(Published in print and audio in Quest for Meaning, a publication of the Church of the Larger Fellowship.)

In the past few days, Jewish people all over the world have been celebrating the Days of Awe, the period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.  Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, believed to be the anniversary of the creation of human beings.  Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish year, the Day of Atonement.  During the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, observant Jews do an inventory of their relationships and behavior over the past year.  They examine all the ways in which they have broken their covenants with other people.  They repent of their sins, making restitution to those whom they have harmed, and asking forgiveness.  They are required to grant forgiveness to those who ask it.  Then, on Yom Kippur, Jews spend 25 hours fasting and praying in the synagogue, in order to repent of their sins against God.  It is believed that if they make things right with God, their names will be written by God into the Book of Life, and their lives will be sweet in the coming year.  At the end of Yom Kippur –which is on Wednesday this year–there is a huge celebratory feast.

So, what can Jewish ideas about sin and repentance and atonement have to do with Unitarian Universalists?

Well, let me ask you this.  Have you ever come to a place in your life where everything is broken?  And not only that, but broken by you? Where you have said and done things that have caused so much hurt that a relationship is beyond repair?  Or you’ve made mistakes or lived in ways that caused great suffering, and you didn’t even know it?  And then when you found out, you felt so much shame and despair that you didn’t know how you could go on?

I have.  When I was very young I married an also very young man who seemed like home to me.  Everything about him felt familiar and comfortable.  I thought we would be happy forever.  But we weren’t.  We were happy for about six months, and then he suddenly became miserable.  That made me miserable.  So did I seek counseling?  No.  Did we try to get help?  No.  Not right away.  What I did, after about six years and two beautiful children, was fall in love with someone else.  Do you think that helped anything?

No, it did not.  After that extremely short and excruciatingly painful love ended, everything was broken.  Shards of trust, of love, of hope lay everywhere, so that every step caused terrible wounds.  I could not see how to leave the marriage and I could not see how to stay in it, so finally I did seek counseling.

Little by little, insights began to emerge.  My children’s father was addicted to alcohol.  He lived with severe depression.  He was abusive.  The reason he had seemed like home was because that was exactly how my father was.  I was codependent.  The fact that I was unhappy in my marriage was actually a sign of health.  If I wanted to pursue real health, I had to get treatment.  I had to do things differently.

I started 12-step work for codependence.  Anyone who has done 12-step work knows that recovery depends on openly acknowledging we have a problem.  We do a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves.  We tell at least one other person all the harm we have done.  We make amends where possible, and we commit to continuous growth and learning from our mistakes.  Hmm…sounds a little like the Jewish ritual, doesn’t it?

I also went looking for a church.  I was filled with spiritual longing and I needed to be with others in community.  But–I was also so filled with shame and guilt that I could not imagine a church that would accept me.  I had gone to a Catholic high school and been taught there the doctrine of original sin, which meant I had believed as a teen that I was inherently bad, rotten at the center.  The way to get clean was to be like Jesus and suffer, and forgive, suffer, and forgive.  While I had rejected the church and that doctrine as a young adult, the pattern was so deeply inscribed in my soul that I continued to live it in my marriage.  I did not know if there was any church where I could become healthy.

So this was the situation when I walked into a Unitarian Universalist church for the first time:  I felt utterly broken.  I went inside and sat down in the back.  Then, I picked up a hymnal, and read the seven principles, and I began to weep.  I knew exactly what that first principle meant.  This was a religion that said even I had worth and dignity.  I knew I was home.

At first, each Sunday, I sat in the back and cried.  Then I started participating around the edges a little.  Finally, I joined a women’s group, in which we gathered around and told each other our real stories.  When it was my turn, I hesitated, but other women had shared deeply, and their stories were riveting.  Every single one of those women had at some point in her life done something she deeply regretted.  But no one had been judged, no one had been rejected.  So I told my truth.  And instead of turning away from me in disgust, the women leaned in and listened, murmuring softly, patting my arm when I cried, nodding in recognition of what they heard.  It was the first place I had ever been where I could be my whole real self, and be truly loved.  My community looked into my face and saw who I really was.  They saw the light in me, and reflected it back tenfold.

As they did, I began to heal.  I thought I would be able to stay in my marriage, and make it work.  But there came a time when life with my children’s father became too frightening, and I had to leave.  I was broken again.  Again there were shards everywhere, and this time my children were in pieces too.

But here my 12-step work and my religious life came together.  As I did my moral inventory, I realized that I was a perfectionist, and that this was not a good thing.  Perfectionism is part of being codependent.  A codependent child grows up believing that in order to be loved, she or he must be perfect.  I had been trying to stay in an unhealthy marriage because I could not bear failure.  I had been hiding the truth about my marriage from my family because I could not bear for them to know I had made a mistake.

But now, because I was held in the loving care of my religious community, I could let go of that.  Because I was sharing deeply with other women and seeing the truth of their lives, I was beginning to understand that there is no such thing as perfect.  There is no perfect marriage, no perfect love, no perfect children, no perfect friendship, not even a perfect church or a perfect sermon!  There is no such thing as perfect.  What a relief it was to figure that out!  Because it meant that I did not have to be afraid anymore.  I did not have to be afraid that if I was not perfect, I would not be loved.

Once I saw that, I was able to start putting the pieces of my life and my heart together in a whole new shape.  With scars, with fault lines, with some pieces missing, but also with new pieces from my community.  My heart was larger, less brittle, more resilient.  And the thing is, I am not the only woman in my group who needed this kind of help.  All of us have gone through something, or done something, awful and needed each other to get through it.  Because that’s the way life is, all of us get broken in one way or another.  All of us.  As Reverend William Sloane Coffin once said, I’m not ok, you’re not ok, and that’s ok!

To many Unitarian Universalists, acknowledging our brokenness can seem like a contradiction of our theological tradition.  We reject the doctrine of original sin, the idea that people are born in a state of complete separation from the divine.  How then do we deal in our communities with the dreadful mistakes, and hurts, and temporary losses of sanity, that are part of every human life?  The traditional theological word for these kinds of mistakes is sin.  How does Unitarian Universalism deal with sin?  Do we deal with sin?  Is that a word we can even say here?

The word sin comes from an old archery term meaning “to miss the mark,” or be separated from.  Separation from all that is good and beautiful.  Separation from our best selves, or from the divine.  Being out of harmony with the interdependent whole of which we are part.  This kind of separation is intensely painful for most people, although we don’t always consciously know why we’re in pain.  But it is not a permanent state unless we choose to keep it so.  As most religions in the world and 12-step programs understand, being able to admit that sometimes we miss the mark, cause harm, is absolutely essential for our health and for the health of our communities.  It is how we begin the process of healing the separation.  If there is enough love in our communities, we can make mistakes and feel badly and learn from them and make restitution and seek forgiveness and change and grow into a new state of wholeness.

And the theological words for this process—for the process of healing the pain we feel when we are separated from what we most need and love—are repentance and atonement.

The Hebrew word translated into the English word repentance is shuvah, a combination of “to sigh” and “to return.”  The Greek word translated into the English repentance is metanoia, “turn,” but a kind of turning that is a complete changing of mind, a total transformation.  So I think repentance does not mean what those fundamentalist signholders on street corners think it means.  Instead, it means becoming someone new, with a new mind and heart, which is perhaps paradoxically also who we were always meant to be.  So in becoming we are also returning:  returning to the source, returning to who and what we really are, returning to right relations with all beings.  It is a healing.  And this then is atonement:  At-one-ment.  At one with the web of life that sustains us, at one with the great love that holds us, at one with ourselves.

Many Unitarian Universalists are uncomfortable with these words—sin, repentance, atonement—perhaps because we associate them with those signholders on street corners.  Or perhaps because these words were used in abusive ways in the churches we attended in childhood.  You may not want to use these words yourself because of the associations.  But you may also want to claim them for your own, because they are ancient words that describe ancient human needs:  the need to acknowledge that we sometimes are broken.  The need to be in community with others who can hold us in love as we heal our wrongs.  The need to grow into our best selves.  The need to be at one with all that is, and at peace.

I think we have never been more in need of repentance and atonement than we are now.  For not only do we have all the personal messes we make in our homes and families, but also, as North Americans, we live in a society that is profoundly racist, profoundly sexist, profoundly xenophobic.  As North Americans, we are living so far out of balance with the interdependent web of being that we are endangering all life.  Our common life is broken.  Our relationship with all beings is in shards.

We need to repent.  We need a complete change of mind and heart.  We need to become a new people.

And the thing about repentance is that it is active.  It does not involve only words and prayers and ceremonies.  To reach at-one-ment we must make restitution.  Wherever possible, we must repair what is broken, put back what has been taken, restore what has been damaged. Where this is not possible, we must accept responsibility for what we have done.  Only then can we seek forgiveness.

This is life in religious community.  This is what it requires of us: that we bring our whole imperfect selves to it.  That we be willing to tell the truth about how we are broken.  That we be willing to repair what we damage.  That we be willing to forgive and be forgiven.  That we be open to transformation.  All of it is messy, imperfect, absolutely beautiful.

May it always be so.

Blessed be.

Grief and Hope and the Full-Time Human

I have a confession to make.  I spent most of the winter, and now the first bit of spring, sliding down into a situational depression.  Just when I was launching this new ministry, just when I most needed to be able to write inspiring pieces that would nourish people for the hard work ahead, I fell face forward into a pit of despond. It is a soft, pillow-lined pit—I have food and shelter and clothing and medical care and the love of family and friends—but it is nevertheless a pit.  And it is proving hard to climb out of.  Partly it’s the weather: where I live, down in a hollow in a cedar forest, it has rained over 90 inches, more or less continuously, in the past 6 months, and there is no sign of it stopping anytime soon.  Anyone would get depressed in these conditions.  But mostly it’s because the state of the world is so wretched that I am having a hard time finding hope.

For several weeks I thought that I should not write about this because it would be bad for general morale.  If my job is to help give people hope, how would it look if, instead, I shared my own fear and despair?  How could I give people hope if I have none myself?  How would it look if a person who purports to offer wisdom and strength for healing admits to being all out of wisdom and strength herself?  And then just sits down in the middle of the road and cries, like a toddler who wants to be carried instead of having to walk?  So I thought, I can’t write anything until I feel better.

But then several things came to mind.

First, this happens to a lot of people, even the most wonderful people.  Even the most gifted spiritual teachers, even those whose teachings sparked the beginnings of whole new religions, and the greatest leaders of social change:  the Buddha, Muhammed (pbuh), Confucius, Hildegard of Bingen, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day. All the great spiritual teachers and leaders have had times of fear and despair.  Even Jesus.  He went out into the desert alone to wrestle with his fear and his faith.  At his life’s end he is said to have cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Quoting Psalm 22, one of the most gorgeous descriptions of spiritual desolation ever written.)

And not only the great spiritual leaders, but anyone sensitive enough to be what my brilliant friend Rev. Theresa Ines Soto calls a “full-time human,” is going to experience situational depressions and periodic losses of hope, because life is hard.  The long dark night of the soul is just part of it.  Life is also spectacularly wonderful, but it is damned hard a lot of the time.  (I love Glennon Doyle Melton’s blending of “beautiful” and “brutal” into “brutiful.”) And when you add on what is happening now in our world, well, life is even harder.

Second, where did I get the idea that my job is to give people hope?  What is hope, anyway, and is it necessarily a good thing?  There are many definitions.  One is the simple idea that good things are possible.  I like this definition because this kind of hope is clearly applicable and useful in any situation.  Good things are always possible, even in the worst situations.  Another, in more common currency, is the belief that the outcome we desire will come to pass if we only work or pray or try hard enough.  I don’t like this one at all because a) it is magical thinking, b) it is colonizing thinking (who says the outcome we desire is really what’s best?), c) it puts the whole burden on just our own self, d) so many other reasons.  Alas, it is the working definition for a good number of activists, and not coincidentally why so many (especially privileged ones) burn out.  As an alternative, Margaret Wheatley, Thomas Merton, Paul Rogat Loeb, and a number of other activist writers suggest that it is more effective to release our attachment to particular outcomes and continue doing the work because it is the right thing to do, and the people doing it are the people we most want to be in relationship with.  In this way activism can actually be nourishing rather than exhausting.

Still, if we can agree that we like the definition of hope as the idea that good things are possible, is it my job to give people hope?  All the time?

Actually, ministers, and full-time humans, have many jobs.  Sometimes our job is indeed to be a purveyor of hope.  Other times, our job is to witness, and to accompany.  To witness what is really going on, to name it as best we can, and to accompany those who are in the midst of it—whatever “it” is.  It might be something entirely joyful:  a student graduating, a couple falling in love, the election of leaders who will devote themselves to the flourishing of all beings.  But it also might be something terrible:  the death of a beloved child, domestic violence, the ascendance of white male supremacy, irreversible climate change and mass extinction, the bombing of poor countries.

Witnessing and accompanying mean helping people know they are not alone, however terrible things are or however wonderful.  They are not alone, and they are held in a whole that is larger than anything they can imagine.  This whole might be our whole starry universe, or it might be God, or it might be something else entirely, depending on one’s spiritual orientation. So even if you are feeling hopeless, even if you are afraid for your life and the lives of those you love, even if you are in anguish and despair over racism and misogyny and homophobia and ableism and climate change and extinction, you are not alone.

Third, and related to the above, if there is one thing I have learned as a minister it is that ignoring grief, not allowing ourselves to feel our real feelings, causes depression.  It is essential to grieve what we have lost and what we are continuing to lose.  Our grief wakes us up to our connections.  If we are experiencing the worst crisis in the history of the world, we need to be able to grieve what is being lost.  Only if we can allow ourselves to grieve will we be able to move into effective, loving action, whatever that action may be.

Joanna Macy says that we cannot know, at this time in the world, whether we are witnessing the end of life as we know it, or bringing to birth a new and better age.  Either way we are midwives, in the old sense of the word: a midwife was in the middle between birth and death, bringing new life into the world and seeing the dead out of it.  Whether we are witnessing the end of everything, or bringing to birth something new, or some combination of both, what is required of us are the same qualities of being:  deep, unflinching presence to what is, and deep compassion for all beings.

Finally, to heal a personal depression and then widen the circle of healing into the world, we need meaning and beauty and connection.  We sometimes also need a little medical help.  I find it very hard to seek connection and help when I am depressed, and then the more isolated I become, the worse the depression gets.  Last week, in desperation, I did two things:  first I went to my doctor and got started on a low dose of a mild antidepressant.  Then I spoke to my spiritual director, Rev. Cathleen Cox. and she gave me a sentence to write down and repeat to myself until I believe it.  Because I was dubious about the first sentence, she gave me another, and another, until there was a whole paragraph.  This may help you, too:

“It is a contribution to the well-being of life for me to reach out to others and share with them my feelings and needs.  Everyone needs connection now. I serve others when I model reaching out for connection and give others the opportunity to feel good about giving.  If we all speak our feelings and needs together, who knows what positive things may happen.”

What are your feelings and needs right now, during these very difficult times?  Are you able to reach out for connection and the help you need?  What might happen if we all speak our feelings and needs together?

Let us speak them and find out.

Blessed be.


Looking In and Looking Out

In these extraordinary days, when enormous numbers of terrifying things are happening so fast we can’t keep up, we are in need of restoration. We are in need of time and space to nourish our souls for the great work of healing the world.  We are in need of time in the quiet, slow places on the living Earth, the places where we can reconnect to our Source and remember who we really are.  But for how many of us is this possible? Where can we go?  It is easy to lose ourselves in wonder in places where there are living waters, or ancient trees, or deep canyons, or tall mountains—but if, is is the case for so many of us, we do not live near such places, how can we recharge?

By looking in, and looking out.

By looking in I mean finding some small, ordinary thing—a leaf, a stone, a shell, a flower—and looking deeply into its interior. We can even look into our own interior—our hand, our brain, our lungs. Look into this thing and truly see it. See how it was formed. See what is happening inside it now. See what it will become. See how it is related to all other things. I once heard a minister friend, Lynn Ungar, say, “Beauty is seeing the whole in the particular.” What is the whole that is manifested in this particular thing?

Inside every leaf, photosynthesis is taking place. The leaf takes sunlight falling on its surface, and carbon and hydrogen—ancient stardust—from the atmosphere, and combines them into sugars that it then uses to build its own structure and the structure of its parent plant. Is this not a miracle? And here is another miracle: this leaf knows how to carry out photosynthesis, and what shape to grow into, and how big to get, and when and if to reproduce, and when to stop living, because its DNA tells it what to do. This particular sequence of DNA has evolved in response to interactions with other living things–with earth, air, water, and fire–in a sacred dance that has lasted eons.

The whole that is manifested in this particular thing, then, is the entire universe, from the beginning of time until this very moment. It is this way for all things: the uncurling spiral of the new fern leaf, the nest of the paper wasp, the fuzzy peach whose juice runs down our chin, the smooth pebble on the beach. In focusing our awareness on the processes going on inside some small thing, we become aware of how they are connected with the larger processes that created and sustain life: evolution, the intersecting cycles of matter, the flow of energy. We return to the very beginning of life itself, the mystery we can never fully grasp. Many theologians and particle physicists call this mystery God. In this way of thinking, the universe is the Body of God, divine love becoming manifest.

Sometimes, looking in can be intoxicating, as we marvel at the beauty and intricacy of the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are part. But other times, it can lead to greater pain than that with which we started, because we know that all this exquisite beauty, wrought over millions of years, is in danger of being destroyed forever. It can hurt too much to bear.

Then, must we look out. By looking out I mean traveling to the farthest reaches of space and time, to the beginnings and endings of all things. Human beings think we know how the universe started but we do not know, and we do not know why. If conditions at the very beginning had been only slightly different, no universe would have come into being at all. But somehow, billions of years ago, it did. And somehow, life emerged on a planet orbiting an ordinary star.

In this vast expanse of time and space, particular organisms—ourselves included—are but temporary aggregations of molecules, coalesced for the briefest moment of time. We are beautiful, but ephemeral, like raindrops, or clouds. Soon we will be gone. But life, itself, will go on.  Think of how lichen grows on granite, how dandelions spring up in tiny cracks in parking lots and sidewalks. Even if a catastrophic event destroyed most life on our planet, eventually new forms of life and new ecosystems would evolve.

And then, billions of years from now, if our astronomers are correct, our sun will become a red giant and even this planet will die. The matter of planet Earth will then become available for other solar systems to use.

If we can place our small selves, our short time frame, within this larger mystery, we can find rest. We are free to wonder at the diversity and intricacy of life on earth: it seems all the more marvelous for its impermanence, for its contingency. We can use the power of our own temporary being to do all we can to preserve the conditions for life, but we do not have to solve everything all by ourselves. We have many companions. Life itself—divine love shaped into all its wondrous forms–is on our side.

So may it ever be. Amen.

For reflection:

  1. Find some small, beautiful thing—a feather, a shell, a piece of freshly picked fruit, a part of your own body–and spend ten minutes looking deeply into it. What is happening inside this thing? How was it made? How did it come to be this shape? What was its journey before it came to you? (If you don’t know, do some research on it and then return to looking in.) Journal about your experience.
  2. Spend ten minutes traveling in your mind to the furthest reaches of space and time, from the beginning of all things to the end of the earth. Then, locate your own small body and time frame within this larger one. Imagine your body as a cloud of molecules coalescing for a brief time and then dispersing again. Journal about your experience.
  3. What does the idea of the universe as the Body of God mean to you? Is this an idea that resonates for you, or not? Why, or why not?

When the River is Just the River

One late summer day my friend Katie and I were hiking in the Columbia River Gorge, above a waterfall in one of the side canyons there. We had spent the morning clambering over moss-covered rocks, throwing sticks for our two exuberant dogs, glorying in the sights and sounds of clear water flowing from pool to pool to pool over dark basalt in a green forest.

Now it was time to return to the city, and we had to make our way back across the stream whence we had come. We had just spent half an hour talking about how neither of us is as nimble as we used to be; when we fall now, we fall hard, and we are more aware of the risks we take when we move from rock to slippery rock to cross a creek. I never was very nimble, even when I was young; I have a daughter who leaps from boulder to boulder with no fear and who never falls, but I have been falling flat on my face ever since I can remember.

Getting across the stream in the first place had not been difficult. Rocks are often dryer on the downstream side, but have slippery moss or algae on the upstream side. If you cross in an upstream direction, using the downstream side of the rocks, it can be easy. But coming back across, using the wetter side of the rocks, it is harder not to slip and fall in.

On this day, it would not have been terrible to fall into the water. It was only a few inches deep, the day was warm, and it was only two miles back to the car. I could easily have hiked that in wet boots. But sometimes, we humans get fixated on an idea about how things should be. How they must be. And it seemed to me on that day that I should be able to cross that stream without getting my feet wet. I must be able to.

So I was concentrating with all my might on moving carefully from one stone to the next. My whole body was rigid with tension, my brow furrowed so deeply it felt like my face was one big frown. I had to do this right, I had to get across the creek without falling in.

Then Katie said to me, “Leisa, look up. Look at the river.”

I looked up. I saw the river. It was exquisite. It was so beautiful that I could have died right then and there in perfect happiness. Clear, cold water flowed over basalt, moving around stones with ease and fluidity. The shining surface reflected green upon green upon green, with a few yellow splotches where maples were beginning to turn. The sound of the moving water was paradise. There are simply no words to describe the incomparable beauty of a clear stream running through a forest.

As I looked upon this perfect beauty all the tension in my body flowed away with the water. The music of the stream entered me and I saw how I flowed with it. I was water, standing in water, hearing and seeing and smelling water, feeling water. I stood like this for a long time outside of time. When I came back to myself, I was relaxed and unafraid, and easily stepped the rest of the way across the stream. Katie crossed behind me and we made our way down the trail.

When I thanked Katie later, for saying just the right thing, at just the right moment, she said, “Sometimes the river’s just the river. Not a problem to be solved.”

Sometimes the river’s just the river.

North Coast

Visiting my 20-year-old son on the North Coast. Together we walk in the community forest, as we have done since we moved to Arcata when he was eight, as we walked next to a creek or river together every day of his life before that. We don’t often talk, being comfortable with quiet companionship.  This time I ask him if he has finished Ishmael, which he asked to borrow last time he visited me. He says he did, and he liked it because it said things he’d never heard of before, never thought of before.

So many times I have walked in this redwood forest seeking solace, healing, the companionship of the trees and the ravens and the murmuring stream. The bigleaf maples at the stream’s edge are losing their leaves now, so you can see inside the structure of the trees. One tree forms a little room on the streambank, a secret green room in spring, now open to view. The ferns are dying back, and the bright fuchsia ballerinas are long gone.

When the kids were little we would stop at the giant hollow stump so they could climb up inside and look for fairies or gnomes. We’d recite from The Little Fur Family about Grandpa, who lived in a hollow stump, or I am a Bunny, “My name is Nicholas. I live in a hollow tree.” We moved along at a snail’s pace, allowing time for little legs to meander in a zig-zagging path from one side of the trail to the other, to notice banana slugs, pick huckleberries, play Pooh-Sticks. Now my six-foot-four son strides along beside me and we talk about what it means for a culture to be successful. Does it mean the culture survives over thousands of years, or that it dominates the known world? What changes would be necessary for our own culture to survive? I am amazed we are having this conversation.

“It doesn’t matter,” he finally says.

“Well, I think it matters,” I reply, hotly. “Your future matters, to me.”

“I can’t say what I mean,” he says.

I stop trying to direct his thinking and start trying to listen. “What do you mean?” I ask.

Haltingly, he tries to explain. HE TRIES TO EXPLAIN.

This is the boy—no, the young man now—who for many years has communicated largely through shrugs and grunts, and who rarely returns my calls. Since shrugs and grunts don’t translate well through a phone line, I have spent many an hour weeping after trying to talk with him on the phone. And for six years, since he decided to move in full-time with his dad, and I moved to a different place, phone time and monthly visits are all the time I have with him.

My son says he thinks that no matter what we or anybody does, there will always be people who do the wrong thing. I say that of course there will, but it would be good if they were the outliers rather than the whole culture. He considers this, and nods. “I guess.”

“That’s what I’m working toward,” I say. “For your future.” He grins and puts his arm around me, then removes his arm and gives me a shove with his side. This is the signal for me to shove back, at which point he will suddenly step away and I will tumble sideways and he will laugh—the way we always do.

This forest is not a wild or ancient one. It is second- or even third-growth, owned by the City of Arcata, held in trust in perpetuity for its citizens. There are 28 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The stream that runs from the highest point, through the forest, then through town, and finally to the bay, is being restored and monitored by high school students. Scattered here and there through the forest are giant stumps, relics of the ancient groves that were cut down over a hundred years ago. They are like bison skeletons on the plains, a reminder of something magnificent, of something truly awesome, that was only recently destroyed. The base of one of the stumps is so large in circumference that it would take six or more people holding hands to encircle it. I see these stumps, these relics, and weep. We have lost so much.

Thirty miles north of here are 2,000-year-old redwood groves that have been set aside for preservation. Walking among these trees is an experience that cannot be conveyed in words; it is to be lost in time, to become smaller and younger than the newest-born infant, to become aware of a consciousness larger and older and deeper than anything we can understand. How can people cut down such forests? How can they not feel the sacredness of these groves, their palpable consciousness? Redwood ecologists have found that climatic conditions no longer support the growth and development of a fully functional redwood forest. These forests will never recover, never grow back. We can grow redwood plantations, but never again will the world see a fully regenerated redwood forest. Thousands of years of Creation’s care, wiped out in moments. It hurts too much to bear. What a world we are leaving for our children.

And yet: this young forest, now, is growing. There is so much green life here: giant ferns, salal, huckleberries, pitcher plants, skunk cabbage, giant fungus, redwoods, spruces, maples; all connected, all growing, dying, decaying, growing, in the endless cycle of life. When it has just rained and the sun breaks through, light comes in slanting shafts through the trees and illuminates vapor rising from the ferns and moss. It is as if life has just begun anew, Creation just set in motion. The salmon smolts released into the stream by young students a few years ago have begun returning to spawn.

This little bit of hope will have to be enough; it is all we have.