Reflecting the divine in the treatment of the planet

Over Easter weekend in 1992, a group of us drove down the California coast from Oakland to Carmel.

One Saturday afternoon, we discovered a beach path leading to a small grove of trees. It was a lovely, enchanting place. One of the trees had branches low enough for sitting. They had formed themselves into a circle, with room enough for two or three visitors.

That night, the dreamtime took me back to that little space. A beautiful, kind-faced, middle-aged woman was sitting across the circle from me. Memories of what we might have spoken about are long gone, but a feeling of genuine soul connection with her remains to this day.

I remember asking, “Who are you? What is your name? Please show me your true face.” Abruptly, a blinding golden light filled the grove. I woke up, trembling, in a cold sweat.  Such a “big dream,” as psychoanalyst Carl Jung would say.

From all we are learning these days about the expanding universe -- that first flaring forth of a light spark, which created our billions of galaxies, stars, suns, moons and planets -- I now have a new take on this Easter Vigil experience. Perhaps my mysterious friend’s message that night was: “Who am I? Return to the sacred source for your answer. Remember, O dreamer, that everything in this amazing universe is a bit of stardust, scattered by my creation.” 

In the opening chapter of Physicians of the Heart: A Sufi View of the Ninety-Nine Names of Allah, the four authors quote from the Hadith, a collection of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. In one instance, the Holy One confesses, “I was a hidden treasure and wished to be known. The heavens and earth cannot contain me, but the heart of my loving servant can.” In another Hadith, the voice of Allah says, “I longed to know myself so I created the heavens and earth with the breath of infinite compassion.”

The book’s authors, all Sufi teachers, speak of this hidden treasure as the “unmanifest potential.” They write, “Take the white light of the sun. When you put its clean light through a prism, it begins to differentiate. In this way you come to see the ultimate beauty and majesty of differentiation.”

Returning to my dream, then, the true face of the divine is everywhere. Meister Eckhart, the 13th-century German Dominican mystic wrote, “Every single creature is full of God.  Every single creature is a book about God.” The fuzzy caterpillar is a spark, a seed of God. So is the rose, the whale, the zebra. Your playful puppy and your 20-year-old kitty that regularly brings his starving friends to the kitchen door for a nightly meal.

And at the human level, when we reflect compassion through our actions, we bring the divine into the here and now. The “hidden treasure” becomes manifest.

We see that play out in our world today. On Sept. 21, two days before a special United Nations climate summit, as many as 100,000 people are expected to march in New York City to demand comprehensive climate change action from the world’s leaders. 

Meanwhile, more than 28,000 people have signed onto two petitions, sponsored by Interfaith Power & Light and, asking Pope Francis to divest the Vatican Bank of fossil fuel investments.

Consider, too, how many worldwide actions are currently taking place, with people digging in their heels against other ecological horrors: defending the preservation of forests; standing up against cruelty to wolves and whales; protesting the Keystone XL transnational pipeline; saying “no” to genetically modified organisms in our food supply. 

By our standing up for compassion and social justice for the people and life forms of our planet, we radiate, through our convictions, that ancient goodness and light propelled into motion 13.8 billion years ago.​

Isaiah 55: 1-3 speaks of the abundance that comes when one aligns with the Creator’s energy. There will be a coming to the water, the opportunity to “buy grain without money, wine and milk without costs. Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what does not satisfy?”

I love verses 12 and 13, which tell us that when love is present, “in joy you shall go forth, in peace you shall be brought home; Mountains and hills shall break out in song before you, all trees of the field shall clap their hands. In place of the thornbush, the cypress shall grow, instead of nettles, the myrtle. This shall be to the Lord’s renown, as an everlasting sign that shall not fail.”

When Jesus asks his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel to find food for the hungry crowd and it appears, those are again the sparks of divine love, the seeds of God growing into God, through the generosity of people who are willing to share what they have to create a large, satisfying potluck.

A photo I found on Facebook tacked to my office wall shows a baby bird drinking milk from a teaspoon held by a human hand.

The accompanying inscription quotes Karen Armstrong, author of The Story of God and many other works: “If your understanding of the Divine makes you kinder, more empathetic, and impels you to express sympathy in concrete loving acts of kindness, this is good theology. If your notion of God makes you unkind, belligerent, cruel, self righteous, or if it leads you to kill in God’s name it is bad theology.”

As the Physicians authors observed, our actions of compassion become the unmanifested potential of the Holy One made visible. When we work to preserve and protect the earth, we become seeds of God, growing into God.