Do you notice the place or landscape where you dwell - including its sacredness?
Do you intentionally touch with your body the physical space -- and non-human made surfaces -- that you inhabit?
Do you hear the non-human voices that speak around you each day?
Do you understand what they need to thrive?
Do you see the ground beneath your feet?
Do you understand how your well being is connected to your planetary neighbors?
Do you appreciate the tastes that represent Earth’s great creativity?
During its 5th anniversary in the middle of a pandemic, Pope Francis reiterated the interconnectivity of all of creation
Everything is interconnected (LS, 70)
Why after 5 years are we still not letting this impact how we live, love, and worship?
How can we deny this after all we have heard from our scientific brethren or after we have seen all the images gifted by NASA -- especially of our blue marble or Earth’s dynamism and organic breathing?
Yet our minds do not seem to compute that Earth is a living, breathing, organic subject in the sacred story of Creation -- and we are one of many expressions of Earth's creativity!
We do not live this reality. We do not connect this principle of interdependence when we are living our ordinary lives as individuals or in the politics, economics, sociology, worship, recreation, etc... in our human communities.
We are not really justice seekers driven by the idea that all the cosmos is connected -- not yet.
My blogs over the next two weeks will do two things:
1. Tell you stories of how we have gotten so disconnected from creation. This alienation is a powerful concept driving much of the discord today and it is deeply embedded in our collective psyches
2. Offer opportunities to personally reconnect and reawaken to how the universe really is a communion of subjects and not a collection of objects (thanks Thomas Berry). This is the hard formation work needed prior to our exploration of Laudato Si.' We must get to know our many wild and wonderful neighbors -- this cultivation of the soil of your imagination is where the ecological conversion of Laudato Si' will take root.
So in the spirit of Mr. Rogers -- lets start getting to know our neighbors!
Fred Rogers on the set of his show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood from the film,Won’t You Be My Neighbor.Jim Judkis/Focus Features
Here is my first story of alienation:
Long, long ago (OK maybe about 250 years ago but a blink in cosmic time) there was a large need for natural resources to feed the Industrial Revolution in Europe (and then in North America). There was so much happening. There was the building of ships to sail vast oceans. The creation of factories to create more stuff for growing communities being told that new machinery will make human life better and easier. This description simplifies so much as you will see in other stories I will tell. But these new ways of thinking and living needed copious amounts of energy to sustain them. The island of Britain (and their colonies) could not keep up for they had to look further afield and deep inside the ground.
But Mother Earth was an important way people imagined the world. Some indigenous creation myths speak of Skywoman with similar affection. She (yes, she not it) was our Mother, nurturer, and protector. She celebrated but also lamented and sought vengeance. And this impacted what people thought was right and wrong behavior. This was not the only way people imagined our planet but it was a powerful metaphor to dislodge. Humans knew their interdependence with creation, for good and for bad. There was no insulation from this fact of life.
Painting of Skywoman Skywoman from the Haudenosaunee creation story by Bruce King
We needed lots of stuff - coal, wood, food -- for industrialization and we saw that Earth possessed it. But extracting it in the vast quantities that was needed was akin to pillaging our mother for her silverware. This was an upsetting concept and hard to justify. But machines were built to serve human masters so this metaphor would promote an extractive way of life. Thus, in art, literature, and popular culture, she (Mother) became it and Earth became seen as a dead, inert, passive object whose sole purpose was to aid human progress.
Check out the Frog by Vladimir Gvozdevis, a Russian mixed-media artist born in 1966 in Moscow.
What is the difference in how you feel when you look at Skywoman versus this beautifully detailed mechanized frog? What changes? Why? How would this feeling change how you act towards creation (She versus it)? Why?
There are consequences for this movement towards Earth as machine.
The technological master and controller of this machine became humans in general, and (male) scientists specifically.
Humans now understood ourselves to be separate from -- and masters of -- this planetary machine.
We even believed that it was virtuous for us to use this machine to benefit the unchecked 'progress' of humanity.
And as our technological powers grew, so did our impact on Earth. We have changed the very face of Earth. If you doubt the impact we have had on creation -- or that the rise of industry has changed everything -- check out the trailer for the documentary Manufactured Landscapes.
It's not simply about right or wrong. It needs a whole new way of thinking. Artist Edward Burtynsky, Manufactured Landscapes.
This machine metaphor has fed our imaginations for centuries and it will take intentional unlearning and re-training to re-imagine our place and role in this sacred communion of subjects.
Now it is your turn to become part of this story of re-imagining... this is your first creative task:
Exploring the Ground Beneath Your Feet
Can you imagine a time when you spoke of Earth as a subject -- a living, participant in your life’s journey? When was that? Why? What changed?
Let’s begin re-imagining your relationship with Earth -- and let us start with the ground beneath your feet.
Let’s get your imagination fired up.
Picture in your mind a man, John O'Donohue, standing on the Burren in the West of Ireland. He is speaking in a lovely Irish brogue. He has a deep, unhurried voice speaking with the lilt of a poet and the rush of the wind in the background at the Cliffs of Moher. Hear him say...
Allow the Beauty to awaken in you then the beauty will gradually awaken all around you
I think it makes a huge difference in one's life when you leave your house whether you believe you are walking into a location which is simply dead space that you are crossing to get to where you need to go. Or whether you believe that you are walking into the living universe. If you believe the second, then your walk becomes a different thing. John O'Donohue
Holy noticing is when we pay attention to Earth and realize in our minds, imaginations, hearts, and bones that it is living and imbued with the Spirit that makes it indeed, very good. If we embrace this way of being, then our walk will become different. This is the ecological conversation spoke of in Laudato Si'.
But before you can deeply understand the theology of Laudato Si’, you must form your imaginations by walking out into a small slice of the sacred universe and discovering God there. Now not God in God's fullness or entirety of course. But a glimpse - yes.
When you bring your body out into the landscape you are bringing your body home ... John O'Donohue
For this week, I challenge you to bring your body out into the landscape and reflect on your personal relationship with creation -- as a window to your relationship with the Creator of this magnificently interconnected world.
The inspiration for the next few blogs and our good work preparing ourselves for Laudato Si’ came from the wonderful book by Wendy Ann Greenhalgh called Stop. Look. Breathe. Create (2017). Interestingly, I came upon this gem at a gas station rest stop during the trip I organized for students to Ireland to explore the impact of landscapes on Celtic imaginations. I am very grateful for this act of serendipity
First let us explore the ground beneath our feet.
Intentionally start your morning in quiet reflection of Mary Oliver’s Song of the Builders. What speaks to you - don’t think, feel the words speaking to a deeper consciousness buried within.
On a summer morning / I sat down / on a hillside to think about God ... Mary Oliver
Then go for a walk - short or long; on trails or concrete … choose a familiar path. If you cannot venture out, then find a photo of a path your walked or one on this page and begin your mind's journey
Look. Notice small details. Now large. Sounds. Feelings. Smells. Conjured memories of past paths. Who may have walked here. Expectant paths of the future. Who might future sojourners be. What do they need. What do we need. How are they all subjects in the sacred universe story first uttered millennia ago? Who else has walked upon it? What could be their names and stories? How did this ground or path form?
Breathe. In and out. Let your mind slow. This might take a while. Take time. Don't rush yourself or be impatient. Just be present to the ground beneath your feet.
We move through this world on paths laid down long before we are born... "On Trails" by Robert Moor
Create. This time, try a drawing … draw what you saw, felt, heard, experienced. How did you connect to the space your were inhabiting and the Creator indwelling in that space? Did it feed your mind? spirit? body? How? Why? Why not? What neighbors walked across your path? How was the path a subject in your journey today? How did your lives intertwine, even for a moment -- and how did this change you? them?
Drawing is especially good for noticing things because it requires more time, focus, and concentration than simply taking a photograph. It is a form of intensely focused, mindful looking, and finely tuned looking skills are everything. … the aim is not to produce perfect drawings but rather to draw in a way that helps us to explore what we are seeing and relate to it more mindfully with a greater sense of connection and enjoyment.” Wendy Ann Greenhalgh
Enjoy your time connecting to the personal Source of life ... as Aquinas said, theology is straw without this personal relationship with God, Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer.