There is no “We” in White

I can’t seem to find my starting point today, the week of Alton Sterling’s killing in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile’s killing in Minnesota, and now the fatal shootings in Dallas. So I’ll begin with what I know. The planet – the biosphere – is a web, interconnected, and interdependent. Everything provides sustenance – and I mean this in the broadest sense – for some Other(s). The health of our planet and the systems of it, depends on it.

The anthropologist Wade Davis adds to this concept of web, “ . . . the social world in which we live . . . is simply one model of reality; there are other options, other possibilities, other ways of thinking and interacting with the earth.”

This web, then, is not confined within the biological sciences. In The Wayfinders, Wade speaks of another web, every bit as critical to the health of the planet as the biological. In fact he doesn’t separate the two. He calls it the ethnosphere and defines it as the “sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and inspirations brought into being by human imagination . . .” I would add as well, brought into being by human wrong thinking.

There is a far deeper and more ancient well of wisdom than we in the west are drinking from today; it comes from a time before white ideologies divided the human world into greater than and less than; it was a time of a commonality of human DNA; everyone – everyone – until about 60,000 years ago, came originally from the great continent of Africa. Some stayed. It was a time before races and divisions along racial lines. Distinguishing people by race was born of the Scientific Revolution, and division by race is the core tenet of a dangerous and utterly misguided narrative. Division by race was what allowed western Europe to justify their colonization of India, for example, and Africa. It was also what allowed the early American whites to force out and destroy the peoples native to this land; it was before white America practiced a theology of Manifest Destiny, before white America constructed and built its privilege by the institutionalization of slavery.

I want us to remember this. I want me to remember this. Race is a social construct. Racial division and its ensuing hierarchy of white privilege is a relatively modern phenomenon, with no basis in science. White people are living lives of privilege and benefit based on utter falsehood. Those of us who are desperate to “do something” want to ask for help from the very people who’ve been degraded for centuries, once again putting the burden on those who have carried it far too long.

John Metta, in his article, I, Racist, explains why he no longer talks race with white people. “We don’t see a shooting of an innocent Black child in another state as something separate from us because we know viscerally that it could be our child, our parent, or us, that is shot. Black people think in terms of we. White people do not think in terms of we. White people have the privilege to interact with the social and political structures of our society as individuals.” As individuals, white people are able to say, and dare to mean, “I am not racist.” There is no we in white.

Eco-justice and human social justice are not only related; it’s not possible to separate them out. The planet’s eco-systems, if we are paying attention, teach us about community. But our institutions – economic, educational, political, religious – practice the opposite. In The Dismal Science ~ How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community, Steven Marglin challenges the ideology of the indefatigable market, with its twin goals of efficiency and maximum utilization. He lays out step by step how these market driven systems have divorced themselves from community. Is it any wonder that the rupture continues to widen and deepen, reaching explosive proportions.

Today I am sick at heart, and I don’t know what to do. I don’t see that tomorrow will be any different. I do know this, however: every one of us has within us the wisdom and core of truth that does indeed know what to do, does indeed know how to live in right relationship. Every one of us. It is far past time to dig down deep, deeper, deepest. It is far past time for me to go public, in whatever stumbling, awkward, terrified way I can. I, racist.

Sacred Water ~ Sacred Ritual

Because I am convinced that it’s through ritual designed for what people are calling the new narrative that we come to know earth and water, creature, air, and fire as sacred, deserving of our most respectful and devout care, I’d like to share with you a ritual for the coming of spring. A group of us gathered at a local pond, Tannery Pond in Wilmot, NH, and this is what happened.

Backstory

I posted on Facebook, “I think I am asking for help.” Many people responded from different corners of the globe. That was thrilling enough!
Around the world local communities were acknowledging the equinox with celebrations around water. Berta Caseres’ death by assassination was just several days old.
Before we began, I filled a vase with water from the pond and arranged flowers. The ritual we designed was collaborative, multi-generational, designed around the sacredness (and plight) of water, and raised up Berta Caseres and other ecological activist martyrs.
On this chilly full sunshine day, we began with a ceramic sculpture, created by Ann Kieffer, and a poem. The woman is carrying a jug of water on her head and walks through the dry lands with long confident strides. A few moments of silence, as we contemplated both sculpture and poem.
Nancy Woodworth-Hill, participated long distance, with a call-and-response lament she’d written (first draft) for just this occasion. I’ll include a significant portion of this powerful call and response draft, which picks up the ancient form of lament:

Lament            Legend: V = Voice, Voice 1,2,3 etc.          R=Group Response

V1: Where there is water, there is life!

V2: As we turn toward the sun on this day of half-dark and half -light, we, who are composed of stardust and ocean, await the spring melt with waters rushing in stream beds to gathering into rivers and flow down to the salty oceans.

R: Where there is water, there is life!

V2: Come waters, come! The time of sleet and ice is waning, soaking hard spring rains yielding to summer’s gentle pitter patter of rain drops.

R: Where there is water, there is life!

V2: Flow through tree roots to become cherry blossoms and summer peaches and autumn apples. Flow into fields to nourish delicate herbs, hearty root vegetables and sweet corn. Flow into beaver dens and puddles and ponds.

R: Where there is water, there is life!

V2: Water – splashing, bouncing, dripping. Water – bubbling, coursing, dancing. Water – fragrant, tender, sacred.

R: Where there is water, there is life!

V1: O Water, what have we done?

V3: We, who carry you in our veins, have muddied your arteries. We, who sing your praises, have removed your purity. We, who depend on you more than we know, have redirected your flow.

R: O Water, what have we done?

V3: We, who are disconnected from our roots, tear you from yours. Ancient aquifers depleted. Desert fountains spilling precious drops into the air. Swamp land drained.

R: O Water, what have we done?

V3: We, who don’t know where our garbage goes, obstruct your life-giving soul. Birds ringed with plastic. Sea turtles choked with fishing line. Fish and frogs with mutant parts.

R: O Water, what have we done?

V1: O Water, Earth’s life blood!

V4: Among us are those who think they own you. Precious desert water bottled, for sale. Land drained of its lifeblood, for sale. Dams built for power and recreation , for sale.

R: O Water, Earth’s life blood!

V1: Where is Water Wisdom?

V5: Whose voice is raised to protect you? Who will save you for next year’s apples and peaches? Who will protect our earth’s heritage for our children and grandchildren to the seventh generation?

R: Where is Water Wisdom?

V5: Raise voices loudly in lament! Rachel Carson, John Muir, Berta Cáceres, your message is true! Your concern for right use of public land needs to be proclaimed from the roof tops!

R: Where is Water Wisdom?

V5: Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores, carried in the waters of her mother’s womb, flowed with love for her people and their land, whose life blood, halted by the assassins’ bullet, enriches us all.

R: Where is Water Wisdom?

We then shared what we know about the late Masaru Emoto’s experiments with water crystals as they responded to a variety of human messages: I love you; I hate you: blessings of healing; and so on. I had prepared images and now distributed them, of water crystal in response to these messages from humans. Reading Emoto’s work changed the way I see water. I now think water sees me.
Each of us took a flower or two from the vase, and we offered blessing into the water that remained.
Jim Sims played (guitar) and sang a piece of music by the late Tom Wisner, “Made of Water.”
Those who had brought poems offered them into the group, each followed by a moment of silence. Another song, this time in the form of a chant which Nancy introduced  Hu ~ A Love Song to the Universe. The clear air loved the music, one syllable, sung again and again, harmonies never the same.
     It was time to return the water with all its blessings to Tannery Pond. Rose who is eight years old picked up the vase and carried it so very carefully and respectfully to the water, returned the water from the vase to its source, and laid her hand on the water. The water caressed her hand gently, and with love. Some of us added our flowers to the current. Sue then offered the take-home gift of forget-me-not seeds to plant in seed pots.
     This was the simplest of ceremonies. Designed collaboratively, it included anyone and excluded no one – and it was a most reverent and sacred hour we spent together. Grateful for the sun, grateful for each other, grateful most of all for the water.
Later that afternoon I walked with our three rescue dogs to the pond around the corner from the beach. I don’t know how to find words for this, but the pond felt different to me. Maybe it was my own relationship to the water, maybe the human–to–water exchange carrying a transformative hope. I don’t know, and I guess I don’t need to know. But as a flower drifted by, I could still see the water as it enfolded Rose’s hand, could still hear the echoes from our love song to the universe.

Getting to Know You ~ Sense of Place Part IX

I once thought that my husband Jim and I had bought and therefore owned this beautiful land parcel in Central New Hampshire. But over the years we’ve lived here, the idea that we actually own the land we walk – or any other land, for that matter – has become increasingly untenable. We do not own the land we walk, but we do walk it. I no longer look east to Jerusalem for the Holy Land. The Holy Land lies under my every footfall.

The first years we were here, our walks consisted of traveling the ready-made path from our house to the waters of Tannery Pond and back. Sometimes with dogs, sometimes without. Sometimes with hearts in our throats as the pond ice began its melt, and the resident bear started to wake up, other times with the confidence that our black neighbor had moved further into the mountains for her summer foraging.

One year we carved a second trail, up an over the ridge, where we can look down upon the vernal pools that are home to the spring frogs whose throaty crackling shouts of awakening sometimes sound like someone or something is being tortured. Not the case, of course. I like to think of it as the joy of awakening.

This winter has been an odd one, with very little snow, but enough rain and sleet to create solid paths of ice, treacherous even to me in my crampons, which I keep on my boots from December to April. So the dogs and I have had to find new ways. As we meander off path, I sing this song composed by my friend Alaan Classen, whose lyrics, in part, read:

 

 

Degaje . . . degaje

Somehow we will find a way

Where there’s no way, there’s a way.

 

By wandering where the ice is not, we have begun to form relationship with various trees, rocks, and vernal pools. As I sing, I give them names:

Upper Slingshot

Lower Slingshot (pictured)

Green Lagoon

Rock Watcher (above)

The Gates (below)

 

I love to do this, as it connects me deeply – and so much more deeply than in years past – with every part of the land we walk. I like to think the trees, pools, and rocks tolerate with curiosity my need to name them.

“What’s in a name?” they ask one another. “Why does she feel the need to name us?”

I do know that I am always glad to see them, denizens of the woods who’ve been there far longer than I, especially the granite. The trees were clear-cut a century ago, and I suspect, or at least hope, that my naming them honors their resilience and insistence to rise again.

Does naming matter? I don’t really know, other than the naming brings me closer in, helps me into a state of greater mindfulness. Perhaps – although none of them has yet to admit it – they really enjoy my erstwhile efforts to make connection.

*degaje is the name given to a ballet movement, when one leg disengages with another

To Re-establish Kinship ~ Sense of Place Part VIII

To Re-establish Kinship

As pastor of a California congregation whose commitment was to the development of a paradigm for multi-generational worship, the challenge for me was to honor the traditional practices of the church while at the same time redesigning the elements of the ritual in such a way that any one, of any age – of any faith or no faith for that matter – could participate with integrity.

We had good story tellers, actors, and artists in the congregation, of all ages, and so the dramatization of the scriptural stories along with the liturgical art to accompany them unfolded with relative ease. More difficult was the worship piece called the Confession of Sin. How it appears in the Book of Common Prayer is as a long, very long, string of words, with no silences for thinking about the many things “done and left undone”.

An idea slithered its way into an afternoon alpha state – I was lying on the floor of my office; it had to do with partnering river stones with running water. Of the many scriptural stories of rocks and water, I chose three: the discovery by the Israelites in the desert that if they were to strike the rock at Meribah, water would flow; the rocks placed across the Jordan River by the twelve tribes which became the path into the Promised Land; and the convert Paul referring to the risen Christ as Rock.

At the appropriate time, each member of the congregation was invited to choose a stone from the basket, weaving its way down the aisle by the efforts of a couple of the youngest. I asked the people to hold onto their rock; think about the things they had done that they wished they hadn’t; the things they hadn’t done that they wished they had; and to lift those regrets from their hearts and place them on the rocks. The same children then gathered the rocks, brought them forward, and with words of compassion and forgiveness, I poured water over the rocks and into the baptismal font. Regrets named, promises made, regrets released, and washed away, a new heart given. Although I imagine I did mention God from time to time, I didn’t have to. Rock and water were enough.

During a Reiki session one evening, I described the ritual to the body worker as she stood over me, and her reaction both surprised and disturbed me. “You lay your sins and regrets on the rocks and expect them to carry your burdens? Did you ask them? Don’t you think that’s a little unfair?”

I had no answer at the time, and although I thought about it in a guilty kind of way for quite some time, I finally relinquished the concern and thus yielded to the power of the ritual. Rock and water.

Frederique Apffel-Marglin reminds us that before the beginnings of the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century, we lived in diverse communities of other-than-humans, with a lively host of spirits – of trees, of waters, of creatures – spirits who teased us, played with us, chastised us, educated us, communicated with us, all as they accompanied us on our earthly journeys.

In Subversive Spiritualities she writes, “The beings of this world taught us . . . they had reasons for existing, their own requirements, and their own agency. We needed to ask permission, to share, to give back, and to give thanks.” (p 3-4)

I find now that I am revisiting the angry words of my Reiki master. I still don’t appreciate the aggressive manner in which she asked her questions, yet there was fodder enough in her thinking to accompany me for more than twenty years.

Thomas Berry arrived in my life during those twenty years, in the form of books, recordings, and interviews. In a conversation with Caroline Webb, Berry insists, “Every being has rights. Every being, to exist . . . has three rights: the right to be; the right to habitat; and the right to fulfill its role in the great community of existence.”

So, what is the role of a rock? Maybe I should ask the question differently. Does a rock have a spiritual role? Likewise, what might be the spiritual role of water?

Because the refrain “the waters of grief” keeps looping in my heart, and I am thinking about eco-justice and rocks and yearning and grief and water and release and rebirth. This is a new day for new ritual, and, as Robin Kimmerer and Frederique Apffel-Marglin and Jeanette Armstrong and so many others remind us, it’s a time for permission, for sharing, for reciprocity, for mindfulness, and for gratitude. God or no God, it doesn’t matter; it is time, way past time, to know that the Holy Land lies under our very feet. How are we going to learn to honor and celebrate that?

That is kinship. It lies deep in our human memory and in the memory of everything that has life.

A Sense of Place Part VII ~ Coming Home

Lori Arviso Alvord is the first Navajo woman surgeon. In her book The Scalpel and the Silver Bear she chronicles her wayfinding, first to Dartmouth College as an undergraduate, then to Stanford Medical School.

Born of a Navajo father and a “blond-haired, blue-eyed, and very attractive” mother, there was not ever a time that Lori Arviso Alvord did not live out of the paradox of being of two worlds and belonging to none.

She writes of the four sacred mountains which encompass the Navajo Reservation, mountains which form a circle to keep her people safe. Mount Taylor, San Francisco Peak, Blanca Peak, and the La Plata Range. To leave this mountain embrace to go east to school was a frightening prospect. The gift of these mountains was a sense of place.

Once I knew place. The unpredictability of my family life would often yield to chaos, and it was during those times I would make my escape. Packing whatever was portable in the refrigerator and a bottle of water, I would ease my way out of the brick patio door, skim over the lawn, through the tall meadow grasses (where I could begin to relax, as they were taller than I) and into the woods. From there I followed a secret way which led to a series of rock caves, big enough for crawling, big enough for sitting cross legged. Small enough to remain undiscovered, small enough to hide.

The rocks which defined the caves were irresistible to a pre-pubescent child, and I would taste each one with my tongue. The ritual required that I taste them according to size. I tasted the dirt, the moss, nibbled on the ferns. I did not know the word sacrament; I know now that my relationship to the rock caves and the earth around them was a sacramental relationship.

That was my place. To this day I have a ritual of laying my cheek against a particular boulder on my daily walks, touching my tongue to it, and offering silent tribute to the rock caves of my childhood. To this day I can walk through the woods and smell the damp and rotted mossy earth of the forest floor in rural Western Pennsylvania. If I can embrace with integrity the concept of indigenous solely as it relates to place, then I claim those caves as my place. I belonged.

But it’s not so simple. I’ve not belonged to any land since in the way I belonged to the rock caves. I wonder if it’s the long ago glimpse of belonging to a place in a ritual way that frames the intensity of my yearning today. And maybe I am getting closer. Although I am not encircled by four mountains which proscribe my home, I have a path to the water, to Tannery Pond in Wilmot, New Hampshire. It’s not a long path, and so my husband Jim has cleared a couple trails like switchbacks, to lengthen the walk. I walk these trails three and often four times a day, with our three dogs who are at home in the woods. Every adventure shows me something I’ve not seen before: a boulder; a White Pine; green fungus against a lichen covered stone; the curl of the bark of a birch; one brilliant red maple leaf fallen among a bed of yellow poplar; a certain mist on the pond itself.

This morning it was the mist, and the stark black bare branches over my head, entangled to form a squirrel’s paradise. As I remember those caves of long ago, I remember them as mine. Now I understand what I couldn’t at the time. These trails I walk do not belong to me, but I to them. And with that understanding comes the trust that day by day I am coming home. I belong to this place.