Spanish Literature and Religious Environmentalism: A Green Lent Update

Sor Juana Ines de la CruzA barefoot woman learns the language of the local indigenous tribe, and cultivates her own spirituality based on their deep spiritual connection to the Earth. This woman was a highly educated Mexican nun and playwright who lived during the 17th century.

The Boston Globe published an article today about Nina M. Scott, a retired University of Massachusetts Amherst professor of Spanish Literature. Instead of chocolate, Scott has chosen to give up carbon this Lent. She is doing a few extra things to reduce her carbon footprint, such as hanging her clothes up instead of using a drier and carpooling to use less fuel.

“For me it’s that connection between protecting nature and faith,” she says. She and a dozen of her friends at Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst first got the idea when they heard about two Church of England bishops who encouraged parishioners to go on a low carbon diet for Lent. (Check out my article, “What Does Lent Have to Do With Sharpening Green Habits?”)

The Globe article also mentioned this past weekend’s Yale Divinity School’s conference “Renewing Hope: Pathways to Religious Environmentalism.” This is the conference that screened the film Renewal, which I wrote about last week. The Globe pointed out the conference to illustrate the movement that is taking place, that religions are becoming enlightened to their environmental responsibilities. Sure, the religious environmentalism movement is picking up speed, but it’s certainly not new. Interfaith Power & Light, which is featured in Renewal, founded by the Rev. (now Canon) Sally Bingham, Environmental Minister at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, has been around for over a decade.

The spiritual wisdom that human beings and nature are intimately connected goes back to the beginning of civilization. Sor Juana InΓ©s de la Cruz, a Mexican intellectual and playwright, one of Nina M. Scott’s academic specialties and no doubt influences, was a Mexican nun in the 1600s who caused a big stir in Mexico for writing plays criticizing colonialism. She was a member of a group of nuns called Discalced Carmelites, known for being barefoot.

When she challenged the excessive mining for ore and military conquest in the name of God, she was punished by her superiors. Sor Juana’s spirit lives on, not just in feminist literary criticism, but in a religious organization called Santuario Sisterfarm, in my neighborhood (the Central Texas Hill Country). The Sisterfarm calls their mission an “eco-ethno-spiritual quest,” empowering latinas to go deep into their ancestral connection to the land. They practice organic farming and seed storage of non-genetically modified seeds in an ethic of “Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share.” They also run a publishing house called Sor Juana Press.

The term “religious environmentalism” may be new, but the spiritual wisdom is old. Religious environmentalism is uncovering these ancient traditions, and it’s good to see it getting more press these days.

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