look at Creation? What is your relationship with the Earth and its creatures? How can you connect more deeply with the natural world, giving it the respect and reverence that it deserves?
I want to invite you to practice seeing more mindfully and intentionally this week. When you look out of your window, don’t just stare into space as you process your thoughts. Take a moment to notice and observe the life going on around you. Honour it, celebrate it, and open your mind and heart to learn from it. Watch how the world changes and how different creatures and plants come into your world at different times. Learn to know the names of some of them—as many as you can. And talk to them when they become aware of you. Thank them for the goodness they add to your life and do what you can to protect them.
Any spirituality that fails to see Creation—and the evolutionary processes of life that flow through it—as a sacred partner with whom to fall in love, is hardly spiritual at all. And it offers us little of value in our quest for a more vibrant, meaningful, connected, and fulfilling life.
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