Dean Attridge featured speaker at Festival of Faiths
Dean Harold Attridge was immersed in the language of spirit and water in Louisville, KY on Nov. 12 when he delivered one of the major addresses at the 2009 Festival of Faiths. Speaking at the Festival’s Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, Attridge said, “Using the words of our sacred traditions, we can give thanks for the precious gift of water; we can repent for our misuse of that resource; we can attend to a message of hope expressed through the image of water, and we can heed the call to use water as what it was meant to be, a vehicle for abundant life.”
The dean’s talk was part of a 10-day interfaith celebration presented by the Center for Interfaith Relations in Louisville, an organization that produces year-round programming that models and fosters understanding and cooperation among all faith traditions. This year’s event, with the theme “Sacred Water: Sustaining Life,” was the 14th in the series of annual Festivals. Dean Attridge was invited to speak at the request of Ellyn Crutcher, one of the Festival co-chairs and a member of the YDS Board of Advisors.
The festival began with an interfaith prayer service at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption. Among the many other events at the Festival were an inaugural celebration with music, organic and local foods and art; a panel discussion about issues of water sources and farming practices; a brainstorming session on global water needs; a session with residents of Eastern Kentucky about environmental degradation caused by mountaintop removal mining; a community water blessing on the Ohio River featuring six grandmothers representing indigenous traditions; and a talk on the role and significance of water in the garden.
In describing the joys associated with water, Attridge pointed to passages in both Genesis and the Koran. “The vision that Genesis sketches is one of abundant vitality, and embedded within it is an injunction to maintain that vitality,” the dean said. “Whether you are divine command ethicist, or one who will find a different way of connecting ‘is’ and ‘ought,’ you cannot help but celebrate the vision of abundant life, revolving around water, embodied in this text, and proclaim with the creator that it is all very good.”
Passages in Isaiah and Revelation evoke the connections between sin, environmental degradation, and the need for repentance, Attridge observed. “With or without the prophecy of Isaiah or the visions of the Book of Revelation, we know that we have not been, as we have been called to be, the stewards of the goodness of creation and of the life-giving water that courses through it, and we repent.”
Hope expressed through the image of water courses through the pages of the Hebrew scriptures, the New Testament, the Jewish wisdom tradition, and the Koran, Attridge noted. But the references to water are not only symbolic, he pointed out: “Despite all the metaphorical applications of water as a symbol of all that is desirable, wisdom, purity, renewed moral life now and renewed eschatological life hereafter, our scriptures elicit a hope in the reality that H2O will be abundant and will enrich this very dusty earth.”
Attridge concluded by suggesting that heeding the call to use water as a vehicle for abundant life includes a strong element of justice:
“We are increasingly people beset by the results of our own cavalier disregard of the natural richness with which we have been blessed. But we are also implicated in social and economic systems that continue to impose new burdens on the poorest and least among us, both in the USA and throughout the world.
“As people of faith we are called to be prudent stewards of the gifts nature bestows on all, but we are also challenged to become aware of the ways in which our practices exploit others’ needs. Providing clean water for all may not be without cost, but such provision ought not be laid as a burden on those least able to bear it. The requirements of ecological stewardship, as in the case of Ezekiel and Revelation, must be compatible with environmental justice; the renewal of the earth must be grounded in a revitalized moral community, in our day and age, that is a community that embraces all faiths.
Following the prayer breakfast, Attridge and Willis Jenkins, the Margaret Farley Assistant Professor of Social Ethics and a specialist in environmental ethics, took part in an excursion to Eastern Kentucky to observe the effects of mountaintop mining on the environment and to visit Berea College, a Christian college that has a particularly strong community commitment to sustainability.