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Spirit Unleashed: Reimagining Human-Animal Relations by Trustee Anne Benvenuti Nominated for Pulitzer (Excerpt)

Parliament Trustee Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti’s new book entitled Spirit Unleashed: Reimagining Human-Animal Relations has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction. The book applies both scientific and religious perspectives to the relationship between humans and other animals. 

Excerpt Published with permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers.

“One summer morning it was a bat. I had set out early for a trail walk, hoping to get some exercise for me and for the dogs and some mental focus before the day heated up. I had planned to write about having learned from Molly to love the non-human world. As I started out on the trail, I calmed my mind, stilled my thoughts and asked all the beings there to help me to stay awake and not drift into the lulling and dulling chatter of thoughts. After a few minutes of watching the woodpeckers and the cottontails, the rocks and the ragged cianothus and sage, I noticed a dead blossom lying in the middle of the trail. As I bent to look at it, I saw its fine and fragile wing-like structure. I picked it up and turned it over, still not knowing what it was. Then face-up in my hand, I could see that it was a dead bat. I observed that his little mouth was open, tongue out and the tiny fragile fingers of both hands were clutching his throat. I thought he may have died of some poison, or gagged on contentious catch. I probably never would have picked up a dead bat intentionally, having heard terrible tales of bat-contamination. I carried the little corpse over and set it on a noteworthy rock, hoping that I would find it there for further study upon my return. As I turned to go, a wing fell open, or did he move it? I returned to investigate.

I understood then that he might have been one of the many flying creatures who have some kind of problem midflight that causes them to crash land, resulting in shock and dehydration, on top of any injury or illness. They frequently need water and safety more than any special care. I have learned that a lot of animals die just so of shock and dehydration, and I have also learned that they understand your intent in relation to them very quickly. I assured him in that soft hypnotic voice that creatures tend to love that my intent was to do no harm and to do what good I might. I lifted him gently and watched him unfold and open entirely; beautiful wings made of a fine frame of bone and joint covered with translucent fabric that wrapped his body, webbing the entire back of his torso in an enclosure. I didn’t have my glasses, and, at this point was interested to know if he had teeth. I peered at him closely and saw the soft petals of his pointed ears, but I never did ascertain the presence of teeth, in spite of his open mouth. His furry belly fluttered with uneven breath as his arm bent at the elbow and he reached for his mouth again. Then my mind’s ear heard clearly the words, “I thirst.” Ah, that. I do not know how to care for a bat and I know precious little about them, but I do know thirst. I decided I would carry him to the creek with me and see about arranging something between him and the moisture he so desperately craved.

I studied him as I walked, awed by the intricate beauty and the fragile toughness of him. He had tiny glass beads of eyes. Had I not heard that bats had no capacity to see? It was hard to tell exactly without my reading glasses. His body was about an inch and a half long with fine pointed little ears at the top and a webbed tail, which he used to completely pull up the blanket of his fabric and enclose himself. His wings were about six inches in span, huge by comparison to his soft little body, graceful as a geisha’s fan in their folding and unfolding. His arms were just like mine, bending at the elbow, with hands and fingers just like mine, except for the size, about an eighth of an inch. Again he brought his hand to his dry tongue. Do you doubt for a moment that he spoke to me about his thirst?

I set him down in the moist sand about two inches from the place where the water lapped the shore and I let my fingers dribble water down in front of him. He drank it; he gulped water down. Then he rested, then drank more, and more. Rested, more water. With no warning, he unfurled his wings, fanned out into the water as if he had a gentle breeze in his sails, and swam away from me. Have you ever seen a bat swim? Have you ever even seen a picture of a bat swimming? Oh glorious and graceful sight, oh human delight! He hauled himself with infinite grace onto the underside of a rock. I watched. He climbed, revived by mere water, climbed up under the rock and then over it and then up again. My work was done. On the definite underside of a rock, wedged well against other rocks, he hung upside down, asleep. So this is the dreaded bat.

Love one little thing and you love the entire universe that holds it, as well as the essence from which it pours forth, and the pulse that beats in it, and the breath that heaves it, and the awareness that connects it. Save one little thing and you save your soul entire.

That tiny desperate thirst is indeed your own, and you are quenched beyond measure, awakened in the water, merely for being there, responsive. This is what I learned from Molly Brown, the little dog with great spirit, slowly over the many years of her patient instruction, that words hinder the communications of the heart, acting often as stoppers to the ears of empathy, which would otherwise hear every pulsing breathing body.

“God speaks to us secretly and in silence,” said John of the Cross. Perhaps the language of God is silence because only in silence can I listendeepluy; and God is not shallow. The whole world is here, waiting to be heard, but I am too busy producing private words and thoughts to listen to it. I am so lulled by my word-making that I don’t even know I am doing it most of the time. In silence, words are reborn and they become something expressive, something worthy of care. In silence, we learn love. You do not need information about bats to know a dry tongue and a hand reaching for a parched throat, but you are unlikely to see that reaching hand unless you are still.

Surprise! The whole world is a message under the words. What I learned by way of Molly Brown—she who would be understood and not just condescended to—is that the whole world is there, waiting to be known, interested in me, as I am interested in it, that we, multitudinous and embodied, are also inseparable and in Love.”

To Continue Reading Spirit Unleashed, check out the book on Amazon.com

Anne Benvenuti is a professor of psychology and philosophy, an integrative scholar, a licensed clinical psychologist, a priest of the Episcopal Church, a spiritual director, and a published poet, writer, and photographer. Her research interests include developing models for scientific investigation of qualia; explication of religious epistemology, especially with reference to the potential for neuro-scientific models of integrative knowing, policy implications of religious epistemology, and the clinical integration of spirituality, health, and ecology.

Parliament Chair Abdul Malik Mujahid, Former V.P. Al Gore, and National Spiritual Leaders to Conclude Religions for the Earth Conference at Multi-Faith Service in NYC

On Sunday, September 21, Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid will be speaking at the Religions for the Earth Multifaith Service at New York City’s Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.

Mujahid’s view that “faith leaders must all join hands to save the only planet we have” will come to life at the service featuring a prestigious group of leaders in the religious, spiritual, and Earth-spiritual communities presented in collaboration with Former-Vice President of the United States Al Gore, who is also slated to speak.

Speakers and attendees will be enveloped in celebratory acts of music, performance and ritual all building toward a massive pledge of spiritual communities honoring the sacred environment in real, practical actions.

As a co-sponsor of the Religions for the Earth conference, the Parliament will be connecting with a strategic assembly of 200 other leaders in interfaith, religious, faith and spiritual organizations. Union Theological Seminary is hosting the conference as part of events kicking off NY Climate Week in advance of the United Nations Climate Summit.

Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Parliament Chair

In Mujahid’s view, the growing commitments faith communities are making to advance environmental protections will see more promising results by applying the influence leaders can have in multiple ways.

Mujahid says, “As more than 40 percent of America listens to pulpits every week, we must not only preach the gospel of sharing more and consuming less. But also, we must do our best to influence the guiding institutions to become more serious in urgently developing the relevant public policies. Better public policies and better consumer behavior both are needed. And this will be a major theme in the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions.”

Religions for the Earth Conference attendees will also participate in the biggest climate march in history, The People’s Climate March, expected to unite over 100,000 environmental stewards organizing from across all social institutions on Sunday, September 21. Faith and interfaith representation at the march will climb into the multiple thousands.

Peace activism in general will reach a global high on September 21, which is the United Nations official observance of International Day of Peace, coinciding with satellite climate events taking place all over the world.

The evening Religions for the Earth Multi-Faith Service is open to the public, featuring speakers including:

  • Uncle Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Founder – IceWisdom International, Eskimo, Kalaallit Elder
  • Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota Sioux 19th Generation Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle
  • Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, Founder – Shomrei Adamah, Keepers of the Earth
  • Ms. Dekila Chungyalpa, Environmental Advisor to His Holiness, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje
  • Father Edwin Gariguez, General Secretary – Caritas Philippines
  • Former Vice-President Al Gore, Chairman – The Climate Reality Project
  • Reverend Dr. Serene Jones, President, Union Theological Seminary
  • Reverend Dr. James Kowalski, Director – Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
  • Iriama Margaret Lokawua, Director – Indigenous Women Environmental Conservation Project
  • Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair – Parliament of the World’s Religions
  • Dr. Vandana Shiva, Founder – Navdanya
  • Rev. Jim Wallis, President and Founder – Sojourners
  • Terry Tempest Williams, Writer and Teacher

When: Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 6 p.m. EST

Where: The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025

Social Media: Follow the Religions for the Earth conference on Facebook, Twitter, and interact using hashtag #FaithInChange

Religions for the Earth MultiFaith Service is being presented by host Union Theological Seminary, and co-sponsored by the Parliament of the World’s Religions, GreenFaith, Interfaith Center of New York, the World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace, and the Cathedral Saint John the Divine.

Parliament Partnering on Climate Conference Hosted by Union Theological Seminary

The Parliament is announcing its partnership to the Union Theological Seminary’s upcoming conference on climate, “Religions for the Earth.”

In a recent Time Magazine article reporting on its plan to divest $108.4 million from fossil fuels, Union announced news of its hosting the climate conference bringing attention to its partnership with the Parliament as well as GreenFaith, the Interfaith Center of New York, The World Council of Churches, and Religions for Peace in coordinating the event.

Choosing to live out their values, Union becomes the first seminary institution to divest from fossil fuels. In this spirit several organizations are coming together in this event to spread dialogue about climate change.

More more information please visit the Religions for the Earth. 

Canadian Churches Speak Out on Northern Gateway Pipeline

Protestors assembled outside the King Edward Hotel where Enbridge held its annual general meeting in May. A number of environmental groups as well as native communities are opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline. Photo from Rick Madonik/Toronto Star file photo.

by John Cotter
from The Star

Churches across Canada say they have a religious duty to speak out on the proposed Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline.

Next week, delegates at the United Church of Canada general council meeting in Ottawa will debate a resolution that calls on the church to reject construction of the $6-billion Enbridge project that would take diluted bitumen from Alberta to the British Columbia coast.

The resolution was drafted in support of aboriginals in B.C., who worry a spill would poison the land and water, and directs the church to send the results of its vote to the federal, B.C. and Alberta governments and the media.

Mardi Tindal, moderator of the United Church, said care of the Earth is an important part of the faith and the church can’t shy away from the pipeline just because it is controversial and politically divisive.

“People care so much about this. People understand that you cannot separate economic health from ecological health,” she said from Toronto.

“The church has a responsibility to contribute to the conversations that make for the best public policy for the common good.”

The United Church of Canada is not alone.

Click here to read the full article

The Real Environmental Crisis: Lessons From the Green Patriarch

Photo Credit to Trent Gilliss

His All Holiness Bartholomew, Patriarch of Eastern Orthodox Christians

by Krista Tippett
from The Huffington Post

Earlier this month, His All Holiness Bartholomew, the Patriarch of 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians, convened a two-day conversation on “environment, ethics and innovation.” We gathered on the tiny, ancient island of Heybeliada off Istanbul, which was once the Patriarch’s Constantinople and before that New Rome.

There were scientists there, and activists, and religious thinkers. Greenpeace was represented, and so was Dow Chemical. We did not solve any problem or draft a white paper or conceive a plan of action. There were no expectations of these things, and so it was not, like the recent Rio conference, roundly condemned as a failure. But our discussion did yield some fresh examination of the often-unnamed obstacle to all the good solutions and plans already out there: the human condition.

The gathering convened in a former seminary, which Ataturk’s successors closed as they secularized Turkey and which the present Islamic government seems poised to re-open. It was poignant, in this space, to hear James Hansen — the NASA scientist who seminally defined the relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide and civilization as we know it — profess that scientists need the help of the religious in an urgent struggle for public understanding.

Click here to read full article

 

A Sermon for Water

by Rabbi Jack Bemporad, Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, and Susan Barnett
from Huffington Post

We don’t honor God when 4,500 children die every day — but they do — from the lack of something so simple, each of us takes it for granted: a safe glass of water.

Four thousand five hundred children — that’s one every 20 seconds, a little life extinguished.

While the last couple of years have seen an increase in awareness about the global water crisis, it’s still the No. 1 killer of children around the globe. Safe water and sanitation remains the greatest under-recognized global humanitarian crisis we face and its impact is staggering. It’s the world’s dirty secret.

Almost a billion people do not have access to safe water globally and 2.5 billion lack the dignity of basic sanitation. This lack of access translates into more stunning numbers:

    • 50 percent of all malnutrition is due to the lack of safe water and sanitation
    • As is 80 percent of all disease
    • Half of the world’s hospital beds are filled by patients suffering from water-borne diseases
    • This leading killer of children under five kills more children than malaria, AIDS and TB combined
    • The result is a catastrophic 2 million, mostly preventable deaths, every year.

We fight malaria but poor sanitation increases breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. We spend millions making sure HIV/AIDS patients get the anti-retroviral drugs they need, but they take these drugs with disease-ridden water.

Current U.S. funding for water and sanitation development amounts to less than one one-hundredth of a percent of the federal budget. Yet for every dollar invested, there’s an economic return of $8.

With all the good work the faiths do, from malnutrition to malaria, it’s all being undercut by the overarching absence of clean water and sanitation. Not prioritizing the global water crisis defies logic. It prevents productivity, increases poverty and inequality for women.

Click here to read the full article

Religious Wisdom the World Needs Now

by Yaira Robinson
from State of Formation

This was my first visit to the Zen Center. One of the Buddhist priests had invited me to encourage his students to engage in interfaith environmental work. I was a little nervous, but something about this group—their open spirit, perhaps, and honest questions—quickly put me at ease and helped me speak from the heart. At some point, I found myself saying, “The Buddhist tradition has beautiful teachings about how all life is interconnected, and the world desperately needs this wisdom! Pleaseshare it.”

Global warming is a huge behemoth of a problem. It challenges us to work together across the globe in new and unprecedented ways—ways we clearly haven’t figured out yet, as international climate talks repeatedly fail to produce significant agreements. Meanwhile, individual people are waking up to the climate crisis, struggling to make sense of it, and wondering how to respond.

One of the ways that people of faith are responding is by turning to our religious traditions. From them, we seek teachings and practices that might inform our actions as we try to meet these challenges. And we are finding them! Each of the world’s religious traditions offers tremendous wisdom about how we should live in respectful relationship with the earth and with each other.

As I drove home from the Zen Center that evening, I got to thinking: If what the world in climate crisis most needs to hear from the Buddhist tradition is that all life is interconnected, what does it most need to hear from other religious traditions?

Click here to read the full article

World Sacred Forests Mapped Out

by David A Gabel
from Environmental News Network

A team of scientists from the University of Oxford are working on a world map which shows all the land owned or revered by various world religions. This “holy map” will display all the sacred sites from Jerusalem’s Western Wall, to Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Just as interesting, the map will also show the great forests held sacred by various religions. Within these protected lands dwell a wide variety of life and high numbers of threatened species.

The sacred land mapped out by the Oxford researchers is not necessarily owned by a certain religious community, but rather contains sacred connotations. They estimate that about fifteen percent of all land on Earth is “sacred land”, and eight percent of all land is owned by a religious community. Much of the land held sacred is forest.

Click here to read the full article

August 13th, 2011 at 10:04 am

Religious leaders launch interfaith environmental campaign

from AlMasryAlYoum

Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in the Holy Land joined forces Monday to launch a multi-faith environmental campaign, citing religious injunctions to protect the Earth across their three faiths.

Among their plans are the convening of an international conference of religious leaders in New York ahead of the 2012 United Nations General Assembly, a North America public relations campaign and training future clerics on the importance of environmental issues, one of the organizers said.

At the Jerusalem launch of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, Rabbi David Rosen noted that the obligation upon humans to care for their surroundings comes near the very beginning of the Bible.

“That is the original charge in the first chapters of Genesis, given to the first man and woman, not purely to develop, to till the land, but also to protect it … to conserve it,” he said, to nods of agreement from a Roman Catholic bishop and the Palestinian deputy minister of religious affairs.

“The main religions should really study the ecological crisis together, because our destiny is common,” Bishop William Shomali said. “If Earth is polluted it is polluted for Muslims, Christians and Jews.”

Click here to read the full article

Beauty for the Earth on Six Continents

On Saturday, June 18, 2011, individuals and groups all over the world gathered at the kinds of places most people tend to avoid: clear-cut forests, polluted inner-city rivers, Superfund sites, an autobahn in Switzerland, and the site of rare and endangered trees in Bolivia. The people who participated in the Global Earth Exchange didn’t go to these sites to protest. They weren’t even there to clean up the mess.

Instead they gathered to tell their personal stories about what these places meant to them, to spend reflective time there, and to make an “act of beauty” out of found materials, usually a bird, symbol of Radical Joy for Hard Times, the non-profit organization that sponsored the event.

According to Trebbe Johnson, founder and executive director of Radical Joy for Hard Times, “People love the natural places in their communities. When those places are destroyed, they feel sorrow, anger, guilt. The relationship doesn’t end just because the place has changed, even if it’s changed drastically. By reconnecting to these wounded places they affirm their love of the wild places in their communities and empower themselves to act in positive ways to take care of these places.” The organization, which was founded in 2009, is headquartered in Thompson, PA with a network that is worldwide.

The Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht, who coined the term “solastalgia,” meaning “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault,” joined the Global Earth Exchange at a dying forest in Jarrahdale, Perth, Australia. Students and faculty of Naropa University gathered at Valmont Coal Plant in Boulder, Colorado, and a native of Tucson tried to make peace with the housing developments that are spreading over the desert wilderness she used to hike in.  Stories and photos can be found on the Radical Joy for Hard Times website.