A Wound in the Waters of the Gulf

“Earth felt the wound, and nature from her seat
Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost.”

So Milton describes the moment of the fall in Paradise Lost, the moment a single human action breaks and wounds both the relation between humanity and God, and the relation between ourselves and our world. Milton sees the deep link between our spiritual state and the state we keep and leave the world in. But these harrowing lines might well describe the tragedy unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil welling up uncontrollably through a hole that we have made and cannot cap is a sign, to many o us, of our wounded planet, a sign of the damage we have done and are doing, and of our seeming inability to put it right. And it’s no good blaming BP. They are deep-water drilling to meet our demands, and the real cause of this tragedy is our collective addiction to oil itself. We have a lifestyle, an economy, even an agriculture, entirely based on burning oil; a way of life that is not only unsustainable but invisibly toxic. But this wound in the earth’s surface, this oil welling up through the waters, has also brought the toxins of our whole way of life to the surface and made them visible. For those recovering from addiction it has sometimes taken a crisis to make a change, it has needed a break-down for a break-through, and it maybe that this crisis in the gulf, an environmental disaster on an unparalleled scale, is th world’s wake-up call, our Kairos moment. If we can face it at its worst we can also have hope. Though Milton wrote ‘all was lost’, his poem is alive with the promise of ‘one greater man’ who would ‘restore us and regain the blissful seat.’ Christians, who know that the wounds in our world stem from those same wounds in us that Jesus came to heal, have a special calling to speak both judgement and hope into the present crisis. I leave you with the words of another poet, Wendell Berry, from an interview about the oil spill in the gulf, in which he names the values we need to espouse in order to have hope:

‘diversity, versatility, recognition, and acceptance of appropriate limits or getting the scale right, and local adaptation — those ideas, it seems to me, put us in reach of work that we can do. To assume that all experiences like that oil well can only be handled by experts at great expense is a mistake.’

heres a link to that interview


Filed under christianity, Current affairs, ecology, economy, politics

4 responses to “A Wound in the Waters of the Gulf

  1. Julia Bolton Holloway

    I remember that addiction to oil, when, as a professor, I ran a car. And gave my husband and sons cars. Now with the Vow of Poverty I just have a bicycle. A much finer form of transportation!
    Also our cemetery for decades was put to weed-killer. Then I went to Romania and saw their beautiful agriculture, not using petroleum products, fertilizers, pesticides, etc., and it reminded me of the Amish, of Italy as it was in the ’60’s, such fertility, such harmony between man and nature. So I forbade the weed-killer and this ‘English’ Cemetery in Florence, through the care of the poorest Roma gypsies, has become a Paradise Regained. And they are repairing their homes in Romania and sending their children to school, which they could not before. All of us benefit. We don’t need oil.

  2. Someone should make a documentary on that, Julia! ‘Life Without Oil’ or the like… It would be culturally fascinating and beautiful, while practically eye-opening 🙂

  3. Even so, it seems that one of the main things supported by oil is our globalisation (even our conversation is international!); and it’s nearly impossible to conceive a world where travel, gadgets and markets returned to a pre-Industrial level of consumption. Even if we came to want it, ‘paradise regained’ would leave us too vulnerable in our isolation and social simplicity.

    Any ideal of efficiency and responsibility must be found among this new context, I guess… Yet there must be a right path.

  4. I have a feeling that God put that oil there for our grandchildren, who might have developed ways of using it that don’t harm the earth. But we in our generation want to use up all the resources of the earth — after all, what has posterity ever done for us?

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