The Rev. Don Downer, OSE, was asked to speak on the healing of Creation by the Bishop’s Committee on Healing at a refresher day for the diocese’s healing ministries. Jane Winstanley, a committee member, interviewed him for The Anglican.
Jane: How long have you been concerned about Creation and the state of the earth?
Don: I have been immersed in nature my whole life. Even as a child I would go for walks with my father and grandmother. They noticed every animal and bird, every insect and plant, and I learned to see them too. That training on how to be out in nature and observe it carefully has continued to be an important part of my life.
Jane: What triggered your concern and got you involved in the issues of global warming and climate change?
Don: Well, my university courses were mostly in the sciences – chemistry, physics, biology. So, when I started to hear and read scientific reports saying that the world is in trouble – the glaciers melting, the temperatures rising, coral reefs dying – I took those reports very seriously. Based on solid empirical data, the natural world is already changing rapidly and about to change radically. We are destroying the natural world and ourselves along with it. That is my motivation, and that is what triggered me to say, “We have to do things differently, and we have to do them now.”
Jane: You speak about the Order of the Sacred Earth (OSE). Tell us about that.
Don: I have been following and reading the work of theologian Matthew Fox for over 40 years. Initially with the Dominican order, he is now a retired priest in the Episcopal Church. Matthew has been very influential in the development of my personal theology. His books Original Blessing and the Cosmic Christ resonate deeply. He is convinced that the earth is dying and needs to be cared for in a global way. Based on a dream, he formed a new order, the Order of the Sacred Earth. An individual joins the Order simply by taking the sacred vow: “I will love and care for the earth in the best way that I can.” That’s it! There are no rules or regulations, no institution. Each person must decide what that vow means in their own life circumstances. This movement of “spiritual activists” brings likeminded people of all faiths, or no faith, together to live out their sacred promise. All around the world, people are making this commitment. In that there is hope! Another of Matthew’s basic convictions is that older people should work with, listen to, support, encourage, and mentor younger people. So, the OSE is being managed and run and led by young people. And I think it is a wonderful model, bringing together the wisdom of age and the energy of youth. My primary identity is now as a member of the Order of the Sacred Earth. I’m still an Anglican priest – retired!. But when I sign things now, it is as Don Downer, OSE.
Jane: What I find really encouraging about your talk is your emphasis, not just on what we need to stop doing, but also what we can start doing.
Don: Preparing this project, I looked at many documentaries, some of which are negative and scary. But they are also real. Things are bad and going to get worse. And these documentaries are the most powerful way to see all this! I have listed the best of these visual resources, ones that show what can and is already being done to make a positive difference. Experts have already collected and analyzed evidence-based solutions to many of the problems that confront us. For example, Project Drawdown has evaluated, summarized, and recommends 80 doable solutions to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. We know much of what needs to be done. Many are already being tried. And we know what a huge difference it will make if we do these things on a worldwide scale. One that was new for me is the whole area of regenerative agriculture. This is a method of farming enriches the soil while raising the meat and vegetables that we need. If we used regenerative agriculture practices, so much would change for the better. If we grew our coffee under shade trees rather than out in an open field, we would have better coffee, save the soil and provide shelter for birds and animals. Win, win, win! To save the world, we need to make all our decisions – political, economic, and social – that make nature our first priority, not the last!
Jane: We know and yet we don’t change or even want to.
Don: Yes! I am frustrated at times. So many people, so many of our systems and structures, are still in denial. And it is never easy to change. We think change is going to be too hard, too costly. But, if we try to save our economy by continuing the way we are, we won’t have an economy to save. So, what practically and logically makes the most sense? The only sensible way forward is to put the environment first – above everything else, even profit. Many of these things are actually not that hard to do. We just have to stop doing certain things and start doing others and we know what many of those are! We know we must stop our reliance on fossil fuels. We must move quickly to wind power and solar power and other alternate sources of energy.
Jane: Is there anything else you want to add?
Don: What we have been talking about so far is about survival, about saving Mother Earth and ourselves as well. However, I am convinced we have the potential, not just for our planet to survive but to thrive. We can make things even better than they were and certainly way better than they now are. To put this in biblical language, “I see a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and first earth are passing away with all the self-centred greed and pollution and destruction. And I see forests stretching as far as the eye can see, clear blue skies and clean oceans filled with whales and fish and all the creatures that live in the sea. I see cities filled with green growing trees and plants and gardens and living things.” Simply put, we need a much bigger vision! How do we become co-creators working with God in God’s Creation? We are capable of make this planet an incredible place. Not just preserving it but giving our children and grandchildren an even better world than we have ever known. I think that is possible. And I want to do that. I hope you can make that your vision, too.
To watch the Rev. Don Downer’s presentation “Healing/Caring for God’s Creation,” visit his website, www.DonsNaturePhotography.com.