Book | The new expanded edition of Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth

Hearing the Cry of the Earth, Preface to the Second Edition by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

When we first published Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth in the autumn of 2013, the understanding that there was a spiritual dimension to our ecological crisis was still a fringe idea. The mainstream of environmental discussion and activity was focused on science and technology, politics and economics. But then in the spring of 2015 a remarkable document was published that compellingly reframed the issue for millions of people across the world. Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, calls for us all to see that the “unprecedented destruction of ecosystems” we are visiting upon the Earth is rooted in urgent spiritual and moral questions, and requires from us a spiritual and moral response.

Saint Francis

Pope Francis chose to be named after a saint “who loved and protected creation”—whose life was grounded in love for all of God’s creation, and who saw all creatures as his brothers and sisters. In this powerful and evocative encyclical, Pope Francis speaks of the Earth as “our Sister, Mother Earth,” who “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her.” For Pope Francis, as for his namesake in whose voice he speaks, the idea of the Earth as a living being whose cry we can and now must hear is not a fringe or new age idea; it is a reality we must respond to. The suffering of the Earth is as real as the suffering of the poor on whom the burden of this crisis falls most heavily; we must, he tells us, “hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” “The earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor.”

The encyclical bears witness to this “unprecedented destruction of ecosystems.” For Pope Francis, the abuse and the violence of the way we live—which create “symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life”—are moral and spiritual issues, urgently requiring that we recognize the consequences of, and changes required in, our way of life. Science and technology are vital to understanding and finding ways to relieve these physical symptoms of our unsustainable civilization and the deep global imbalance it rests on. Economic models can illuminate how painfully they will affect the poorest among us, and help devise strategies to counter those effects. But technology is often presented as the only solution, and this the encyclical contests. Technology “proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.”

The encyclical points us instead to the deeper moral and spiritual ground in which the crisis is rooted, the ground of the soul. The well-being of the Earth is not separate from the well-being of our souls, the encyclical makes clear; to care for the Earth is to care for the soul. This is the deeper perspective Pope Francis offers, and it suggests an even bigger shift in approach, a more radical reframing. “Rather than a problem to be solved,” Francis says, “the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”


How can we reclaim the inherent “mystery” that belongs to all of creation while living in a throwaway culture that has covered this wonder with waste? How can we return to a magical world we have made toxic with our greed and desires and our addiction to consumerism? How can we reclaim our sense of relatedness with the Earth and the vital work of “care for our common home?”

The signs of wonder are all around us, from the simple mystery of a sunrise to the laugh of a child. So too are the signs of desolation we have created—the rubbish we scatter on our streets, the toxins in our water, the species we have depleted. And amidst both the beauty and the desolation isthe cry of the Earth, the suffering of this most generous being who gives us life and sustains us. If we can hear Her cry despite the clamor of distractions that bombard us, we can begin the work of returning to what is sacred and whole, to that connection that unites us all. Echoing the teaching of St. Francis, the Pope writes,

“Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.”


The new expanded edition of Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth

The first edition of this book (published in 2013) fostered the emergence of the “Spiritual Ecology Movement,” which recognizes the need for a spiritual response to our present ecological crisis. It drew an overwhelmingly positive response from readers, many of whom are asking the simple question, “What can I do?”

se-2nd_edition-cover_lgThis second expanded edition offers new chapters, including two from younger authors who are putting the principles of spiritual ecology into action, working with their hands as well as their hearts. It also includes a new preface and revised chapter by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, that reference two major recent events: the publication of Pope Francis’s encyclical, “On Care for Our Common Home,” which brought into the mainstream the idea that “the ecological crisis is essentially a spiritual problem”; and the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, which saw representatives from nearly 200 countries come together to address global warming, including faith leaders from many traditions.

Bringing together voices from Buddhism, Sufism, Christianity, and Native American traditions, as well as from physics, deep psychology, and other environmental disciplines, this book calls on us to reassess our underlying attitudes and beliefs about the Earth and wake up to our spiritual as well as physical responsibilities toward the planet.

Contributors include: Chief Oren Lyons, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sandra Ingerman, Joanna Macy, Sister Miriam MacGillis, Satish Kumar, Vandana Shiva, Fr. Richard Rohr, Bill Plotkin, Jules Cashford, Wendell Berry, Winona LaDuke, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Brian Swimme, and others.

Love is the most powerful force in creation, and it is our love for the Earth that will heal what we have desecrated, that will guide us through this wasteland and help us to bring light back into our darkening world. Love links us all together in the most mysterious ways, and love can guide our hearts and hands. And the central note of love is oneness. Love speaks the language of oneness, of unity rather than separation.

And if we truly hear “the cry of the Earth,” feel Her suffering and pain, our hearts will open. When I read Pope Francis using this same phrase—“the cry of the Earth”—tears came to my eyes; I was overjoyed that something so basic and yet so essential was now being recognized. Her suffering does not belong to another, but to the very core of our own being, where we are one with the Earth. This cry touches deeply within us: the soul of the world meeting our own soul, restoring the sacred ground of being, the interbeing we have with the Earth and all life.

And central to this connection is love, for, in the words of Pope Francis, “Nature is filled with words of love.” Towards the end of his life, another prophet of our need to reconnect with a sacred Earth, Thomas Berry, spoke of love as foundational to this work, and of how “we must all participate now in the repair of our planet.”

This book is a small offering of love to help us reclaim the tools known to our ancestors that can help in the work of repair, of reconnection, that will bring our planet back into balance. It speaks with the voices of many different traditions, but with the single note of love for the Earth and the knowing that Her cry has begun to be heard.

– Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Inverness, California
December 2015