Cherice Bock worries about the human tendency to separate our spiritual concerns from our material condition—a problem she traces back to a dualist philosophical tradition that elevates “culture” over “nature.”
“For many of us who have been taught that our whole lives, it’s hard to feel connected to the natural world,” she reflects. That’s why she and Christy Randazzo have worked out another way of thinking, drawing upon Quaker tradition to inform an eco-conscious sensibility.
Cherice invokes the metaphor of the Light to show how people and other creatures are part of an interconnected system. “As we learn better how to be part of the community,” she explains, “we don’t have to try to control all of it and be above nature. We are participants and beloved members of the community.”
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The undergirding of all of these peace and justice issues is environment and climate and natural resources. It just kind of clicked, like “Oh, this is a justice issue.” This is…you know…climate change, the environmental harm that we’re doing, all of the various pieces of the environment and climate crisis. This is a social justice issue of our time.
I’m Cherice Bock, and I use she/her pronouns.I’m from Oregon. I live on Kalapuya land in Willamette Valley. I’m a member at North Valley Friends and a member of Sierra Cascades. Yearly Meeting of Friends.
Spirituality and Social Justice are very connected. Friends have, traditionally at least, a contemplative style of of worship, of spirituality. It’s sort of a rhythm of spending time being contemplative, spending time waiting and listening. And then we actually do what we hear. And of course, we’re listening while we do whatever action that we’re doing, as well. I think there’s a lot of power and joy and deep rootedness that can come from combining spirituality with social justice.
We sometimes tend to think of spirituality as, sort of, escaping our body. Especially for Quakers where we’re coming and we’re sitting in silence. And a lot of times it can kind of feel like “I’m going to focus on my spirit, sort of get out of my body, ignore my body as much as possible.” That’s kind of a problem because we aren’t being our full selves. We’re just trying to escape ourselves.
There’s a long history, particularly in the West, if you want to call it that, in the kind of Western cultures of disconnection from the rest of the natural world. This comes from the kind of dualism of nature versus culture and seeing those as a hierarchy. So if you have “culture is better than nature.” And so we’re trying to escape nature or control nature in order to create culture or civilization. As Western cultures or European nations colonized other parts of the world. They brought this idea of Western culture as better and nature is worse. And so we should try to escape from nature. For many of us who have been taught that our whole lives kind of subconsciously, it’s really hard to feel connected to the natural world, or we feel it’s sort of like subversive to do that, or it’s sort of not as good as living, really disconnected from nature. So it’s a really hard thing to break down, I think, in many Americans minds and actions.
My friend Christy Randazzo and I have been trying to think about “how do we bring a way of caring for the environment from within the Quaker tradition.” And so we started thinking about the metaphor of the light, the light within or the inward light, the light of Christ. People use different terms, but the light is this concept that’s important to friends across the centuries and across different parts of the Quaker tradition. And so kind of developed this eco theology of light that helps us transform that metaphor of the light from within the Quaker tradition to something that has ecological significance.
We as humans experience some of the light. Many of us can see by the light. We can feel the light on our skin. It keeps us warm. We can’t process all of the things that the light has to offer. We need other species in order to process all of the things that the light has to offer to our whole community. As the light comes into our community, different species and different individuals within those species process different parts of the light and are able to make possible different aspects of energy and nourishment within that ecosystem that we wouldn’t have if that species wasn’t there. All of these systems that we need function because of the light and so humanity by ourselves can’t receive all of our nourishment without all of those other species, without the whole community working together.
It’s a place of deep belonging for humanity, that we belong here in these communities, and we can participate with the whole community of our life. We don’t have to think of ourselves as above or separate or other. As we learn how better to be part of the community, as we learn how to receive the light that we need from the other creatures, and also give the light that we have and the energy that flows through us, into caring for the world around us. Then we’re part of that community. We completely belong here. We don’t have to try to control all of it and be above nature, but we are participants and beloved members of the community.
- How can Quakers connect to earth care as a justice issue?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.