Sustainable living – a spiritual view

A Christian Science perspective.

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Much public thought and discussion is being given to sustainability. It's encouraging to see people from diverse backgrounds and political persuasions thoughtfully considering what practices – individual and collective – are and are not sustainable in the long run.

The Institute for Sustainable Communities, an organization that engages citizens in solving environmental and other problems in communities around the world, has developed a list of elements that make up a sustainable community. Some of these elements are satisfaction of basic human needs; protection of ecosystems; use of renewable resources no faster than their rate of renewal; meaningful employment for all citizens; equal opportunity for all individuals to participate in and influence decisions that affect their lives; respect and tolerance for diverse viewpoints, beliefs, and values; political stability; and a community spirit that creates a sense of belonging and self-worth.

To me, that list is an outward manifestation of spiritual qualities that originate in the nature of divine Love or Principle – nourishment, caring, diversity, balance, productivity, harmony, and all-inclusiveness. Whatever God creates – whatever originates in His nature – is sustained by Him forever. That includes the essentially spiritual identity of every individual and the essentially spiritual substance or idea behind everything we see around us. Conversely, whatever is not created by God has no law or principle to support it, and it cannot be sustained.

Translating this into our everyday life, we might say that whatever in human experience is aligned with God's qualities – whether it's a loving family, a business built on fairness and respect, or a community that values and cares for its members and its natural environment – is inherently sustainable. Opposite states of thought, such as selfishness, greed, lust, intolerance, and despotism, and the practices growing out of them, are inherently self-destructive.

"Sin has the elements of self-destruction. It cannot sustain itself," wrote Mary Baker Eddy in the Christian Science textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" (p. 481). Elsewhere this book explains, "Truth and Love antidote this mental miasma, and thus invigorate and sustain existence" (p. 274).

The power of God to sustain His creation, even in dire circumstances, is beautifully illustrated by the biblical story of the prophet Elijah. He made it his lifework to listen to, obey, and share what God told him. You could say this attitude of unselfishness and service aligned Elijah with what Mary Baker Eddy called "the sustaining infinite" (p. vii).

During a severe drought, God directed Elijah to journey to the east "by the brook Cherith." The account in First Kings records, "The ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening." When the brook dried up, God told Elijah to go to Zarephath, where he would be sustained by a widow. When Elijah found the widow destitute, he told her not to be afraid. He so trusted divine Love's promise that he was confident that the woman would not run out of food, and she did not. She, her son, and Elijah lived on what looked like impossibly meager resources during a great famine (see I Kings 17).

Public discussion of sustainability is largely based on the concept of a material world with finite resources, inhabited by life-forms vulnerable to corruption, imbalance, depletion, and extinction. But the experience of Elijah points to a higher view of the universe as spiritual – as both created and sustained by Spirit, God. Holding this view in thought and acting in accord with the qualities of Love and Principle can bring infinite spiritual resources to bear on the needs of all living things on Earth, proving all good to be not only sustainable but sustained by divine law.

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