Editor’s note: Last week, Christy Brown of Louisville delivered the keynote address at the Religions for Peace Ninth World Assembly in Vienna, Austria. More than 600 international religious leaders and other concerned governmental and non-governmental representatives met to “advance multi-religious action for the common good. Brown spoke about the sacredness of air, water and soil, and the responsibility of people of faith to revere life. Here are excerpts from her address:
It is an exceptional honor to be here at your truly remarkable Religions for Peace 9th World Assembly. I am humbled to be before you because I sincerely believe that you represent the very best of the best of our world.
Each one of you in carrying out your vitally important vocations, is a true beacon and model of peace and of hospitality because you daily lead by love, inspiring faith, hope, and charity around our entire suffering world.
I accepted your invitation out of my gratitude to you and to Religions for Peace, which I have been privileged to serve many years as an international trustee. This has allowed me to witness firsthand your loving and powerful work of developing an ever expanding Religions For Peace global movement.
Finally, I accepted because of my extremely deep concern for the health of all of life, and my alarm at the terrifying rate at which we are currently destroying our world’s environment.
The breadth of your developing Religions for Peace family is truly exceptional, showing me and all of our globe’s faith-filled individuals the endless potential power of all faiths working together to effect serious, positive global change.
My Louisville colleague, Dr. Kathleen Lyons, and I have brought you two gifts from our Kentucky home:
The first is a global toolkit, which is your invitation to please become recognized as the world’s voice for the preservation of our sacred air, water and soil so as to create healthy communities that are essential for the survival of all of life — human and natural.
Our other gift is your personal key and bookmark, which is a symbol of our prayer that you will continuously unlock your minds and hearts in new kinds of ways to discover that you are the true spiritual and inter-religious guardians of health and the loving protectors of all of life.
HRH Prince Charles laments that we have for years been encouraged to think of ourselves as disconnected from nature, perhaps even the “masters of nature.” As a result, we have lost touch with the holiness of nature, which has been left in our care in a very, very sacred trust.
He believes, as many of us do, that to be restored to wholeness we must be reinstated consciously, spiritually and emotionally, with the vast, larger life of which we are a part. This larger life is sustained by the sacred air, water, and soil — all of which are the gifts of life from the great author of life.
There is widespread evidence that we are scarcely conscious of our unity with all of life. The U.N.’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment warns that “nearly two-thirds of the natural machinery that supports life on Earth is being degraded by human pressure” and yet the reality is that this alarming news has scarcely drawn a response.
Gandhi has told us “the Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” Again, no response.
My fellow Kentuckian and dear friend, Wendell Berry, has said “industrial humanity has brought about phase two of original sin, making us all now absolutely complicit in the murder of creation.” But I ask you, our religious leaders — who is listening?
Thich Nhat Hanh, a brilliant thinker in his own right and a friend to one of my personal heroes and fellow Kentuckians, Thomas Merton, has been telling us, “The bells of mindfulness are sounding. All over the Earth, we are experiencing floods, draughts, and massive wildfires. Sea ice is melting in the Arctic, hurricanes and heat waves are killing thousands. Mother Earth is being destroyed and Mother Earth is angry … and yet we continue to consume, ignoring the ringing bells.” So I ask you again — who is listening?
We hear comments equally startling on a daily basis from those who love the Earth, like His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew who tells us that “the way we respond to the natural environment directly reflects the way we treat human beings and that the survival of the natural environment is also the survival of ourselves and that a crime against nature is a crime against ourselves and sin against God.”
Pope Francis is asking us “to protect with love all that God has given us.” So with our hearts full of love, let’s begin now by heeding the voices that speak on behalf of nature and encouraging our followers to do the same.
The challenge before us is twofold: We face an ecological crisis as well as an unheeding populace. While I do not underestimate the magnitude of this challenge, I believe that our faiths give each of us hope that an improved understanding of the urgency of climate change can and will take place through you, our world’s religious leaders. We will see positive change when you begin to teach daily from your mosques, your cathedrals, your temples and your synagogues that all of human life is precious. Health, harmony and peace can only be achieved when we practice justice towards the world’s sacred elements, the source of all life and our connection with the divine.
I am confident that our connection to this one planet is one of our greatest commonalities. You, the religious leaders of our globe, who have “the allegiance of billions of believers,” hold the world’s keys and are the prophetic voices that our suffering Earth has been waiting for. You are the voices of faith, of hope and of charity which can create that one unified interreligious voice that will empower all religious leaders to find the much needed new ways to apply our universally shared moral principles to all life, natural and human, such as:
• Thou shalt not kill.
• Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.
• And thou shall do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Fifty years ago at the young age of 16, I was among the 250,000 participants in the Civil Rights March on the Mall in Washington, D.C. It was on that August day in 1963 that I witnessed for the first time in my life what I believe to be the absolutely remarkable power of successful inter-religious leadership.
It was there that those very diverse religious leaders, speaking from their hearts, insisted that the racial atrocities that our suffering United States of America were tolerating were absolutely immoral and therefore completely unacceptable. Because of their fervor, we, the 250,000 plus people of all ages, creeds, and colors learned that day that, yes, together, “We must overcome,” and that, yes together we shall overcome.
Two years ago, in September, my extraordinary husband of 43 years, Owsley Brown II, a fellow Religions for Peace international trustee, died very unexpectedly and tragically from an extremely rare form of MRSA. His shocking and completely surprising death, I will always believe, was absolutely connected to our destruction of life’s natural balance.
So I stand before you, a widow with a broken heart, asking that you in the name of all of the children and grandchildren of our globe, please use this your Ninth World Assembly to heed Prince Charles’ recommendation to create and lead a global sustainability movement that will restore our world and all of its people to moral and physical wellness.
This sustainability movement will allow you, our religious leaders, to become globally recognized as “Mother Earth’s Moral Agents of Change” and the Moral Voices for all of Life as you teach each of us to use prayer, song, and love to celebrate the miraculous interconnectedness between our natural and human world. Together, we learn that each of us, bound in a single miraculous unity of life, is blessed to hold the whole world in our collective hands.
Christy Brown, of Louisville, is a founding board member of the Center for Interfaith Relations.