Edgehill United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 29, 2015
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 "Our mission is to live as a faith community in covenant with God and each other, as stewards of creation, using natural resources responsibly and helping others to do the same." 



Edgehill United Methodist Green Team


          The Edgehill United Methodist Green Team was formed in the winter of 2009 as an outgrowth of a five week Sunday School class series named after the Matthew Sleeth book, “Serve God, Save the Planet”. For one of the classes, the Belmont UMC Green Team gave a presentation on their main focus -- encouraging families to reduce their carbon footprint by 10% within a year. This began a loose partnership between two Green Teams that led to the formation in 2012 of the Interfaith Earth Care Network and the district-wide United Methodist District Creation Care Coalition.

Outreach of the Edgehill UMC Green Team includes:
  • resource table offering books, DVDs, magazines; seasonal seeds and plants; occasional refreshments!
  • collect old batteries and CFLs to take to hazardous waste recycling
  • bulletin board
  • provide directory inserts according to zip codes, to encourage ride sharing
  • program to donate CFLs and LED light bulbs to the FreeStore           www.edgehillpartnership.org/freestore
  • help host a booth on Earth Day (Centennial Park celebration)
  • green tip of the week included in weekly email
  • have environmental classes with the summer Brighter Days program
  • lead a Sunday School class at least once a year
  • is developing a recycling system for the church
Immediate goals include:
  • working with the children and youth
  • reinstating a community garden

When the Edgehill Community Garden was moved to Horton Avenue, behind the Edgehill Library in early 2013, it became the Edgehill Community Memorial Garden, in memory of Keith Stevenson and Terrance Murray and all the youth "we have lost."  


 The Ten Commitments
1. Reduce your carbon footprint by 10% in the next year.
Guidelines are available at our resource table in the atrium Sunday mornings.
There is a Carbon Calculator at the Belmont Green Team site
2. Perform 10 hours of volunteer work.
Hands On Nashville
Earth Matters
3. Plant 10 trees or have 10 trees planted in your name in a reforestation project. A $10.00 membership in the Arbor Day Foundation
) gives you 10 free trees. Two scholarships available: contact greenteam@edgehill.org
4. Compost!
There are many ways to get started – from a simple hole in the ground to a ready-made bin.
EarthMatters offers one made from wooden pallets, which they will deliver to you, plus help you decide a location, set it up, and teach you how to use it.  
Two scholarships available: contact greenteam@edgehill.org
5. Eat 10 dinners a month using only plants – no meat!
6. Change 10 incandescent bulbs over to compact fluorescent bulbs.
7. Read one of the many books on the environment from our resource table, or the library.
8. Talk to 10 people in the next 10 months about the critical importance of “saving our planet.”
9. Cancel unwanted mail-order catalogs and stop receiving junk mail. (go for 10!) Sites like these may help: www.catalogchoice.org,www.41pounds.org,
 10. Make a list of 10 new ways to reduce/reuse/recycle
Contact us:

 Sight Psalms
"Sight Psalms is the work of photographers who seek to express the divine through images."  Often, a nature photograph accompanied by Psalm.  Subscribe to receive a daily post by going to: 


Daniel Benedict, OSL


In a recent PRI interview anticipating a papal encyclical on the sin of environmental degradation, professor Christiana Peppard of Fordham University said, “[Pope Francis is] saying, ‘Hey, it's not as simple as sin being reduced to what we might call pelvic issues, issues related to reproduction or to sexual behavior or morality.’ Peppard continues, “Part of what I really see Pope Francis doing in his recent comments as well as in previous statements is to try to illuminate how economy, environmental degradation and social injustice all relate to one another in complex structural ways, and how we think about responsibility and sin in those contexts is a complicated thing.”[1]


Climate change and the human role in bringing it about necessarily raises issues of ethics and moral choices. The title for this article plays with the phrase “climate change” recognizing that it can be understood not only in terms of the impact of a rising average temperature of the earth’s atmosphere and how many parts of carbon dioxide above 350 per million we reach, but that the phrase also has connections to the church’s moral and spiritual climate. The church too must have a climate change in which we no longer content ourselves to reduce sin to personal and individual terms, or even purely societal terms. Our understandings of sin and faith in the age of climate change call for a radical reorientation of our self-understanding in global and cosmic terms.


Here I will attempt to reflect on what it means to reorient understandings of sacramental life in light of climate change and an emerging sense of what it means to be human and Christian in such an age. I want to make a case for Christian engagement related to climate change and caring for the earth, arguing that religion’s role (religion: to bind or reconnect) is to offer the resources of spiritual vision and practices, without which humanity is stuck in the utilitarian, self-absorbed exceptionalism that got us into the climate crisis we now face.


To do this I will enlist five dialogue partners. They include: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, paleontologist, mystic philosopher, and Jesuit priest; Thomas Berry, cultural historian, Passionate priest, and eco-prophet; Wendell Berry, poet, agrarian philosopher and curmudgeon; Aldo Leopold, forester, conservationist, and wildlife management expert; and Sallie McFague, eco-feminist and constructive theologian.


I start with Thomas Berry because he most clearly locates humanity in the fourteen billion year emergence of the universe.

Thomas Berry (1914 to 2009)

Thomas Berry’s academic training was in the history of the cultures and religions of Asia. His books The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-first Century and The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth serve as primary sources for my reflection on Berry’s thought.

His central premise is that as humans we are integral to the earth community. Humans developed in the context of evolution. We cannot think or act as if we came from somewhere else or have somewhere else to go. The cosmos is sacred, emerging over fourteen billion years. The story of the florescence of the cosmos based on what we know from science opens before us new revelation. Religions, including Christianity, have to recover and re-signify their symbols and rituals in light of this new story of the universe. Berry taught that only our sense of the sacredness of the cosmos will save us. (Utilitarian fear for our own skin will not provide sufficient motivation necessary to enact radical change.) In an almost mystical summary of astrophysics and the origin of the universe that he calls “the Great Compassionate Curve,” he writes:

“The immense curvature of space holds all things together in an embrace that is sufficiently closed to provide structural integrity to the universe and yet sufficiently open to enable the universe to continue its unfolding. Within this context we need a new appreciation of our Cosmo centric identity.” (Christian Future (CF hereafter), loc. 2064)

So the cosmos is tensive. It is violent and dangerous as well as serene and benign. The differentiating forces and the containing forces interplay with a certain balance. Otherwise the universe would either explode or collapse in on itself.

In terms of human history, Berry situates us in what he calls the three mediations or mediating relationships of humanity. In sequence the great focal points were first, the human-divine mediation, and subsequently, the human-human mediation. Now, concurrent with the 21st century, the human-Earth mediation comes to the fore. Berry contends that we now have to relocate ourselves irrevocably in this “third mediation”—the human-cosmos relationship. He expresses his vision and hope:


If we could make the continuity of the non-human with the human the effective operating principle in all our human institutions, professions, programs, and activities, we would soon bring healing to this damaged planet.[2]


This “continuity” as an operating principle is central to the Church’s purpose as religion; a purpose Berry says was lost in the last three centuries—the time of the enlightenment and the industrial revolution and subsequent consumer culture. “The Church could provide an integrating reinterpretation of our New Story of the universe,” he writes, renewing religion in “its primary expression as celebration, as ecstatic delight in existence.” (CF, loc. 1097; emphasis added)


The religious traditions have this in common: two sacred obligations. One, to understand, revere and celebrate the all-pervasive numinous presence throughout the universe, and the other, to realize the “essential continuity of all things with the universe and to abhor any isolation from the larger community of existence.” (CF, loc. 1079; emphasis added] In this cosmic understanding, the Church’s great purpose is to heal and reconcile. This Berry calls the Great Work of Christianity in our time.


This great work for Christians in concert with and appreciation of other religions, including indigenous/tribal spiritual communities, is to “reinvent” human culture since the planetary crisis we face is beyond the competence of our present cultural traditions. (CF, loc. 2059). Religion has a critical role of expanding humanity’s vision of the universe beyond material-physical reality to include awareness its psychic-spiritual reality. (CF, loc. 2064)


Thomas Berry’s is a prophetic voice, calling the great spiritual traditions to rediscover their ritual and symbolic treasures in view of succession to the human-Earth relationship and to recover a sense of the sacred universe. For sacramental living this means reading and praying the Bible and the Tradition (traditions) with new eyes, and to read and experience the original and ongoing cosmic revelation in light of the new sciences.


For an instantiation of that “reading” we turn to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ[3]

Teilhard lived from 1881-1955. Early on he developed a love and knowledge of the great forces of nature. He wrote, “Matter, life and energy are the three pillars on which my inner vision and happiness rests.”  He experienced nature as a “temptress” coaxing him to godless answers. Yet when he surrendered to the “visible and tangible universe” the young Jesuit felt an “ecstasy that through all of nature I am immersed in God.” (Tergo, loc. 1020)  In time he came to believe that there was no conflict between his Catholic faith and his desire to explore the natural world. Modernism challenged static Church dogma and Pierre found himself on the forefront of a dialogue that would be the theme of his whole life: static forms of thought challenged by a dynamic comprehensive and cohesive cosmic view animated by the divine life itself. Later he would come to call the center of all things, the Cosmic Christ. Teilhard and his subsequent interpreters found in the divine logos (John 1 and Pauline cosmic hymns in Colossians and Ephesians) an alternative to a mechanistic view of evolution.


“In very truth, it is God and God alone whose Spirit stirs up the whole mass of the universe in ferment . . . . The fact is that creation has never stopped. The creative act is one huge continual gesture, drawn out over the totality of time. It is still going on.”[4]


Following the leads of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, he abandoned literal interpretations of creation in Genesis in favor of allegorical and theological interpretations. InThe Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard sets forth a sweeping account of the unfolding of the cosmos from the evolution of matter to human consciousness to the ultimate reunion of all things with Christ, the Omega Point. He viewed creation arriving at ever increasing levels of complexity and consciousness.


Teilhard provided a 20th century vocabulary and vision for reappraising the relationship of physical-material and psychic-spiritual dimensions. His conceptions included the no sphere, a layer of psychobiological knowledge and consciousness that envelops the biosphere (living matter) and the geosphere (non-living matter). It was almost like he imagined that from space, you could see a halo, the no sphere, glowing and growing around the planet, a sphere of the spirit and the mind. I wonder what Teilhard would have to say about the internet! For Teilhard, earth was sentient. Matter was super-material.


As to the sacramental life, Teilhard understood the whole world as the fullest extension of God and the cosmic Christ, the incarnate Being of God in the world. Teilhard came to sense that his vocation was communion with Christ through all things. He called his daily offerings of himself for this communion “the Mass of the World.” On one of his field expeditions he prayed:


Since once again Lord…I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols up to the pure majesty of the real itself; I your priest will make the whole earth my altar and on it I will offer you all the labors and sufferings of the world.”[5]


Here we see Pierre, the priest, extended beyond the narrow confines of ecclesial and institutional resources and limitations embracing the wildness of the earth and giving himself in union with the world to God. As a mystic, he was not separated from the material; indeed, he understood matter as infused with fire and energy. (Tergo, loc. 320) “The world must have a God; but our concept of God must be extended as the dimensions of our world are extended.”


In his life and thought, Teilhard encourages us to enter a more incarnational sacramental life, experiencing the fire the universe and gathering it up in offering to God. Teilhard was a man of his time, in love with God known in the sacramental life of the church and in the world. What can we learn from Teilhard’s sense of the mass of the world? In this age of climate change what would it look like for the church to make the whole earth God’s altar? To offer up the labors and sufferings of the world?

In response to those questions we now turn to Aldo Leopold, an American contemporary of Teilhard.

Aldo Leopold (1887 – 1948)

If Pierre Teilhard and Thomas Berry’s vantage point seems to be cosmic and planetary, by contrast Aldo Leopold’s stands in the forests and prairies of America. He described humanity’s greatest challenge as “living on a piece of land without spoiling it,”[6] and his life and writings provide us with the insights and inspiration to do so. His training was in forestry at Yale and his first assignment in 1909 was as a ranger was in the new U.S. Forest Service in New Mexico and Arizona. His most well-known work, published posthumously, is A Sand County Almanac, a collection of essays that contains his most important writing, “A Land Ethic”. It continues to inspire us to see the natural world as a community to which we belong.


With one exception, I want to let Leopold speak from his “A Land Ethic” essay. First, the exception: In his essay, “Thinking like a Mountain,” he tells of a time early in his life as a ranger when he and his colleagues pumped lead into a pack of wolves below them in a canyon. It never occurred to him that it was anything but the right thing to do. Of the green fire in the eyes of that wolf he wrote,

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes--something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunter’s paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.” (A Sand County Almanac (hereafter ASCA), p. 130)

I suggest that this kind of seeing is sacramental living: seeing clearly in the creation the witness that all of the creation is “good” in ways beyond our self-referential calculations; it is seeing that we need to think like a mountain. The “mountain” is the symbol of a holistic view that sees beyond one’s own safety and prosperity. The mountain “thinks” in terms of the larger constellation of life, the communion of all things competing but also collaborating, for the life of the cosmos.  

What I found clearly evident in Leopold, though not lacking in the others considered here, is a man with soul. His soulfulness was wed to the land, to the nuances of nature living before his eyes and in his ears. Pumping lead into a wolf pack was converted to a devotion to the wildness of plants and animals in their habitats. His soulfulness was an expression of restraint, the spirit of appreciative and studied observation, the stepping back to know deeply. With age and gathering of experience, he looked deeply into the world and saw not only the “green fire” dying in the wolf, but came to understand and think like a mountain, and to see the urgent value of wilderness and wildness in the community of the animate and inanimate around us. As Christians, we understand well the biblical view of community and the gospel’s call to enlarge our borders to include the neighbor. If Leopold thought in terms of sacramental life he would, I think, have said that neighbor includes the practice of enlarging the “boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.” (ASCA, p. 203) How might Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan reinterpret us and our living in light of our human-Earth relationship?

This brings us to what is perhaps Leopold’s most lasting and substantive contribution: his essay, “A Land Ethic”. I shrink before the wisdom of Leopold’s work here and doubt that any summarizing of it will do it justice. What I can do is lift up the connection of the ethic he articulates and link it to expanding our sense and practice of the sacramental living.

Leopold recognizes that when it comes to what Thomas Berry calls the “second mediation”—the human-to-human societal realm—we have the “Golden Rule” and the whole body of law and social etiquette that goes with it. But, he laments, there is as yet no ethic dealing with our relation to the land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it. (ASCA, p. 202) A land ethic he asserts will extend our sense of obligations and limit our sense of privilege. Consideration of a land ethic situates us squarely in Berry’s “third mediation”—the human-Earth relationship.

A land ethic confronts basic paradoxes: “man the conqueror versus man the biotic citizen; science the sharpener of his sword versus science the searchlight on his universe; land the slave and servant versus land the collective organism.”[7] This ethic reflects an ecological conscience and in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Taking the biota seriously opens us to our expanded neighborhood, transforms science into contemplation of this cosmic neighborhood, and enables us to see ourselves as integral to the land—the biota.

In a nutshell, Leopold states the land ethic this way: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” (ASCA, p. 224) The directness and simplicity of this statement was so significant for me that it seemed to require liturgical expression. I wrote the following prayer based on this text.

Maker of earth and sky:

  Put our hands and hearts

  To what preserves the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.

In all ways that tend otherwise,

  Thwart us until we see ourselves one in the communion of all things…[8]


Whether or not the word “biotic” fits our euchology, I believe that as ecological shorthand, it has a place in our prayer and thought.


Leopold’s land ethic is strikingly simple in terms of what actions and behaviors are right and wrong with regard to the biotic community. Leopold subordinates human considerations to those of the biotic community. Our human economic and cultural ends do not justify any and all notions of privilege with regard to the land. A land ethic cancels human “rights” to extraction and devastation. A land ethic obliges humanity to recognize limits when we think and act in ways contrary to the wellbeing of the whole. Sacramental living then includes attention, study and responsiveness to the biotic community both in personal relations with the land and in public policies and legislation.


Although Leopold’s professional and personal vocation was not to cast a land ethic in religious terms, his work confronts all religious traditions with a challenge to re-imagine “ourselves one in the communion of all things to the everlasting praise and delight of God.” (See “biotic” prayer above.) In this regard, many of the indigenous peoples of the world have much to teach us about the sacramental life as Thomas Berry recognized in his writings.


Sacramental life in tension with economic life and the ways we privilege ourselves as humans, especially in contemporary consumer culture, is one of the new frontiers for liturgy and contemplative prayer, as well as environmental action to win legal rights for the land. The pope’s anticipated encyclical will be an important call to Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians alike, giving a new twist to language of “right to life.”  

How could we better pray the “wild spaces” that lie outside the hegemony of consumer culture? In what ways could our current United Methodist ritual (substitute your denomination if not UM) be understood and prayed with the whole biota in view? For, example, in the prayer of confession (The United Methodist Hymnal (hereafter UMH), p. 8), when we confess that “we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy,” how expansively do we pray? How does an ethic of the land prompt us to rethink the inclusiveness of “neighbor” and the “cry of the needy”? Think of bleaching coral in the Pacific. Think of elephants being plundered in Africa for their ivory. What in your land-neighborhood is crying to be heard and loved?

When in the Eucharistic prayer we proclaim with all the company of heaven, “heaven and earth are full of your glory” what observations and celebrations of the biota do we practice in daily life and in the ministries of Christian formation in our churches? Nature deficit disorder is a phrase that is getting more and more use.[9] Children as well as adults need evenings of star gazing, backpacking camps, hands on gardening, and other experiences of “communion” with the land in order to realize viscerally God’s glory in creation.   

And how might reflection on our liturgical prayer help us expand our vision of what it means to pray “make us one in ministry to all the world” (UMH, p. 11). How does an ethic of the land inform and expand our sacramental living in terms of environmental appreciation and personal and public action.

Imagine local churches discovering and learning our liturgy more deeply by digging into its depth dynamic related to an ethic for the air, land, waters, and all creatures, and so, enlarge our boundaries and free us to practice neighborly restraint and poetic ecstasy.

Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry, (agrarian poet, novelist, environmental activist, and farmer) was born in 1934 and lives on his farm in rural Kentucky. Each of Berry's fictional works is set in and around Port William and touch on the imagined people and life of the place. The chronology of his stories spans from 1888 to 2008. In telling these stories, Berry sees his native landscape and neighborhood “as a place unique in the world, a work of God, possessed of an inherent sanctity that mocks any human valuation that can be put upon it.”[10]


Berry, in my reading, is something of a curmudgeon—a curmudgeon who would stop the addiction of consumer culture to notions of progress and overreach. I mean no disrespect by calling him a curmudgeon. What I do mean is that he steadfastly resists, as one of his poems reads, “the brute-thought of mere power and mere greed” that seems to be the “brain” of the dominant technological-industrial-consumer culture. (Leavings, loc. 130).


For Berry all politics is local; perhaps economics too. Certainly wisdom and deep knowing are experienced in what the monastics called “stability.” Berry’s work challenges narratives and notions of progress, corporate culture, technological salvation, and globalization. In his novel Hannah Coulter, Hannah observes that many farmers in Port William got tractors after WWII, but the tractors made farmers dependent on big corporations. (Hannah Coulter, p. 92). Berry doesn’t try to address how the dominant culture goes back to the land. He simply speaks out of the wisdom and reality of the river and the fields and life lived gratefully and close to the land.


For our considerations with regards to re-imagining sacramental life, I will attend to his notions of “membership” and “place”. In addition to curmudgeon, Berry might be describes as an organic philosopher and mystic—organic in contrast to organization. The land, its features and creatures, human and otherwise, make up what he calls “the membership” in the rural context. The organic whole constitutes the “membership”—a broad, lived, multigenerational kinship. It isn’t that “the membership” can’t exist in urban settings, but there it becomes invisible, clouded with devaluation of the organic quality of life lived more directly, more slowly, and less dominated by an incapacity to deny “ourselves anything”. (Leavings, Loc. 131) Andy Catlett, one of his characters, says of those who have left Port William, “They’ve gone over from the world of membership to the world of organization” and Hannah muses to herself that one of the attractions of moving away is “being disconnected and free, unbothered by membership.” (Hannah Coulter, p. 133) Such a life is, as Hannah describes it, a “life of beginnings without memories, but it is a life too that ends without being remembered” like “worn-out replaceable parts, to be alone at the last maybe and soon forgotten.”


Jayber Crow is a relative new comer to the membership. He becomes the barber in town and in time also serves as the janitor for the church. On Sundays he rings the bell but does not attend the service, choosing to go and sit by the “corrupt and holy stream.” He says,


“I am, I suppose a difficult man. I am, maybe, the ultimate Protestant, the man at the end of the Protestant road, for as I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of the rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here.” (Jayber Crow, p. 321)


We may react to Jayber’s characterization of organized religion, but it is difficult to argue with his characterization of Jesus in terms of sacramental living. Indeed, isn’t this exactly where sacramental living—baptismal living—tends: “the membership of all that is here”? This vision of the reconciling of all things in communion in the Triune God is an unorganized, self-organizing “membership” with a deep sense of place.


Reading Berry it is clear that there is no escape, nor need, nor desire to escape. Berry is a “materialist”—that is, he does not see the need for “another” place to which we go in death. Heaven is here. His work begs us to reimagine heaven conceived of as elsewhere; beyond the known universe. In one of his Sabbaths poems he tells the saints in heaven that he does not want to be “dismattered and free”. Instead he confesses:

I long

instead for the Heaven of creatures, of seasons,

of day and night. Heaven enough for me

would be this world as I know it, but redeemed

from our abuse of it and one another.
It would be the heaven of knowing again.
(Leavings, loc. 208)

How do we understand place when we pray, “Our Father/Mother in heaven…your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In praying for “our daily bread” that comes to us from the continuous energy circuit of the land, can we really be content to be “dismattered and free” of the world. All of our dialogue companions call for awakening to where we are and that we are profoundly and forever part of this place and share in this earth membership. Could it be that whenever we experience our materiality and belonging to creation in love, we somehow experience a foretaste of heaven?

For Berry hell will be our experience when we forsake this heaven: “Because we have not made our lives fit/ our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded, / the streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope/ then to belong to your place by your knowledge/ of what it is that no other place is, and by/ your caring for it as you care for no other place, this/ place that you belong to though it is not yours,/ for it was from the beginning and will be until the end.”  (Leavings, loc. 275)

Sallie McFague

Now we turn our attention to Sallie McFague, whose work points us to a Christian response to creation in life and death. Born in 1933 and still writing, she keeps reminding us that metaphors are at the heart of how we imagine and speak of God. She asks how living in a nuclear age, the age of quantum physics, exploding population, and climate change call for different metaphors and models of God that shape how we see ourselves in the cosmos.

For her God does not exist in another world, distant but controlling and rescuing. Rather the creation is God’s body. The language is startling, but remembers it is metaphor! In the incarnation God took on body in this world. In the enfleshment of God we learn from the message, life, and death of Jesus of Nazareth. (Blessed Are the Consumers: Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint, p. 189)[11] Salvation is not something that happens apart from this world and is not so much understood as release from the punishment of sin as the call to “relate to all others (from God to homeless persons and drought-ridden trees) as God would and does.” (195).[12]

McFague consistently avoids a grim and dour view of discipleship in a world of climate change and growing economic disparity. Gratitude, not consumption, is the mark of the sacramental life. The relationship between self-fulfillment and self-denial is paradoxical and flowers in grateful reception of life and death. Sacramental living embraces “the harsh realities of biological existence” (hunger, suffering, death) balanced with a grateful sense that all is gift. (185)

So, here again there is radical continuity in living and dying. If the goal of our here-and-now existence is sharing ever more fully in the divine life (deification), then in death we are received back into the great sea of life and love which is God. She cites Dorothee Soelle question, Can we care more about the beauty of creation and its continuing to flourish than we do about our own individual continuation in some future, heavenly existence? McFague muses, “The tough love of Christianity demands this death, as does the natural world.” No flinching there! For McFague the answer to Soelle’s question rides on the long term project of “decreation of the ego and the recreation of God’s life in us.” (186)

The individualized-self identified with consumer culture, cannot care about the flourishing of creation and its continuance, except in terms of self-preservation. It is the journey toward the universalized self—the self that is identified with the “other”—that makes the world go round. Pelvic sin as the symbol of individualized behavior as a category must be replaced by a radically different reading of human identity and responsibility understood in the self-emptying (kenosis) of God in Jesus Christ (Phil 2:1-11). What are the implications of this for preaching and spiritual formation in our congregations?

In the last chapter of Blessed Are the Consumers McFague offers practical expression and guidance for conceiving of sacramental living. She starts with reflection on death, particularly her own. “If I can see myself in inclusive terms, the world as my body, then I might be able to accept my personal, individual death not as an end of everything but as another phase of living in and toward God. The active, historical, physical part of my existence will be over soon, but that is not the end of me.” (emphasis added) McFague says that the heart of the matter here is anthropology: who we think we are in the scheme of things. Do we see ourselves as “merely single individuals” or do we see life as gift from God and from the body of God, the earth? We have the gift of consciousness for a few years. So at the root, gratitude, no matter how brief or miserable one’s life is, can be our response to this unmerited gift. Thus we do not need to fear death for we can feel and see the world as our body. (208) We can live as inclusive selves in the face of the lie that we are individualistic selves. We do not own ourselves, since we are “on loan,” as it were. Further, we can now “make decisions on the basis of this new picture of the self.” We live with increasing empathy from which nothing is excluded—not the “bear whose home has been destroyed by clear-cutting a forest, but also for a mountain whose top has been removed for coal production.” (208)

Within this self-assessment, we can see how we are to act on behalf of others (inclusive of all things animate and inanimate), exercising just distribution and sustainability and putting our considerable assets to work for the good of the whole.

McFague suggests three levels of action: the personal, the professional, and the public. The personal has to do with living lives of simplicity, restraint, and moving way down the index of material comfort so that others may have their fair share. (209) At the professional level, this means “continuing to do the work we are educated in and suited for” and doing so in an ecological fashion. Finally, at the public level, “we should use our influence and money to elect ecologically minded politicians who will enact laws resulting in systemic changes at local, national and international levels.” (209) This requires that we become literate in ecological matters and teach our children and others the “house rules: Take only your share; clean up after yourself; and leave the house in good condition for others.” (209)

The recurring symbol in McFague’s book is “food”. This, she offers, reminds us of bodies and that all bodies in the energy circuit need food. For us well-off middle class people, “food” suggests not so much what we should do as how we do whatever we do for the just distribution and sustainability of our planet. “It is no longer sufficient to undertake charitable acts with the present system to provide band aids for its most egregious faults…the model itself must be changed—and we have the power, the money, the influence, the networks, the know-how to undertake such a revolution of thought and action.” (214) We have the responsibility to suggest alternative models. “This is, I believe, action of the highest order and the greatest importance; to refuse this task is to refuse the role of human beings on the planet.” (214) We must cease acting within a false model and we “owe it to our earth and to each other to imagine and to embody a different vision, a different model.”

At the very end of her book she asks rhetorically if she is confident that “we will turn things around…live within a different model….” She writes candidly, “No, I do not.” She continues, “So, I think small, like Dorothy Day [of the Catholic Worker movement]; I think of the little way [Thérèse of Lisieux], the tiny fragment that I can bite off and chew on during the particular day that lies ahead of me.” (215) She recalls at age two a determination to tie her shoes, a task that took her over a month to succeed in. She writes metaphorically, “Things can’t get much smaller than that. I am still trying to learn to tie my shoes better, and even if I don’t succeed, I will have made an effort. That is, perhaps, all we can do—but we do need to try to tie those shoes.” (215)

I confess that I wanted to hear McFague answer her question more hopefully than she did. Perhaps that is because most days, I too doubt that we humans will turn things around and live within a different model. Our egos and our politics seem to promote band aids rather than surgery!

Transformation, conversion, entering into the life of God for the life of the world requires surgery to root out the cancer of unsustainable consumption and its source: the unrestrained individualized self. The surgical room is the world and the procedure is the work of grace in both the liturgy of the Christian sacraments and the liturgy of the world, God’s body. Baptismal union with Christ incarnate in the world is our life-long and growing entrance into the life of God as inclusive selves (deification). Eucharistic living models and rehearses sustainable living and being: taking, blessing, breaking open, and giving food. That is our daily life, our daily bread. That is tying our shoes.

Daniel Benedict, OSL, is abbot of the Order of Saint Luke. He lives in Hawaii where he and his wife seek to practice sustainable living.

 Copyright (C) 2014 Daniel Benedict, OSL. The article started as an address to the California-Pacific Chapter of the Order of Saint Luke, October 10, 2014 and then at the Order's Annual Retreat in Pittsburgh, October 23, 2015. It was published in Sacramental Life (Vol. XXVI, no. 3, Ordinary Time, 2014). For permission to reprint in part or whole contact the author at stlukebysea@yahoo.com.


[1]For the interview go to http://tinyurl.com/ocqkoxw Accessed 10/28/2014.

[2] The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth, p. 53. In another place, Berry states without apology that the human agenda for the 21st century and beyond is this: “All human institutions, professions, programs, and activities must now be judged primarily by the extent to which they inhibit, or foster a mutually enhancing human-Earth relationship.” (CF, loc. 1092)


[3] My source and reference for what follows is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and The Cosmic Christ by Alex Tergo (2013)          

[4] (Writings in Time of War; http://tinyurl.com/m4d5a8s; accessed 10/27/2014.)

[5] From Chapter 1 “The Mass of the Universe”, Hymn of the Universe (1961) by Teilhard d Chardin,  http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=1621&C=1535 Accessed 9 23 14.

[7] (ASCA, p. 223; emphasis added. I allowed this non-inclusive language to avoid a clumsy paraphrase)

[8] © 2014 Daniel Benedict, OSL. This prayer is currently included in a draft text of A Basic Morning Prayer for use in Ordinary Time before Advent being considered by the Daily Office Revision Team of the Order of Saint Luke.

[9] See Richard Louv’s, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.

[10] From Berry’s essay “Imagination in Place” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_William_(Wendell_Berry)#cite_note-5 Accessed 10/27/2014. Emphasis added.

[11] Unless otherwise stated, all numbers in parenthesis here on refer to pages in Blessed Are the Consumers.

[12] I am unable to do justice to McFague’s broader work in this article. For a helpful overview of McFague’s approach see “The World as God’s Body” http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=56