Restoring The Waters

Category Archives: the space between . . .

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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.

Sense of Place ~ The Layers Part Two

Wendell Berry, among others, writes about love of place. If you love a place, you’re not likely to destroy it. In the first of this series, I wrote about love of place as a child loves place, knowing place as a child knows place. To know place and to love place are not the same thing, yet they are inextricably interwoven. To love a place is to know that place, and to know that place is to love it.

Part Two continues to address the question, “How do you come to know and love place?” Many windows of discovery open onto this question, making it hard to know where to start. But I think I’ll continue with a basic principle of permaculture. Observe. Don’t do anything. Simply observe, over the course of the seasons. That’s easy to say now, six years into our move to northern New England. In 2007 my husband Jim and I – desperately trying to accomplish the move from southern Maryland to rural New Hampshire before the first snow – arrived in mid-November.

Being not at all observant, we parked our haul-everything truck along the east flank of the house, out of the way, we were thinking. As it turned out, we were right about that. Out of the way of everything but the snow, which, once it began its constant winter descent from the metal roof, buried our truck for the next six months. We bought an ancient snow-blower from Craig’s List, and when, after just a couple weeks, the first of several parts broke; three weeks later we were still waiting for its replacement. A lot of snow can accumulate in three weeks. After losing access altogether to our front door, we learned too late to shovel our outdoor steps and pathways on a regular basis. We learned a few other things that first winter having to do with tires, cell phones, flares, dry gas. We learned that it’s not smart to cut a hole in the outdoor wall of a house mid-February to run the stove pipe, especially when the snow-blower is broken and our driveway impassable.

We didn’t do much better come spring. New Hampshire has a strong permaculture community, and although we weren’t yet connected in a human-to-human way, or even a human-to-non human way, certain admonitions floated their way through grocery lines, hardware store conversations, garden catalogs. “Do no planting in the first year. Simply observe.” Track the path of the sun, winter, spring, summer, and fall. Watch where the groundwater gathers and runs off. Note the part of your yard (if you have one) that is the first to warm; note which part stays frozen. Given that we were dreaming of fresh peas and spinach, pole beans and yellow waxed beans, squash both summer and winter, tomatoes, lettuce, swiss chard, eggplant, sweet peppers, and cauliflower, that was not welcome advice and so we summarily dismissed it.

When it came time to choose the spot for our garden, it was a little like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. We turned around a few times and then pointed. There. There’s our garden. We roto-tilled deeply and were ecstatic to see dark, rich, loam. I planted a row of beans in April. A week later they succumbed to the frost. I planted sweet peppers (starters, not seeds), egg plant (seeds – hah!) which either froze or never germinated. I waited until the second week of May to plant tomato starters; they froze before the end of the month. I planted cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower – a pre-dinner snack for the slugs and cabbage moths. I planted vegetables that drowned in standing water, vegetables that burned in the sun, seeds that simply stayed in the ground. I planted dinner for the slugs and cabbage moths.

The weeds, however, thrived; the rototiller had brought them into the light. We hadn’t thought much about the deer which had gorged all winter on our sunflower mix. They ate the lettuces and the leaves of the beans. They ate the swiss chard and kale. They ate the tops of the beets. They even ate the tulips!

Jim threw together some posts and wire, in the shape of a rectangle, and developed a Rube Goldberg kind of watering system with sprinklers and hoses – just a temporary fix – which, of course, now six summers later – is still in place. We slaved over that garden.

But observe? Not a chance. Mere observation, however, isn’t enough; more is required. To know a place through observation is to open mind, heart, and spirit to receive – to ingest – what we are seeing and perhaps hearing. It’s about breathing in the data, breathing in so deeply that what our senses have noticed becomes part of our blood stream, part of our life energy. We don’t have to do anything with it other than receive it. It’s really about baby steps – coming to know our human selves as part of all that surrounds us, of all that is under our feet. It’s to know that we share the same air and the same water with all things not human.

Part 3 will begin here, with what it means to receive, what it means to allow the subjects of our observations to speak to us, to reveal their own secrets – not fully, of course. Never fully, but in ever deepening relationship.

Courage Earth Retreat

For those of you who might not yet be familiar with the work of The Center for Courage and Renewal, I am including a link to a richer explanation. Sally and I would love to host you at the Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center, with its extraordinary relationship to the Columcille Natural Park, a park rooted in Celtic spirituality and inspired by the Isle of Iona off the coast of Scotland. A description in depth for this particular retreat is on the Restoring the Waters website.


Courage Earth ~ Invitation to a Retreat

with thanks to Rex Nelson for his photographs


If you are reading this and know nothing about the work of The Center for Courage and Renewal, I hope this will offer enough background to whet your desire to know more. If you do know some about the work of The Center, I would like you to know of a specific niche – new in concept and practice – which we call Courage Earth.

Courage work in general is primarily retreat work, retreats being offered nationally and internationally by certified facilitators. They are designed to reconnect a person’s deepest spiritual longings with their professional callings. Phrases such as “reconnecting soul and role” or “living the undivided life” manage to get directly to the heart of our work. The one hundred and seventy or so facilitators offer variously focused retreats: for teachers, for medical professionals, for church leaders, and more. Some are designed for a particular profession; others are multi-disciplinary. Some revolve around the seasons of the year; others around a particular theme, such as sense of place, and understanding and healing the eco-systems of our planet.

The focus of Courage Earth is to help all of us reconnect and remember our place, both physical and spiritual within the earth community, not as set apart, not as “called out” but as interdependent and integral to all creation. In the words of the late Thomas Berry:

 We need a spirituality that emerges out of a reality deeper than ourselves, even deeper than life, a spirituality that is as deep as the earth process itself, a spirituality born out of the solar system and even out of the heavens beyond the solar system. There in the stars is where the primordial elements take shape in both their physical and psychic aspects.

 There is a certain triviality in any spiritual discipline that does not experience itself as supported by the spiritual as well as the physical dynamics of the entire cosmic-earth process.

 A spirituality is a mode of being in which . . . we discover ourselves in the universe and the universe discovers itself in us.

With the above as background, the invitation is this:

My facilitator colleague Dr. Sally Hare and I are offering a Courage Earth Retreat titled: Living in the Space Between ~ Exploring Out Interconnectedness with the Earth and Our Selves as a path to Healing and Renewal. You are invited to apply! A brief description follows.

 “There is a space between things, between all things. The space is sacred, and it is rich with blessing.”

Caroline S. Fairless, The Space Between Church and Not-Church ~ A Sacramental Vision for the Healing of our Planet.

Humans are hardwired to connect, building relationships both human-to-human and human-to-non-human. Although such interdependence is often diminished, dampened, distorted, or ignored, the knowing is innate and cannot be extinguished. Our sense of place and innate knowing of time are birthright gifts that deepen with our experiences.

Living in the Space Between is a three-day retreat to explore and reclaim our connectedness with the Earth and with our Selves.

By creating a safe, supportive space, Sally and I are inviting you into a space in which we can let down the defenses we have built around our own deep listening to our Selves and the Earth – and the wisdom of both.

The dates are July 23-25, and the retreat facility is The Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center in Bangor, PA. I urge you to poke around in their website. It is a magnificent facility!






Rainforest Eco-activist R.I.P.

We don’t always know exactly what it is that creates social change. It takes everything from science all the way to faith, and it’s that fertile place right in the middle where really exceptional campaigning happens–and that is where I strive to be.”

These were the words of Becky Tarbottom, a woman who died accidentally and unexpectedly the day after Christmas, at the too young age of thirty-nine. She had served as executive director of The Rainforest Network. I will post her tribute below, but first I want to share my own sadness. Becky speaks of that fertile place right in the middle . . . As I heard her speak those words last fall, I understood her to be talking of what I call the space between. I think of the space between as that ground in which people are able and willing to shed ideologies, self-interest, and non-sustainable lifestyles for the sake of the healing of our planet.

The second touchstone I shared with Becky was this: she not only understood that social justice is intricately and inescapably intertwined with ecological justice – that one can’t/won’t happen unless both happen concomitantly. Becky had a huge vision, and although I didn’t know her personally, I often found myself in the wake of her philosophy and activism, trying to stay afloat. She was tireless.

I am so saddened by her dying. And frightened. The rainforests are essential to the health of the earth community, and their destruction, from South America and Central America to Southern Asia and Africa, are and will continue to have devastating effects on human and non-human populations.

I want to share the words of her friends and colleagues, offered in tribute.

Rebecca Tarbotton, known to friends as Becky, was a profound thinker and leader. She was dedicated to merging environmental and social justice movements, and building campaigns that inspire transformational changes in forest protection, climate change and human rights. A self-proclaimed “pragmatic idealist,” Becky was deeply admired by a whole movement of activists for her boldness and clarity of vision.The RAN staff, her friends and family remember a “force of nature” with an infectious laugh, adventurous spirit, and a heart bursting with love.

Under her leadership, RAN achieved tremendous victories in preserving endangered rainforests and the rights of their indigenous inhabitants. Most recently, Becky helped to architect the most significant agreement in the history of the organization: a landmark policy by entertainment giant, Disney, that is set to transform everything about the way the company purchases and uses paper. 

Becky spent much of her time thinking about how to inspire masses of people to work for transformational social and environmental change, and how to push the country’s biggest corporate polluters to reform their ways.

As she said during a keynote address in October 2012: “We need to remember that the work of our time is bigger than climate change. We need to be setting our sights higher and deeper. What we’re really talking about, if we’re honest with ourselves, is transforming everything about the way we live on this planet…We don’t always know exactly what it is that creates social change. It takes everything from science all the way to faith, and it’s that fertile place right in the middle where really exceptional campaigning happens–and that is where I strive to be.”

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