This past week I was disturbed by some news I heard about my new favorite beach town. I first visited Kure Beach, outside of Wilmington, North Carolina, last March, and went again in November. We were hosted by dear friends who own a beach home in this delightful, quiet beach town. Without hyperbole, I can say that the time I’ve spent at this particular beach has changed my life. But now I imagine walking along the peaceful beach, only to hear repeated, deafening blasts shot every ten minutes into the ocean floor – not only disrupting my peace, but much worse, threatening the safety of marine wildlife.
This is apparently the hope of Kure Beach mayor Dean Lambeth, who recently signed onto a letter to the federal government, petitioning them to allow offshore seismic airgun testing. This process probes for the presence of oil and natural gas reserves, for the purpose of future offshore drilling. We know the perils of offshore drilling with its potential for deadly spills, but the process of testing – shooting blasts of air 100,000 times louder than a jet-engine into the ocean every 10-minutes for days or weeks – is also hazardous. Although the mayor argues that “this testing can be conducted in an environmentally safe manner,” the federal government currently bans airgun testing in the Atlantic, estimating that over 100,000 dolphins and whales (many of them endangered) could be injured or killed, and that the mating, feeding, and birthing habits of many marine species would be dangerously disrupted. Drilling off the coast of the Atlantic is also banned until 2017 – but as we see, some officials are eager to lift the airgun testing ban and help the energy companies to get a jump start on drilling as soon as it’s legal.
Why is this? Why are we so eager to put the natural world at risk for our purported economic gain? Why do we see such a separation between ourselves and the natural world in the first place? Well, let’s take a look back a few thousand years.
Ancient people believed in various forms of a Creator Goddess, who lived in nature and was part of nature. Humans honored nature because it held divine mysteries. But something different happened in Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2, NIV). The formless and empty earth, the surface of the deep, the waters – these used to be forms of a very real, personified Goddess: powerful, sacred, worshipped. And Her realm, the natural world, was honored as well. But in Genesis, the Goddess is reduced to a thing to be acted upon by a masculine God. The same way the ocean is now being acted upon by small-minded mayors and oil companies.
But imagine for a minute we believed in a deity like Yemanya, a Goddess of the ocean. What if we honored Her and humbled ourselves before the vast power and intricate ecosystem of the ocean? Even if we don’t literally believe in a Goddess dwelling in the ocean, we can use story and personification to reframe our perceptions and actions. When I sat at the beach in Florida earlier this month, and imagined there was a Goddess named Yemanya within the ocean, something happened to me. I slowed down. I imagined Her encouraging me to feel peace within cycles of ebb and flow, in the rhythm of Her tides. I imagined the feeling of safety of the womb. I felt honored and grateful to be in Her presence. That experience gave me personal feelings of connection and meaning, but also gave me reverence for the actual ocean and a deeper desire to look after it.
And I’m glad the citizens of Kure Beach want to protect the ocean as well. The good news from this past week is that a large group protested the mayor’s letter. They stood up and voiced their opposition to seismic airgun testing and offshore drilling. Hopefully their voices will be heard, and this one small part of the ocean – this one small piece of Yemanya’s domain – will be saved.