At Extinction Rebellion, spirituality as a pillar of environmental activism

On the DIY altar in the barn, a rainbow flag acts as a tablecloth and a bouquet of grasses has replaced the cross. Praise rises from the assembly of about thirty people: “You love us, Source of life. » Émilie (1), 37, student in Protestant theology, chose this song from the community of Taizé “to speak to everyone, including those who do not use the word“God” “. This Sunday morning in July, a few Buddhists, agnostics and atheists are sitting cross-legged alongside the Christians. Their common point: their ecological commitment.

They gathered for a weekend in La Ferme de la Chaux, a self-managed Christian hamlet near Dijon, on the initiative of Extinction Rebellion. Abbreviated as “XR”, this international movement of civil disobedience, born in the United Kingdom in 2018, warns of the environmental crisis with non-violent blockades and spectacular actions. In France, whose Internet forum has nearly 10,000 members, it has made itself known in particular by occupying the Place du Châtelet, in Parisfor one week in October 2019.

At Easter 2022, when XR blocks the Porte Saint-Denis in Paris, an unprecedented event occurs: Christian activists begin an improvised mass with a priest who has come to support them. This is the birth certificate of “XR-Spi”, an internal group aiming to combine militant commitment and spirituality.

“We first thought of creating an ‘XR-Chrétiens’, like in the United Kingdom and Germany, but, in France, secularism means that religions are viewed with suspicion, says Glise (her activist nickname), a 26-year-old Catholic speech therapist. So we opened the movement. And it’s better, because it makes it possible to meet the spiritual needs of many “rebels”, who are afraid of the word “religion”. »

Love, Gospels and Energies

During talking circles on the yellow grass and vegetarian meals, participants of all ages discuss sobriety and their beliefs, summoning the collapsologist Pablo Servigne as well as Pope Francis and Saint Hildegard of Bingen, a nun from the Middle Ages considered Germany’s first naturalist.

The majority of those present are of Christian faith and base their ecological commitment on the Gospels. Thus, for Elisabeth, a 51-year-old Catholic who works in energy renovation, “Ecological and Christian commitments are totally linked, because the Gospel source is in the love of what surrounds us, not only humans but also nature, Creation”.

Very involved in her parish while being very critical of the Catholic Church, she defends the use of the word “spiritualities”, “in the plural, to overcome the religious issues that can bother us”. And include, like “Utopia”, 39 years old, who speaks willingly of“energies of which we are unaware” but “can’t name a god”those who came to eco-spirituality through the practice of non-violence, meditation or eco-psychology, a theoretical and practical project to develop our sensitive connection to the living, born in the 1980s.

Eco-spiritual walk

“There is work in militant circles to broaden the notion of “spirituality” and associate it with ecology. What poses less and less problems since the double turn of theencyclical Laudato si’ of Pope Francis and COP21 in 2015, observes Alexandre Grandjean, sociologist at the University of Lausanne, interviewed by The cross. Not defining it makes it possible to create a link, beyond theological differences. »

It is in this perspective that, over the weekend, Glise guides participants on an “eco-spiritual walk” during which it invites them to stop in a field or in the forest to “open their senses”collect or share emotions. “How, and with what resources, does the universe/God/the divine call me to put myself at “his Service” to defend Life? », she says at the end of the course, adapting a script proposed by the CCFD-Terre solidaire association.

Putting pressure on religious communities

In addition to wanting to help activists often eaten away by “eco-anxiety”, anguish in the face of environmental crises, to find support and hope, XR-Spi aims to transform religious institutions. When, in a heat beyond seasonal norms, activists and potential recruits debate the group’s missions, such as offering a prayer space open to all on the fringes of blockages, the idea of ​​actions and conferences to put pressure on the religious communities is approved.

“I hope that the Churches will manage to go beyond the simple “we sort the waste” to assume an ecological radicalism, dream Emilie (1). After all, the messages of Jesus’ actions are radical too: when he fires the merchants from the Temple, it’s a bit of anti-capitalism before its time. »

At Extinction Rebellion, spirituality as a pillar of environmental activism