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BRG-ICRS Webinar "Caring for Nature as a Worship"

  May 19th 2020

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On 15 May 2020, the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) and Badan Restorasi Gambut (BRG) held a second online seminar entitled, ‘Merawat Alam Sebagai Ibadah’. In the opening of the seminar, Dr. Siti Syamsiyatun, as moderator of the seminar, explained the purpose of this theme was to explore the definition or understanding of worship and its relationship to the care of nature. She emphasized that worship is usually related to a series of rituals performed within a social framework between humans. During this pandemic time, social distancing has transformed corporate worship. This presents the opportunity to reflect upon and redefine worship, seeing our care for the environment as a means of worshipping God. 

The seminar consisted of four speakers from four different religious perspectives: Fr. Andang Binawan SJ, a Catholic Priest from Keuskupan Agung Jakarta who teaches at Sekolah Tinggi Filsafat Driyarkara; Nissa Wargadipura, founder of Pondok Pesantren Ath-Thaariq, Garut; Jo Priastana, lecturer at Sekolah Tinggi Agama Buddha Nalanda, Jakarta; and Pdt. Clara Christina, a minister of the Gereja Kalimantan Evangelis, in Katingan Regency of Central Kalimantan.

In his presentation, Fr. Andang Binawan SJ highlighted the meaning of worship in the Catholic perspective as a relationship with God. Worship in the Catholic tradition is very rich with social rituals, centered on the gathering together of worshippers. However, Fr. Andang argued that in this time of pandemic, it is a good reminder to reconsider our worship and our relationship with God. God’s presence, after all, is not only in the church, but is everywhere. God is omnipresent and omnipotent. The presence of God can be found in all His creatures. Therefore, Fr. Andang suggested that people need to live this concept as part of their worship to God. For Fr. Andang everything that God creates is very good, and humans were created to be stewards who manage, preserve, and care for creation. All of creation, including humans, is interconnected and interdependent.

From the Islamic perspective, Nissa Wargadipura, founder of Pondok Pesantren Ath-Thaariq, began her presentation with the question, “If the Earth has given us a place to live and gives us everything we need, then why are we so cruel to and destroy the Earth?” Nissa noted that the destruction of nature directly affects humans as evidenced by the current pandemic. Humanity’s ignorance of the extent of environmental destruction and the greed of humans in exploiting nature results in a decreased quality of life. Nissa argued that physical abnormalities, such as stunting and various disabilities, are the result of a damaged natural environment. Unfortunately, in her view, the Indonesian government’s attitude concerning the environment and use of natural resources prioritizes profit over conservation. 

Nissa Wargadipura argued that it is time for all parties to take active roles in caring for the environment and to consider this a means of worship to God. She shared her experience in running an agro-ecological activity in her pesantren. She adopted traditional Sundanese agriculture system, known as buruan or “farming in the house yard”,  in order to support household needs. Even though this farming activity is only on a small scale, it is an effective exercise fostering care for the environment and a sense of gratitude. From this, the community begins to realize the importance of even the smallest creatures, like microorganisms in the soil, for the continuity and balance of life’s ecosystems. Nissa expressed great concern about the dangers of pesticide us in its destruction of this balance. Finally, Nissa Wargadipura emphasized that taking care of nature, even the smallest part of it, is a form of religious worship, aligned with the concepts of the relations between humans and God, other humans, and nature or hablum minallah, hablum minannas, and hablum minal alam.

The third speaker, Jo Priastana shared, from a Buddhist perspective, the issue of taking care of nature as a part of worship. Priastana opened his presentation by reflecting on the enlightenment experience of the Buddha, which happened under the Bodhi tree in the moonlight. The Buddha was close to nature and it was there that he received his enlightenment. As such, Buddhism, Priastana argues, is naturally concerned with environmental issues. According to Priastana, for Buddhists there are three primary teachings known as the Tri Ratna: Buddha (as the enlightened), Dharma (the essence of all things and nature is the manifestation of the Dharma), and Sangha (the monastic order/community). Buddhism seeks to foster an awareness of the interconnectedness of humans with other creatures and the natural order. Buddhism also emphasizes the importance of cosmos-centrism and not anthropocentrism. Buddhists should avoid killing other creatures, theft or greed, negative desires, fraud, and intoxicating foods as a part of their effort to live in harmony with nature.

The final speaker, Pdt. Clara Christina, a minister of Gereja Kalimantan Evangelis, shared the Christian perspective of caring for nature as a means of worship by referring to certain Bible verses. First, she referred to Romans 12:1 which states, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Pdt. Clara argued that this verse can provide a good foundation for Christians to offer their worship, holistically, as part of their life. All of our lives should be presented to God and this includes our attitudes toward nature. She also cited Genesis 1:26-28 which states, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeliness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’” In referring to these verses, Pdt. Clara finds that, since the beginning, humans were created alongside other creatures. Humans are given a mandate to have dominion over nature, but this does not mean that humans may destroy nature.  Instead, they are called to manage creation as a steward, as part of our response and obedience (ie. worship) to God. Pdt. Clara emphasized that environmental issues are a problem we share, across religious communities, and we, therefore, have a shared responsibility to mobilize our resources including our religious traditions to care for nature.