The conventional notion of the self with which we have been raised and to which we have been conditioned by mainstream culture is being undermined. What Alan Watts [1915-1973] called “the skin-encapsulated ego” . . . is being replaced by wider constructs of identity and self-interest—by what philosopher Arne Naess [1912-2009] termed the ecological self, co-extensive with other beings and the life of our planet. It is what I like to call “the greening of the self.” . . .
Among those who are shedding these old constructs of self . . . is John Seed, director of the Rainforest Information Centre in Australia. One day . . . I asked him: “You talk about the struggle against the lumber companies and politicians to save the remaining rain forests. How do you deal with the despair?”
He replied, “I try to remember that it’s not me, John Seed, trying to protect the rain forest. Rather, I am part of the rain forest protecting itself. I am that part of the rain forest recently emerged into human thinking.” This is what I mean by the greening of the self. It involves a combining of the mystical with the pragmatic, transcending separateness, alienation, and fragmentation. It is . . . “a spiritual change,” generating a sense of profound interconnectedness with all life. . . .
.. By expanding our self-interest to include other beings in the body of the Earth, the ecological self also widens our window on time. It enlarges our temporal context, freeing us from identifying our goals and rewards solely in terms of our present lifetime. The life pouring through us, pumping our heart and breathing through our lungs, did not begin at our birth or conception. Like every particle in every atom and molecule of our bodies, it goes back through time to the first splitting and spinning of the stars.
.. We were present in the primal flaring forth, and in the rains that streamed down on this still-molten planet, and in the primordial seas. In our mother’s womb we remembered that journey, wearing vestigial gills and tail and fins for hands.
.. Beneath the outer layer of our neocortex and what we learned in school, that story is in us—the story of a deep kinship with all life, bringing strengths that we never imagined. When we claim this story as our innermost sense of who we are, a gladness comes that will help us to survive.
Irenaeus [130-202] . . . taught that the whole of creation flows from the very “substance” of God.  All things carry within them the essence of the One. Irenaeus . . . signaled his concern about the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo,creation out of nothing. . . . This was to become the standard of Western Christianity’s approach to creation. Creation would be viewed not as coming forth from the substance of God but as fashioned from afar by a distant Creator, made out of nothing from on high.
Irenaeus intuited that this would be a disaster, that to neutralize matter, to teach that creation does not come from holy substance, would lead to the abuse of creation. It was a convenient “truth” . . . [meaning] that the empire could do whatever it wished to matter. Matter was not holy. It had not come forth from the womb of God’s Being. Rather it was made from nothing. It was essentially devoid of sacred energy. So, every imperial mind could ravage the earth’s resources with impunity. It could disparage the rights of creatures and subordinate the physical well-being of its subjects. Religion had become the accomplice of the state’s subordination of the earth. It had sanctioned the separation of spirit and matter.
.. God is both transcendent and immanent. And the work of Jesus, he taught, was not to save us from our nature but to restore us to our nature and to bring us back into relationship with the deepest sound within creation. In his commentary on the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel, in which all things are described as spoken into being by God, Irenaeus sees Jesus not as speaking a new word but as uttering again the first word
.. He describes Jesus as “recapitulating” the original work of the Creator
If you would learn more, ask the cattle,
Seek information from the birds of the air.
The creeping things of earth will give you lessons,
And the fishes of the sea will tell you all.
There is not a single creature that does not know
That everything is of God’s making.
God holds in power the soul of every living thing,
And the breath of every human body.
—Book of Job 12:7-10
.. From the beginning of the Bible to the end, it is clear that a loving God includes all of creation in God’s Kingdom.
.. In the Genesis story, God’s love, beauty, and goodness overflow into creation; and all creatures, including humans, are living peacefully in God’s presence. Isaiah prophesies the “peaceable kingdom” to come (11:1-9; 65:17-25), which is symbolized by animals living in peace. In Revelation, John hears “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe” giving God “blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever” (Revelation 5:13). Finally, John sees “a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1) and the Bible ends with a new garden, complete with “the river of life-giving water” and “the tree of life” (22:1-2).
God shows authentic, primal concern for all animals by directing Noah to take a male and female of every species onto the ark to be saved (see Genesis 7:2-3). Apparently, animals matter and are worth “saving.” After the flood, God makes a covenant, not just with people but with all of creation (stated five times in 9:10-17). How did we miss that? Sadly, if we are self-centered, even if we say the Bible is the “inerrant” word of God, we will hear only what we want to hear! God’s salvation—and every biblical covenant—is clearly a social, historical, and universal concept rather than the merely human and individualistic version of salvation that most of us were taught.
This made Christianity into a largely ineffective religion. The notion of salvation became so guarded and so stingy it was finally not available to the vast majority of humans!
How could humans think we were the only or even the main event? Not only did we think that the Earth was the center of the universe; we were certain our human species was the only one that God really cared about. All of creation was just a stage set for the human drama. Normally that is called narcissism. We extracted the soul from everything else. Nature was simply here for our utilitarian purpose, to be used for our consumption. With this belief system, we entered into a state of profound alienation from our own surroundings. We no longer belonged to this world because there was nothing worth belonging to. It was no longer naturally sacred, deserving our reverence or respect. We could rape, plunder, and misuse the earth. We could torture animals and destroy ecosystems because we thought they had no inherent value. We acted as though we were fully in charge.
.. Every day we have opportunities to reconnect with God through an encounter with nature, whether an ordinary sunrise, a starling on a power line, a tree in a park, or a cloud in the sky. This spirituality doesn’t depend on education or belief. It almost entirely depends on our capacity for simple presence.