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Seeing Paradise

by Jay Griffiths

Painting: Joy Garnett

It’s the will of a god. See it written in a piece of eco-pornography which seeks the end of life on Earth. I used to think the apocalypse was just a fairly harmless mystical allegory, but then I realized how powerful it has become as a driving force in realpolitik. When world leaders forget the compassion and political grace represented by the sayings of Christ, but use the Book of Revelation as a myth to live by, we need to worry.

The longest, deepest, widest indigenous prayer is that the Earth should endure, wending its own way as it always has, and that people too should swing in the Earth’s own harmonies. So say those who have dwelled longest on this kind Earth, knowing that the greatest love affair on Earth is the love of Earth.

But one small and very recent group of arrivals prays for the opposite, that this world should end so that a new off-Earth heaven can come into being. After the fire, smoke, and sulphur, this Earth will pass away, they pray. For them, what is most spiritual is outside and beyond Earth, a whiteout of the psyche, a tragic addiction to a weird and bloodless irreality. To me, the very idea of heaven is offensive to Earth.

Pornography hates and demeans women, so eco-pornography hates and demeans the Earth, portraying it as soiled matter, fit for burning. Pornography is an abuse of power over women, and eco-pornography is an abuse of power over nature. The trouble is that this small group of eco-pornographers has become very influential.

When it comes to dealing with climate change, we need wiser influences, and if we must have leaders, we need better ones. We need people who can deal with many ways of thinking at the same time; people able to deal with the complexities of psychology, law, natural systems, and diplomacy. We need those familiar with the nubby reality of a garden spade, who at the same time take for their song an older music. We need those who can understand the physics of the natural world and who can take for the ground of their myths the beauty of this Earth, this theater of irrepressible life. We need tribal elders.

The Hopi prophecies suggest a deadly fire burning the world and, crucially, see this as something to be averted. But the myth of those in power seeks this fire, prays for a tragedy. In answer to this tragedy, it seems to me now, mourning is not enough. Call her Gaia, call her Life, call her Mother Earth, she requires a risorgimento of spirited spiritualism, a kind of militant shamanism to challenge the hegemony of those in power, to reject this singular myth which, peculiarly among human cosmologies, sees the Earth as profane and thinks that paradise is elsewhere.

So this sad group waits longingly for their Rapture, heedless that the rapturous nature of this Earth is already paradise. For here, already, are the messengers of the innately holy: a thumbnail, a turtle, a joke, a pebble. There is heaven in the day’s eye, as that sweet flower the daisy remembers in its naming. Here are the real angels, in radish, twilight, and trickster, speaking of life, complicated, infinite, crescent and laughing, this Earth now, where life sweeps another comedic turn at every moment. We need a greater myth, and we have one—the sweetest, deepest songline of the Earth.

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Jay Griffiths is the author of Wild: An Elemental Journey (Tarcher/Penguin), winner of the Orion Book Award for 2007.

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