Grounding with Some Zest
In April, I finished reading "Grounded: Finding God in the World -- A Spiritual Revolution", by Diana Butler Bass. There were many things that were great about the book, and it was a good beginning (it inspired me to write a poem) but by the end it felt like a whole other book could now be written.
This is because I had some reader-baggage / preferences that came up as I read the book, and rather that writing to the author and complaining, I wondered what about the book discomfited me.
Each chapter starts with a theology of grace, even abundance (in the non-prosperity gospel sense of the word!), rejoicing in these gifts that we have been given on "this earth, our island home" (a quote from a Book of Common Prayer Eucharist service) but halfway through a number of the chapters it switched to a scarcity-based theology: good soil and clean, fresh water is disappearing, air pollution, etc.
It is all true. Good soil is disappearing, air pollution is making a comeback and that needs to be acknowledged. But to be grounded, we need to come from a place of love and gratitude; scarcity and fear aren't the answer. That's the mindset we have now and it makes us grasp ever more tightly.
It turns out I didn't need to write Diana Butler Bass about it. She's on it. In an interview, she said: “Yes, you’re right, this book is ‘urgent,’ but it is beautiful and useful as well,” Diana says. “We’re not at our best when we feel threatened. I want people to know that, if we pay attention to those things, I think that’s where spiritual peace and wellbeing on a global scale will emerge.” (from Read the Spirit) On Facebook, she hinted that her next book that she is working could be called “radical incarnation re-enchantment”, so yes, I will be getting Diana’s next book!
We need to fall in love with our island home instead of treating it like an inexhaustible resource. We and the earth need to flourish together.
Teilhard de Chardin writes of a "zest for life", a passion or a drive to live fully. I read about this in an essay entitled "The Zest for Life: A Contemporary Exploration of a Generative Theme in Teilhard's Work" by Ursula King in "From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe" edited by Sr. Ilia Delio. The essay itself had some issues (not sure if it was Teilhard or King's point of view about humanity's right to use resources), but coming on the heels of reading "Grounded", it was a "Yes. This." moment for me.
"(The zest for life) relates to an awakening to the fullness of life with all its joys and paints, its growth, diminishments, and sufferings. ... within oneself, in others, and in one's environment. Growing into the fullness of life ... now requires a strong ecological awareness, and a new ecological Earth-consciousness and responsibility. ... Another idea associated with the zest for life is the idea of flourishing, especially the flourishing of people and planet. Flourishing means to thrive and proser. It refers to a dynamic drive rooted in a continuing source of energy which nurtures people's attitudes, motivation, and action." - Ursula King, pgs 190-91 [emphasis mine].
Yes, we need that zest! We need to flourish!
The essay is rather academic (and repetitive, hence the ellipses) so let's unpack it a little. The zest for life is a drive to live fully. It's perhaps easier to think of the opposite to zest: boredom or ennui. Having zest is about living life fully, both the good and the bad, and it means living sustainably. Flourishing, if you will. The abundance is in having enough to live. It's not about the materialistic "must haves, must dos" that the media and commercials tell us we must possess.
If we live fully, with our basic needs met, we can bring that fullness of life to others. An incredibly moving example of this is an article in the New York Times in July, about Canadian families taking in and "adopting" Syrian refugees. Which I will now let you go off and read.