Carol Kilby’s Journey to an Earth-Sensitive Church
"But this book is also for you in the pew and the pulpit. If, like me, you have so much gratitude for the wisdom teachings of Christianity and have dedicated your life to its study, but have come to understand it must evolve or drown in its own shadow, this memoir is certainly for you." (Carol Kilby, Evolutionary Dancer) Yes, Carol Kilby's book is for post-Christians who have left the Church. For people who are spiritually interested but not religiously affiliated and "done" with the Church if they once belonged to it. She invites us to recognize a new church: the Earth itself. For her as for so many, the Earth is not simply an issue among issues but a context for all issues: a sacramental context, a social context, an educational context, a healing context, a spiritual context. This perspective speaks deeply to many who have left the smaller church, historical Christianity.
And yet, as she makes clear, the book is also for people in the pew and the pulpit: people who want to think and dance with the Earth community while finding wisdom in the historical teachings of Christianity. People who are, as she puts it, "on the fringe."
As a process theologian myself, I can't help but think, as does Kilby, that the fringe is not merely on the periphery. It is at the center of a movement within Christianity itself. Many call it Ecological Christianity. Historical Christianity is, after all, in process. It is not a fixed and static fact fully defined by what it has been, but rather a tradition on a journey, beckoned by a mystery at the heart of the universe.
This mystery, God, beckons Christians, in the words of process theology, to be creatively transformed again and again, always in the interests of love. "Fringe" Christians are open to this transformation. They are at the vanguard of a new way of thinking, feeling, and acting, available to people of all faiths and no faith, that is essential to our time.
We in the process world speak of fourteen transformations needed within and outside the world's religions. Kilby speaks to all of the transformation. She tells her story and, along the way, helps pew-and-pulpit folks rethink and reappreciate what it can mean to be in the pew or preaching from the pulpit, embodying these transformations. And she offers rituals by which words can become flesh in our daily lives, so that we, too, become healers in a broken but beautiful world. On this page, after the PPT on the fourteen transformations, you'll find excerpts from her book, graciously shared with her permission. She writes beautifully and wisely, with a personal touch that makes the book all the more accessible. Enjoy.
- Jay McDaniel
shared with permission
We dance for laughter, we dance for tears ... we are the dancers, we create the dreams.
I’d never imagined such a day would come. But it did. Wakened by the planetary crisis, I walked away from the church. Nor did I imagine that same crisis would take me back. And I certainly never imagined that one day I would write a book from the fringe of the Christian culture. But then evolution, be it planetary or personal, isn’t something one puts in a five-year plan.
Evolutionary Dancer is the story of what’s been for me a three-step dance – first out, then back, and finally to the fringe of the church. The dance? Ah, that is the ongoing tango between belief and consciousness. In three sections, the book is an account of that dance as it’s happening in me, and all around me, in these times.
Out.Stepping out of paid professional ministry, I stepped into a post-Christian world as director of an Eco-Spirituality retreat centre. It was the new millennium. Spiritual, social, and environmental consciousness was rapidly breaking through old paradigms. In Canada, 40% of the population identified as not religious, 9% as atheists, and almost 30% had left religion for another or no religion at all. The stories in this section tell of my dances with the shift-makers of our time, the teachers and their students who are the Evolutionaries among us.
In. Stepping back into a small rural congregation of sophisticated elders was an adventure. We engaged the church’s seasons within the context of the planetary break-down. We read the old stories with evolutionary eyes. We included wisdom coming from the modern sciences. We saw there is an emerging belief system called Evolutionary Spirituality. The accounts of our adventure through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter will surprise, affirm, or challenge you. On the Fringe.In language that reflects the emerging Earth-community worldview, the last section offers Evolutionary Rituals, fresh practices and rituals relevant to these environmentally threatened times. Glossary.Because entering the uncharted future requires innovative language, here are words and phrases to navigate, communicate, and co-create a never-before species for never-before times.
shared with permission
The world mind, it seems, is forging a new container for its spiritual seekers ... something unprecedented is brewing in the Earth’s spiritual continuum. Perhaps the most hopeful sign is just this: the grand company of mystic-minded adventurers, bent on exploring every room in the many-mansioned House of the Holy. Jean Houston
In the Beginning …
Bright wide ribbons formed three large circles on the auditorium stage. A dancer moved from one to another like Goldilocks looking for the chair that fit her best. The red circle represented the Canadian Church, spiritual home to me and over half the participants. The blue symbolized the religious diaspora, those disappointed by Christianity’s lack of rights for women, gays, and lesbians. The green circle, its edges touching the other two, acknowledged those who lived on the fringes of both. It was 1995 and the opening ceremony of a conference called, Women Waking the World. The dance was in honour of five hundred registrants who’d come from in, out, and on the fringe of a conflicted and evolving institution. I was that dancer.
That dance, as life would have it, turned out to be prophetic. In 2004 I made la grand jeté out of ministry in a vibrant urban congregation and into environmental education in the Algonquin Highlands. And though I would later return to offer occasional leadership in a rural congregation, I would find my place on the evolutionary edges, on the fringe of Christianity. This book is an account of that three-step dance.
The vision – Gaia Centre for Eco-Spirituality and Sustainable Work – refocused our lives. We sold the four bedroom home in the suburbs and purchased the old farmhouse on the edge of Little Cameron Lake. We didn’t mind it was a renovation project or even that the attic was full of bats. When the shingled roof danced with the winds, the siding clapped its applause. Inside, neighbouring children made a game of moving the floor tiles like they were puzzle pieces. But that’s the way with a vision, you don’t fixate on what is, only on what can be. In the end, a carport became two bedrooms and a sitting room; an aluminum sunroom became a third bedroom; a mudroom turned into a hall closet and third washroom. The old walls stretched to be able to sleep seven guests, and feed a dozen or more, all without changing the house’s footprint.
Gaia Centre, a not-for-profit, charitable organization, operated under the auspices of a Board of Directors. Its programs invited participants to fall in love with Mother Earth again and to reinvent their work to protect her. Its international guest teachers shared their genius in the areas of ecology, environmentalism, Creation Spirituality, Shamanism, Buddhism, alternative medicine, mysticism, Taoism, Cosmology, Conscious Evolution, and more. While most programs happened in the farmhouse and on the land, many were held in larger urban settings. One day we realized Gaia Centre wasn’t a physical location but a spiritual destination from which to lead an Earth-centred life. Looking back, it was a vessel for my own, and I hope others’, evolution of consciousness.
As a Gaia-conscious organization, the aim was to let green ethics govern our programming. To reduce the cost of fossil-fuels involved in bringing registrants to events, we took programs to the people, travelling to many centres around central Ontario. Following the cosmic law of co-creation, we found allies such as progressive churches and yoga studios to co-sponsor workshops. To honour body, mind, and spirit, each event included movement and centering, lecture and learning, Gaia-glorious food and nurture, art as meditation, time on and with the land. Later, we learned to add a co-creative community component. It was an experiment in conscious education.
When guests asked me why I’d stepped out of the pulpit and into the woods, the answer I learned to offer was, I followed the energy. By energy, I didn’t mean my own physical strength but the larger energy that, according to Teilhard de Chardin, is part of a “vast process in which the whole mass of the universe is involved.” My fresh-sprung passion for the planet was part of what he’d described as “the evolution of the world towards the spirit becoming conscious.” In short, I left following that spirit-full, evolutionary energy that was leading so many others to reconnect with the Earth.
Another answer, equally true and too simple, was, I’d found a new story. The creation story, as told by modern science, wakened me to an undeniable fact – before I was a Christian, I was an Earthling and a cosmic being. Whereas Christianity was a worldview that was two millennia old, the cosmology offered by post-modern science was almost fourteen billion years old. Recognizing I’d emerged from this greatly expanded story of energy and consciousness, some shift in my life purpose, according to Theilhard de Chardin, was to be expected.
“For the first time since the awakening of life on earth ... we must address the fundamental problem of action” and “organize around us for the best maintenance, distribution and progress of human energy.”i
Over a century ago, this priest, whose mysticism was inspired by twentieth century science, had foreseen the significance of the new story.
Why did I step away from Christianity? In a language befitting the new cosmology, my answer is this – I’d awakened to the Evolutionary Impulse.
To say I followed the energy seems a straightforward reply. But these are not, and cannot be made to be, simple times. They are times when our species is awakening to a Gaia-consciousness that’s drawing many out of lives that today feel too small. That’s not to say, the exodus is an easy passage.
Growing up in small-town Ontario in the fifties, Holy Trinity Church was my second-home – Explorers on Tuesday, junior choir on Thursdays, and of course, Sunday School on Sundays. So, when in my early forties my mother died, I turned to that home. Faith drew me to study for ordained ministry.
But it wasn’t an easy fit for a gal who loved innovation more than tradition and Mother Earth more than Mother Church. Though leaving ministry introduced me to a vast world of evolving consciousness, it left a family-sized hole.
The shifts taking place, however, were not just in me. Other books explore in detail the varied reasons for the exodus from the mainline church at the end of the century. Here it is enough to share two sets of figures. In 1986, the year before I began seminary, 43% of Canadians were reported to attend church once a month. By the time I retired in 2004, those numbers had dropped to 27%. In my denomination, from 1991, the year I was ordained, to 2001, the number of people claiming an affiliation with the United Church decreased by 8%. As congregations shrunk, a clergy could sometimes feel there was more interest in growing the number of bums in the pews than the spirituality of a community. But the church’s decline was all part of the rapid evolution of consciousness happening in the new millennium.
Five powerful social movements have made this time what history will call another axial moment. Feminism, which continues to expose the oppression of patriarchy, demand language, security, and rights for women,
gays, lesbians, children, and Mother Earth. Environmentalism, better described as an ecological awakening to global warming and the extinction of mass numbers of species. The New Cosmology, that is the study of the 13.8 billion-year-old cosmos. The Conscious Evolution movement, that is the global awakening to how our one species will now determine the planet’s future. And last, the spiritual revolution has taken many forms including Incarnational Spirituality and Creation Spirituality as humans sought the sacred in their midst. Together, these new-thought movements bear witness to the shift in social awareness.
And I was not oblivious. Absolutely, these emerging philosophies created a major shift in my North American, liberal Protestant belief system. In response to rapidly accelerating climate change, my values began to realign with the ways of Earth. A sense of sacred connection to life, that’s to say, Creation Spirituality, was in bud. Worship of an omnipotent, unchanging deity in a distant Heaven felt passé. It was empowering to believe in divinity as the Creativity enfolded in everything. And this force of creativity, by its very nature, was no longer obedient to finite doctrines. Rather, it loved to dance; its preferred music was the music of the spheres, the vibrations of that first big bang. In short, it might be said, that which had led me into the pulpit to preach eternal love was now leading me out to live it now.
These pages are a response to the Evolutionary Impulse some call God that’s leading the dance of becoming. Becoming what? Awake, conscious, mindful, Gaia-centred, love, a new kind of human – yes to all of these. This book’s plea for an evolution in religious thinking, for the emergence of a Gaia-conscious culture, for faith in the future are my response to the death of life around me.
Who is the book for?
Do you identify as a spiritual seeker or an evolutionary thinker? Do you frequent farmers’ markets, practice yoga, go to drum or dance circles? Perhaps this book is for you. If you’ve rejected oppressive dogma, exited a marinating mainline denomination, joined mindfulness or meditation classes, these stories are for you. If you count yourself a tree hugger, among the growing number of mystic-minded adventurers, a disciple of Darwin, one of the children of Star Wars – you may resonate with a chapter or two. If you feel passionate about the environment, are drawn to ecojustice groups, long for a spiritual community but won’t commit to anything that smacks of hierarchy or patriarchy, these pages may ring true.
Certainly, here are a few thoughts for the “SBNRs.” In Canada, the numbers of folk who identify as Spiritual But Not Religious went from 17 to 24% in a decade. By 2012, SBNRs and Nones – those professing to have no religion – made up 40% of our nation’s census and 20% in the United States.ii
But this book is also for you in the pew and the pulpit. If, like me, you have so much gratitude for the wisdom teachings of Christianity and have dedicated your life to its study, but have come to understand it must evolve or drown in its own shadow, this memoir is certainly for you.
Why this primer on Evolutionary Spirituality?
Living in the end times, the end of the planet as we’ve known it, we’re hungry to find ways to navigate the unknown. Such ways, however, are not only political, technological, or environmental. What is most important is that we find novel ways of thinking. Evolutionary Spirituality reflects such a new consciousness.
As a belief system, it redefines everything as sacred, engenders love for non-human and human alike, embraces the cosmic story as our story, and nature’s creative processes as wisdom’s ways. Going beyond the tenets of our former religious and cultural ideologies, this worldview holds the potential to foster a spiritually ethical, and ecologically sustainable human species capable of deep inter-dependence with the whole of things.
In an age when the Earth family is divided, broken, and much of it disappearing, Evolutionary Spirituality points to a universal experience of holy communion.
What is Evolutionary Wisdom?
At the end of each chapter, you will find what I believe to be tenets and ecological truths – I call these Evolutionary Wisdom. Learned from my own consciousness-stretching encounters and spirit-expanding experiences, these ideas have been like footprints on a dance studio floor guiding me into greater alignment with the Evolutionary Dancer.
Written in three sections, the book reflects my own spiritual adventure. It begins with my stepping out of the Church, then back in, and finally landing in this place on the cusp of a rapidly shifting social, ecological, and spiritual culture. Out. Step out of the Christian culture with me to meet wonder-filled humans living awe-struck lives and working like Earth depends on us. Try on new frames for seeing – ecology, evolution, and awe. Gain evolutionary eyes. Meet Grandmother Universe. Her stories can empower us for life in this time of mass extinction.
In. Now step back into a gracious circle of Christian elders to re-interpret the Church’s stories, seasons, and beliefs within the evolutionary context, and speak justice to the truth of global warming. On The Fringe. These original rituals and unique practices reflect the principles of Evolutionary Spirituality. Better called spiritual dances, they celebrate both our cultural and Christian holidays while bridging the gap between our planet’s dis-ease and our longing to make a healing difference.
In the End…
Dance, to me, is more than a metaphor. Before spoken language, there was dance, the articulate movement and intentional communication between human and divine, the hunter and the hunted, Earth and Heaven, sun and moon, rains and winds. It was and remains all dance. Since the beginning, there has been the dance of birth and death, death and rebirth. Existence itself is dance. Modern science tells us the subatomic world, moving to the rhythms of creation and destruction, is a dance. An electron is not just an elementary particle but a dancer in the great cosmic sequence of moves and patterns. Vibrating and inter-connected, inorganic and organic, everything is a dance of energy. Parts of a holographic Universe, we ourselves are a reflection of the whole. Life is a mirror dance.
Dance to me is communication with and of Source. Before I was a clergy, I was first a liturgical dancer interpreting a Biblical story or spiritual theme. The round dance was part of the early church’s tribute to the Cosmic Christ. Prayer is dance. At the University of Creation Spirituality, dancing was prayer. Life is a sacred dance and the embodiment of the sacred. Dance to me is a way of being. And so, this is the story of my dance with that sacred and evolutionary energy.
The stories and rituals you will find between these covers have been as a result of my dance with the Evolutionary Impulse I have called God. They are my contribution to the ongoing movement of human consciousness. May they, in some small way, contribute to yours. And most importantly, may they speed the end of planet abuse in our time.