Eco-Feminist Spirituality: Path to a New Consciousness and Hope

What is happening is….a radical change in our mode of consciousness.
Our challenge is to create new language, even a new sense of what
it is to be human….It is to alter many of our basic values.
A new sense of the directions that human existence
should take is involved.

– Thomas Berry
Ecofeminism represents possibly the most exciting
and thought-provoking contemporary approach
to environmental issues.

– excerpt from cover jacket,
Ecofeminism and the Sacred

Throughout this blog, I suggest a new way to understand spirituality. As I now see it, spirituality is the expression in human form of the fundamental, inherent relatedness that results from our place in the evolution of our Universe.

If this presumption about spirituality is correct, and spirituality is all about our interconnectedness with the entire Universe, then it is also all about how, on a daily basis, we live out our relationships. This means how well or how poorly we relate to the Source of Life, to one another as persons, and to the rest of Earth’s community of life.  All of that is an essential component of and results from our spiritual well-being.

Unfortunately, since most of us possess a consciousness developed within a culture steeped in patriarchal values, attitudes and beliefs, our relationships are often marked by interactions that are painful, if not down right abusive, and certainly less than mutual, respectful, and productive.

For me, the new awareness of our profound interrelatedness in an evolving Universe – a Universe that holds all that ever was and will be together as “One” – is a transformative vision that points to the way out of our pain and ugliness. Starting in the 1960’s, here in the United States and elsewhere in the West, three social movements began to anticipate the fullness of this collective, transformative vision. They are the ecology, feminism, and spirituality movements.

Today, aspects of these movements have coalesced as the ecofeminist-spirituality movement.  For many years now, I have considered myself as someone who is making a small contribution to the growth of this movement. I do so because my learnings through being associated with others in the movement have transformed my own life, and point for me to a way out of the worst of our current ecological, political, and social crises.  And that, quite frankly, gives me hope, and energy to face another day.

Though its roots go back much farther, the ecology movement began in the 1960’s to call us to a new awareness of the interrelationships of species, based on growing scientific knowledge about the interaction of various plants, animals and resources. We came, all of us, to know more about how the diversity tied together in the web of life sustains an ecosystem, whether that ecosystem is a small pond in your neighborhood or the ocean that surrounds your continent.

The ecology movement continues today to promote certain principles required to sustain ecosystems. Some of these basic principles of an ecological community are: interdependence, diversity, adaptability, and limits.

On December 24, 1968, an American astronaut, William Anders, took a photograph from the Apollo 8 spacecraft as it circled the moon.  This photo, known as “Earthrise,” shows the beautiful blue and white surface of Earth, looking very “alive, against the blackness of space and in stark contrast to the Moon’s dusty, barren surface.  It has been called “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken” (

Several years later, in 1972, another astronaut took a photograph of our full, round, glorious planet. When that photograph was released to the public, it was the first time humans had seen the whole of Earth. It is an image that carries the profound transformative message that Earth itself is the ecosystem of all life, including the human community. The ecological principles of interdependence, diversity, adaptability, and limits apply not only to the pond or forest ecosystem near our home, or the fragile Arctic tundras, but to Earth itself, our ecological home. We will only survive as a species if we pay attention to and act in accordance with those principles.

Meanwhile, also in the 1960’s, the so-called “second wave” of the feminist movement began to gain ground (the first wave being the movement to achieve voting rights for women in the United States in the early 1900’s). Feminist scholars began to awaken us to the disparity in relationships between men and women. At first, women active in this movement came only from the U.S. and other industrialized countries, but today women from many parts of the world, who have identified the ill effects of patriarchy from within their own contexts, have joined them.

As with the ecologists, feminists realized that a culture based on patriarchal values, attitudes and beliefs was acting against basic life-giving principles of mutuality, respect, diversity, inclusiveness, collaboration, etc.  And, it was not long before feminist women working in the field of theological studies recognized that traditional ways of imaging the Divine, as well as many traditional approaches to spirituality, were tainted with patriarchal assumptions. Feminist theologians, for example, began to realize that a patriarchal dualistic vision of Heaven vs. Earth, supported by a vision of spirit vs. matter, and left no room for honoring the body – not women’s body nor Earth’s body – in spiritual experience.

By the early 1990’s many women, now calling themselves “ecofeminists,” began to write. Ecofeminism and the Sacred was published in 1994, and is described as “the first volume directed entirely to the issues of ecofeminist theology, philosophy, and spirituality.” Just a few examples of the titles of the essays in the volume illustrate the nature and breadth of the emerging insights: “Sin, Nature, and Black Women’s Bodies (Delores S. Williams); “Nuclear Power and the Sacred” (Carol Lee Sanchez); “Earthbody and Personal Body as Sacred” (Charlene Spretnak).

As I mentioned in the previous post, it was in the early 1990’s that I began to make the connections between ecology, feminism and spirituality for myself. Ecofeminism and the Sacred is one of the first books I purchased at that time. I found that I could easily identify with the questions and insights that were being raised by its ecofeminist authors.

In the 1960’s, many people began to turn to spirituality to find the inner wisdom to cope with a changing, and seemingly more violent, world. After all, it is in our spiritual traditions that we find the resources that define us – that tell us who we are, and how we are to be here in relationship to others.

I grew up influenced by the ecology and feminist movements during my teen years in the late ‘60’s, but I now believe that the sensitivity I had to the message of these movements stemmed largely from my own strong spiritual sensitivities. And, I had a particular interest in how the spirituality movement could contribute to the healing of our relationships, which the ecology and feminist movements also sought.  In 1995, I began teaching others about the ecofeminist spirituality movement. I did so from within the context of the New Universe Story, an introduction to this story having come for me almost simultaneous to my introduction to ecofeminism.

As part of my own journey, and inspired to help others, I began to ponder and conduct research on the implications of both ecofeminism and the Universe Story. I found that the implications are many, for the reach of patriarchy is broad and deep. But, as I learned from one ecofeminist colleague, the process of recovery begins with “naming” the areas within which recovery needs to happen. In fact, she once summarized the feminist agenda as a simple three-fold process: Naming, Claiming and Acting. The process involves, as I have said, naming the areas of our lives in need of transformation, claiming new values, beliefs and attitudes, and then acting in new ways. Deciding when, where and how to act is different for each person.

The extensive list of implications of the ecofeminist movement I began to develop years ago starts with the way we image God and ourselves as human beings. For example, from an ecofeminist perspective informed by the Universe Story, I now name and claim my reality as being part of a Universe in which everything, literally everything, is One. This means, as Thomas Berry has said, that both the physical and psychic dimensions of reality are One, and co-evolved. And, if this is true, one ought not to say that we are bodily beings seeking to become spiritual, nor that we are we spiritual beings forced to experience a bodily existence. Instead, what we need to say is that we are human beings, beings  who are body, mind and spirit,  as fundamental to the human condition.  This is an entirely new way to think about ourselves, and has implications for how we relate to Earth – and by extension our Universe – as the location for the fulfillment of human destiny.

Another implication for me relates to the fact that some Christian theologians, feminist or not, are attempting to address the ecological crisis by telling us that we must change our interpretation of Scripture or create a renewed theology of creation that will underscore the significance of the nonhuman world. To this, I now say, “No, a transformation in our behaviors toward our planet and its community of life is not going to come about because we begin to view Earth and its resources differently; it will happen when, and only when, we begin to view ourselves differently.

For these two reasons alone, it seems to me that the insights we are gaining from the ecofeminist spirituality movement are an essential part of our path to transformation.

What does all of this have to do with making it through today?  It has, in a way, everything to do with it. Because, from an ecofeminist perspective, it is all about “the grassroots.”  It is all about each one of us contributing to the change in our own way, when and where we can. Ultimately, we are all connected, and even the smallest act can have a ripple effect and lead to changes we may never see.  Besides, just thinking that helps me get out of bed in the morning.

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