For many Canadians, being outdoors is proof of a higher being – if not a religious feeling, then the raw power of nature. A redwood, a giant prairie sky, a remote lake, a wild animal – any bit of natural wonder, solitude or grace is capable of it.
But in a country like ours, nature is provider as well as muse, and there will always be conflict over how to use the land and its bounty. Today, that conflict is strongest on environmental and political issues related to Alberta’s petroleum industry – the extraction and movement of oil and other fossil fuels, which creates jobs but comes with no shortage of impact on the land, both real and potential – such as the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project. With that in mind, Faith Exchange panelists have convened to discuss what religion says about caring for the environment and other living creatures.
Guy Nicholson: Thanks for joining us, everyone. I’d especially like to welcome two special panelists – George Stanley, regional chief for Alberta First Nations, and April Churchill, vice-president of B.C.’s Haida Nation.
Panelists, does something in nature have a strong spiritual effect on you? If so, is it connected to your faith?
Sheema Khan: Welcome George and April! We are fortunate to have your perspectives on this most important issue.
At a personal level, yes, nature has an immensely spiritual effect. The sheer beauty, vastness, perfection and harmony stir emotions of awe, gratitude and humility. Nature is seen as a repository of the signs of God – pointing to an omnipotent, compassionate Creator. Nature is in harmony with faith, and can serve as a means to enhance one’s faith. Human beings are regarded as stewards, sent for a short period of time, to live in harmony with the Earth. In Islam, we are allowed to enjoy the bounties of the Earth – in a balanced, responsible way that does not cause destruction and harm.
April Churchill: The Haida culture is based in our spiritual, mental and physical relationship to the land, waters and all life forces. The very core of our culture is our spiritual connections, which govern our use of the Creator’s gifts.
Peter Stockland: Beauty will save the world, someone once said, and beauty is certainly a reinforcement of faith for me. The beauty of the natural world makes Creation specific, tangible, a physical reality to be encountered. At the same time, we have to be mindful that we’re not in the Garden of Eden any more, Toto. We got kicked out a long time ago. So this world is where we must live by the sweat of our brows. We have to make use of it – prudently, of course, but unapologetically.
Once when I was in Jerusalem, I looked up at the sky and thought, standing there amid the modernity and the history and the archeology: “That is the same sky Jesus saw. Everything else has changed, but that is what He saw in His life, His ministry and in the hour of His death.” So it is a sign of meaning and of faith, that is for sure.
Lorna Dueck: I’m writing from the heart of Toronto’s concrete towers, sitting at my desk amid a pile of technology, and your question strikes in me a pinching acknowledgment of how difficult it is to suddenly switch gears and think about the transcendent in nature. I live in an economy produced world, and the change to a natural one needs to be distinctly deliberate for me. I do pull away to nature whenever I can, and the experience becomes surreal for me, drawing me into a quietude that becomes very spiritual to me. It’s there that Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God” – comes much easier.
George Stanley: Speaking for aboriginal communities in Alberta, we are closely related to a lot of sacred land and animals, trees and plants we eat from. We do respect Mother Nature wholeheartedly.
We know that several first nations communities are into oil and gas. We do respect and consult our elders before any activity takes its course. We consult our elders on anything to do with land. Mother Nature gives us a very significant picture when there will be damage to her.