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“Carmel Point” by Robinson Jeffers
The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses—
How beautiful when we first beheld it,
Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rockheads—
Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff.—As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.
Robin Jeffers wrote this poem in the 1950s. A time when this world of ours seemed without end. A time when we were poised to race to the stars or at least to the moon.
Climate change is now our reality and it seems that Mother Earth will uncenter us on her own accord. It strikes me that just about every science fiction movie now extant pictures earth as a lost cause, and imagines us either lost in space or inhabiting a brave new world wherein we are differently not the center of things.
Seeing ourselves as the center of the universe has a long history. As Julio demonstrated it was only with Kepler that we began to see that the sun does not revolve around us. And in fact, that we are on a rather insignificant little globe, in a rather ordinary solar system, on the edge of our galaxy, one of billions of other know galaxies in the known universe. And yet we see ourselves as all there is. Or at least we act that way. We act as if this precious planet is here to serve our evolution, regardless of the other species we share the earth with, of which we still have 80% to discover before we annihilate them (Source: Sciencefocus.com)
How then do we uncenter ourselves and still evolve into what we dream to be? Well, the fundamentalists of the right claim that we are the center of God’s creation, and we need only use this planet up before being beamed to heaven, drill baby, drill. And the fundamentalists of the left claim that only science can find this answer and that there is no such thing as a collective consciousness that could help us to evolve out of this mess. Leave it to the scientists to figure out a technical solution and for the rest of to pursue pleasure and avoid pain, relegating most of us to the consciousness of a three year old. (See David Korten’s The Great Turning)
I refuse to give up on us and our blue jewel of a world. Wherein lies our salvation? Well, it’s not in waiting for a better afterlife. I have longed believed that heaven and hell are right here now. And it’s not in relying on just our technological prowess to save us. As I said a few weeks ago, much about humanity will change but there won’t be a humanity to change unless humanity changes now. As Andrews Zolli wrote in his book Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back:
“Our parochialism is part of the reason why we so poorly understand the world around us. Our planet is vastly larger and more complex than our ability to readily comprehend, and moves at speeds, and scales, and with interdependencies that do not conform to our everyday modes of thinking. If it did, climate change would have been solved long ago.
Paradoxically, humanity’s civilizing instinct enflames these perceptual biases. Civilization can be understood, in part, as the imposition of a kind of human-scale regularity upon the world. From inside it, it’s easy to forget that we nest, unsteadily, within the larger complexity of the whole — and not the other way around.”
We nest, unsteadily within the whole. One species among many. And therein lies the rub. We too often see ourselves as the top of the chain, an old idea going all the way back to the Bible and the great chain of being, us just below the angels. As with all hierarchies and dualisms, this one is flawed. We are not at the top of anything, and yet we affect everything. Our use of the planet’s resources is more like a cancer than the top spot on the bush of evolution. Can you hear me?
Our first principle as people of faith is “in the inherent worth and dignity of every person”. But far too often we fail to modify this with our seventh principle that we believe in the interconnection of all life. My colleague Lora Kim Joyner is both a minister and a wildlife Veterinarian who works with endangered bird species. She has begun a movement to reframe our first principle to include not just every person, but every living being; realizing that our first principle still places us human beings at the center of our universe. To Uncenter ourselves we must acknowledge that all living being have worth and that we share the planet with them. This may be harder than it seems. Eating meat, using pesticides, destroying habitats for coal or oil, even testing of new ground breaking medicines on animals requires at the very least a consideration of the planet we share. http://firstprincipleproject.blogspot.com/ As our elder Lessert Moore speaks, the earth itself needs liberation from us.
Thirty years ago, Matthew Fox, the Catholic Monk turned theologian set out what he called a Creation Theology. I believe in Creation Theology because it helps me live within the means of our planet, decentering us towards a new world. In fact, I contend, that evolution is itself a creation theology, if we consider that we come from stardust to stardust we will return. Evolution has an arrow, not because of an intelligent designer, but because there seems to be intelligent design. Most importantly, we, with our powerful technology have already become our own and our planets intelligent designers. We were the ones that created climate change, we can intelligently reverse it. We are the ones that are forestalling mortality, we can intelligently use this time to save our world. We are the ones who are creating an Artificial Intelligence (Larry Page, the co-founder of Google said twenty years ago, That he wasn’t creating a web browser, he was creating AI), Alexa is only the beginning. But we can intelligently create that AI, to save our planet. The question is “will we use the intelligence we bring to our designs for something more than profit in the short term?”
Fox spins out his Creation Theology in three stages: befriending creation (the via positiva); befriending darkness, letting go, and letting be (the via negativa); befriending creativity, befriending our divinity (via creativa); and befriending new creation: compassion, celebration, and Justice. (Matthew Fox Original Blessing) There in the garden are two trees of Holiness, immortality and the knowledge of good and evil.
God forbids Adam and Eve to eat of the trees, which always strikes me as a bit odd; why blame the snake when God was the real tempter. What happens next is well known. The snake, who represents, the mystery of life, the via negativia, the dark, the moist, the creative infinity, offers the fruit to Eve and she offers it to Adam. This, said St. Augustine, was the original sin that will curse us forever. Eve and Adam are sent from the garden, banished and cursed. But are they? Another way to read this is that this is actually a gift, we come of age in this story, from the created to creators ourselves. And with mortality’s breath on our neck, we have been creating ever since, metaphorically speaking. The mistake we made in leaving the Garden is that we forgot that we are not gods but only stewards of the creation we have been given.
While we are blessed to be creators, via positivia, we are also cursed to be destroyers, via negativa, as war and the exploitation of women and children make all too clear. Still, I believe, along with Matthew Fox that we are, in the balance, more blessed than cursed. These original blessings, this via postivia at the heart of our creative impulse is, as Fox reminds us much more ancient than original sin; the erotic song of Solomon as old as the authors of Genesis, the creation of love in the Mahabrata, the acceptance of fate by the Stoics, Hildegard of Bingen, St. Theresa of Alivia, Mother Theresa herself as all embodiments of our blessings. But only blessings uncentered from ourselves. Remember leaders eat last. The true leader is not the one who claims the glory but the one who empowers others to find their glory. Via Positivia in recognition to via negativia, leads to via creative and transformation.
Imagine applying this theology to the world we live in today? Francis and I sold our big house on Tulip Tree Lane; the one with five bedrooms and the indoor pool. We moved into a little cottage up in Georgetown. Now my days are filled with longer walks, study, work and play. I don’t need a big house to be a leader, I, you, all of you, need only a vision of world in which we are a part. Like growing up from a toddler to adolescence to elderhood, we learn that all of this doesn’t have to be about us. We can be the part of the whole that creates a new world.
I hear voices of change and hope, whispering echoes of what I have come to call my better angels. I am reminded of what is good about living, even though we struggle. My family, my work, you my people and the better calling to create a new world. We drown out the calling with worry, fears and the adult cares of the world. Why can’t we live in the here and the now? Why can’t we hear the callings of our better angels. Isn’t this enough? Why can’t we mold the positive and negative into a design of a via creativa?
It is not easy to propose a new paradigm for religion. Many factors go into people’s complacency or feeling threatened by the new that is really the ancient. Not least of these factors is that personally and psychologically speaking, there is much in our upbringing that does not teach us we are blessings at all. We wrestle with our own self-doubts and qualms about our worthiness often on a daily basis. But that is what the good news of uncentering ourselves is all about. That goodness precedes all failures and all imperfections and it comes not from our achievements but from our existence itself. “Isness is God” as Meister Eckhart put it. We are here. By the great groaning of the universe in labor for fourteen billion years, we have arrived. We don’t have to prove ourselves so much as be ourselves. For deep down we all carry goodness, we all carry our own creation. Can religion teach these things once again? Is religion up to it? Or can we travel more lightly with spirituality alone? That is part of the human drama unfolding in our time.
We need to embrace this new world, already in the making. but not to be trite about it. What would our world look like if we simply accepted the blessings rendered unto us; to sustain us as we grow into the world. But to accept the blessings of the sustainable, we need to consider what really matters most to us; is it the new car or is it being here. In order to achieve sustainability on our planet and in our lives, we will need to eat less, yes, but we will also have to love more, work for peace, stand for justice, teach our children. Sustainability is so much more than the plight of the planet; it is a spiritual endeavor, a way to look at ourselves as living on and on. In times like these, we might think the world is coming to an end, but that is not the reality
My point here is not that we should be overwhelmed by the enormity but buoyed by the fact that there are millions of people in a million organizations around the world who are quietly and effectively working to sustain life. By its nature, this Blessed Unrest is uncentered. You probably all belong to three or four of them each. We can’t always see their work but they are there I know that there are many in the non-profit world who would eschew my description of sustainability as Holy work, preferring more secular language, but the underlying ethos for this is clearly religious. We are doing this work for reasons far beyond our own needs… indeed as the Native generations taught, we are here to cultivate our planet for Seven Generations. It really isn’t about us at all.
We are in the midst of another Great Transformation, a seven generation shift away from treating our planet and even our communities as disposable. I believe some of you here were in the first generation, I am the second, my children the third. It won’t be until my great, great grandchildren come to age in about 90 years that we may stabilize our ailing planet and understand what sustaining action really means.
The point here is that as this “movement” moves forward, it will become more diverse at one end and paradoxically more united behind the banner of faith statements we take to be so holy; equality, fairness, balance, love.
Paul Hawkins says “People need community. They need spirituality. And they need to acknowledge that all are at different places on different paths….None of us can be God. But we can be co-creators with God. Especially if God is the short-hand word for that force for good, that collective positive energy, that happens and can move mountains when people work together with a goal, and a spirit of community, and love. There’s a multiplier effect when individuals join with other individuals, when groups join with other groups. A grass-roots revolution has begun towards that new world. Together, the possibilities are big. We are called to remember that we are part of each other, part of the earth, and part of the interdependent web of all existence. To the extent that we forget that, we are imprisoned. As we widen our circle of compassion, we are freed.” (Paul Hawkins Blessed Unrest) Let’s hear it for freedom my friends. Let’s hear it for a new world.