Posted by: Drew Sutton | October 26, 2009

“Effort gives way to existence…”

I have been reading and searching for a definition for sustainability that would underscore our work here at Eco-Justice for some time now.  I’ve read countless things that have probably confused myself more than anything, but I’ve found poetry and other abstract ideas that point towards an idea of sustainability suggesting maybe the definition exists beyond basic reasoning.

I’ve seen definitions that fit an economic relationship with the world.  Seeing the world as a mine full of resources that may not be able to replenish itself at the rate in which we are harvesting.  The economic understanding of sustainability, hopes to offer an understanding of enough in hopes that our children and their children will have the resources they need to survive because we conserve today.  This definition however identifies everything by placing a value on resources, objectifying the world.  Everything becomes classified by its value producing a world in which something’s importance is reflective of its value.

The environmental definition involves terms such as bio-diversity, sustaining the earth and atmosphere, and seeing the world as a delicate system to which we must care for.  Whereas the economic definition objectifies the world in which resources have value based upon their importance in the world, the environmental definition observes the world as a fragile network of relationships in which we must handle with delicate care.  This definition creates tension as to best practices for the caring of the world and limits the partnership between humanity and creation.

Both definitions maintain a hierarchical understanding in which humanity is set apart of the world.  We either are the harvesters or the caretakers who enter the world as a foreign place and try to prepare for a future in which our children and their children can exist.  I do not want to suggest that they are bad definitions as environmentalist and business professionals are working extremely hard to raise awareness for creation hoping to awaken us from our slumber and abuse of the worlds resources.  However I think the definitions are incomplete lacking an understanding of connection and partnership between Creation and Humanity.

I found this poem as I read Dr Janet Parker’s Sermon “From Apocalypse to Genesis” that was published in Yale Divinity School Journal Reflections (Spring ’07) and was also awarded the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Sermon of 2007.  To conclude her message, Dr. parker uses a poem/prayer by Wendell Berry calling for a faithful sustainable relationship.

“When despair for the world grows within me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”    Peace of Wild Things-Wendell Berry

As I read Berry, I find myself remembering the end of a beautiful poem called “Being Human” by a group called Climbing Poetree.  The last line a beautiful reminder of what Berry, and a definition of sustainability seek to remind us;

“effort gives way to existence.”

Sustainability is existing in the world realizing the beauty of life is living within our means, economically, and environmentally, as partners with the world and with each other so that tomorrow we can awaken again to the wonders of life.    Our efforts to faithfully live sustainable lives require us to consider how our faith informs the relationship between humanity and creation.  This understanding will affect our work in communities whether that be church communities, or small groups but also in our daily practices as we live out the gift of life.  Sustainability means I have enough, they have enough, the world has enough.  Some will enter this conversation by engaging the world on a global scale seeking to help peoples or eco-systems around the world.  Others will interact based on personal decisions about how they spend their money, and where they purchase goods.   All of which is a journey towards reestablishing a deeper connection with Creation, with our neighbor, and with God.  Our efforts to understand sustainability will give way to existing in relationship, an equal partnership in which we grow more fully in our understanding of the unknown.



  1. Drew, thanks for these nice thoughts to start off my morning. Finding meaningful ways to talk about what we are working for is important!

  2. […] our communities. “Sustainability means I have enough, they have enough, the world has enough” (Drew Sutton). I will post more about sustainability and human community in my next post. Rate this: Share […]

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