Behold!

Behold!  From before the dawn of time I have been here
waiting
for you…
I gave birth to stars that swirled away
into spiral galaxies
forming and reforming the molecules of me
into new stars
that died and were born again;
I grew larger and larger, and the stars of me
burst and joined again and again
and their partings and joinings made new elements
that danced toward each other,
and caught, and held on,
and my love made them alive.

Behold! This is all alive and dancing here together
in intricate motion:
a luminous blue-green ball whirling in space
filled with starfish and bats
and grains of sand that once were mountains
and belly-laughing babies and rivers and trains
and eagles and cats
and little buildings filled with people who love me.

Behold! From the dust of long-ago stars
I formed your ancestors
who died and returned unto me to be re-formed
into trees and rocks and soil and grass and YOU.

From air and fire and water and earth
I ripen into fruit that drops into your waiting hands.
I feed you and clothe you and shelter you
with my body,
I quench your thirst with my water,
my blood.

Behold! This is my body, grown here for you:
See, my round purple eggplants,
my many colored tomatoes,
my fuzzy rosy peaches, my little perfect grapes,
my juicy melons, my vigorous zucchini,
my beans and grains, my leafy greens,
my alluring herbs and spices.

Behold!  I have set your table with good things!
Now—this is what I want from you:

Learn to share.
Clean up your mess.
Say thank you.

Blessed be.

Singing

Spirit of Life,
You who rise greening in our hearts
as well as in the vines of zucchini plants:

Now is a time of great abundance,
when fruits and vegetables of every kind
are piled in great heaps in the markets.

Queen Anne’s Lace blooms in the meadows,
the clear pools of the river beckon,
and the trees are so fragrant
we want to gulp in the delicious air.

Yet fire season has already begun
taking the homes and lives of many beings,
little children are still crying for their parents,
and many we love are sick and in pain.

Help us know that
this is the way of things here,
on this little blue planet
hurtling through the vast starry deeps:
there is always both at once.

Both ravishing beauty and terrible suffering,
both immense joy and agonizing pain,
both glorious celebration and overwhelming grief.

Help us know that whatever we are experiencing
You are with us, whatever we call You—
Love, God, Universe, or no name at all—

for You are the love that binds all wounds
dries all tears
and frees all who are captive
and You are right here in our hearts
singing.

Blessed be.

Artwork: Aditi – Goddess of the Boundless Sky by Peg Green

The Dance

Great Spirit of Life and Love,
moving source of all we know:

A great upheaval is taking place,
a sea change,
and we can no longer expect the same steps
to take us to the same places.

The patterns must change.
The music is changing
and the dance must also change.

No more solo performances.

In times such as these
it is important to gather with others
and to learn how to move
together.

May we hold each other and ourselves
in loving kindness.

May we see that each of us brings a tender heart
aching to share its deepest desires.

May we see that each of us brings a seeking spirit
longing to grow and be transformed.

May we know that there is a love
deeper than we can understand
ever holding us in safety.

And may we ever be aware
of these great cycles and circles:
the earth orbiting the sun
the sun spiraling in the Milky Way
the whole expanding outward to infinity.

In this great coming together
of matter with energy,
let us ground ourselves here,
in this place,
with each other.

With our feet on the earth,
our faces to the sky,
and our arms out to one another:
let us take our places in the dance.

Blessed Be.

Let us be Still, and Listen

Spirit of Life,
Mystery beyond Mystery:

Now is the time when storms wildly blow,
stripping trees of leaves.

On the path, upturned leaves
hold tiny pools of water
reflecting the whole world.

With the leaves gone,
the bare bones of trees are revealed,
life stripped to its very essence.

Patterns become clear:
branches are the same as roots
are the same as blood vessels
are the same as rivers
are the same as neurons
are the same as the whole universe—

the whole universe, becoming.

What is our essence?
What do we reflect?
What might we become?

Let us be still, and listen.
Let us be still, and know.

Blessed Be.

The Life Abundant

Two years ago, my husband and I moved from Davis, California, to Grass Valley.  The first thing we did was plant fruit trees. One day last August, in the sweet early morning, I went to check on the trees, and found, to my delight, that one little tree had grown a single, perfect peach. It was fat and ripe and fragrant. I reached out to tug at it, and it dropped into my upraised hand.

This is my body, grown here for you. These are the words I hear any time I hold a fresh fruit or a vegetable. If there was ever a sign of a covenant between humans and the divine, it is this: we reach out our hands, and ripe fruit drops into them. The act of eating is a communion: we take into our bodies nutrients and water from the dust of long ago stars, distilled by the power of the sun, and the intentions of life itself, into delectable juicy flesh. We partake of the Body of God.

But wait a minute, who is this “we?” Does everyone get to join in this communion? Does everyone get to sit together at our table?

Of course the answer is no. Seven hundred and ninety-five million people are hungry in our world, many of them starving. Seven hundred and ninety-five million. That’s such a big number that it’s hard to make sense of. So let’s take it to a more understandable scale. Let’s imagine shrinking the entire human population to the size of one village of a hundred people. Who are the people and what are the conditions of their lives?

There would be 60 Asians, 14 Africans, and 11 Europeans. Fourteen people would be from the Americas, with only five from Canada and the United States. About half would be female, and half male. Only 16 would consider themselves White, with the other 84 having other identities. 30 would be Christian. The other 70 would not. One person would own over half of all the wealth, and that person would be from the United States. 17 people would be unable to read or write. 15 would be chronically hungry. 23 would have no shelter. 35 would have no sanitation facilities. 13 would have no safe drinking water. 22 would have access to a computer. Seven would have a college education.

Do you have a computer? Do you have a college education? If you do, you are one of the richest people in the world. Do you feel rich?

If we shrank the population of just the United States to a village of 100 people, one person would own 40 percent of the wealth. The richest 20 would own 93 percent. That’s right. Eighty percent of Americans share only seven percent of the wealth of this nation.

One of the worst things about the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few is that the “wealth” is “produced” from the exploitation of ecological and social systems to the point where they break down completely. This is happening everywhere in the world, but perhaps the most familiar example is Syria. Climate change caused by fossil fuel use dried farmlands to the point where they were unusable. So people began moving en masse toward cities, which couldn’t sustain them. This has resulted not only in the horror of war, but also in a global immigration crisis, as rich countries in the North refuse to take in the immigrants whose lives we’ve ruined with our profligate fossil fuel use.

The language we hear in the news about why we should not take in immigrants—why we should build a wall instead of a bigger table—has to do with scarcity. The story goes that there is not enough for all, and at worst, immigrants want to kill us to get our share, and at the very least they want to come take our jobs.

A lot of progressive people scoff at what they consider to be the stupidity of this kind of rhetoric. It’s so obviously fear-mongering for political ends. Or they’re simply bewildered by all the vicious hatred. But there is a reason why some people respond to the rhetoric. Poverty in this country is deep and real and rapidly increasing. When eighty percent of the people have access to only seven percent of the wealth, when it says right on people’s paychecks that the money they are contributing to Social Security might not be available when they grow old, it’s not hard to understand why people are afraid.

And that makes it even easier for the richest one percent to say we can’t afford to stop using fossil fuels. We can’t afford to restore ecosystems or conserve water or clean up pollution or protect wildlife because that would shut down our economy and we need more jobs. We hear that we have to choose between jobs and the environment, one or the other. The economy or the environment. One or the other.

Why should this be?

Consider the Greek word “oikos.” It means “household” or “home.” From it we get the English prefix, “eco.” So ecology means the study of our household or home. Economy means the custom or rules of our home.

Now consider the word “environment.” “Environ” means “to surround,” so the word literally means “that which surrounds us.” Isn’t it interesting that the word that white Americans decided to use to refer to the interdependent web of existence is a word that places it outside of—separate from—ourselves? The fact that we use this is a legacy of Western culture. This culture has historically understood the world in a binary, dualistic way, in which humans are atomistic individuals, separate from and in conflict with each other and nature.

And this view is the foundation of our economy system. In a college economics class, my daughter was taught, as I had been 25 years before, that economics is the study of “the allocation of scarce resources among competing ends.” In other words, scarcity is assumed to be the basic condition of an economy, so that individuals must compete with each other for what they need. Economic growth is valued above all because as long as more wealth can be generated, more will be available to all. Nature is seen as a repository of resources for humans to use. When one resource is used up, others can be substituted, so there are no limits to growth.

Now, there are at least two good ways to understand what is wrong with these traditional Western ways of thinking.

One is to look at the shape and size of our planet. It is a sphere. It is finite. So infinite economic growth is simply not possible. To behave as if it is, is suicidal.

The second is to try and stop breathing. Can you do it? Think of all that is necessary for you to take a breath, all that happens in your nerves and muscles and lungs and bloodstream when you do. Think of how oxygen arrives in front of you.

We are embedded in and utterly dependent upon the ecosystems in which we live. WE ARE THE EARTH AND THE EARTH IS US. There is no separation and there can be no separation. We are temporary aggregations of atoms and molecules that are continually being exchanged with those of the atmosphere; every cell in our bodies is being continually remade from the food we eat and the water we drink and the air we breathe. There is no substitute for water. There is no substitute for oxygen. There are no substitutes for the basic nutrients our bodies need.

And we can only get these through the action of healthy communities of billions of other kinds of lives. We need them to fix energy for us and cycle water and oxygen and nutrients for us.

And we need the beauty and diversity and richness of a healthy world in order to feel whole and well and happy, because we evolved in a beautiful and diverse and rich world. We will feel ill as long as the earth, that larger body of which we are part, is ill. This is the reality of interbeing.

So it is no coincidence that global economic and ecological and social catastrophe are all arriving at the same time: we are living in one single interdependent oikos, one household, with one set of rules, which we cannot transcend.
How, then, do we live here?

Well, there is a different model of economics. It’s called ecological economics. Its goal is not growth, but rather sustainability and justice. An ecological economy starts at the local level with meeting people’s basic human needs: food, shelter, water, health care, education, meaningful work, safety, beauty. Each local community finds ways of providing for its citizens’ needs that sustain the supporting ecosystem. Only when there is a surplus does one community trade with another. Larger national and international economies develop then as communities of communities, partnerships of partnerships.

Ecological economists—the only economists who accurately predicted the economic meltdown of 2008—have written volumes on specific policies that would convert our failing, unjust, growth-based economy to a healthy, just, steady-state one.

So then the question becomes, if there is a different model available, and we know how to implement it, then what on EARTH are we doing trying to keep a growth economy going when it is killing us all? What keeps us in its thrall? Why do those of us who are not super-rich keep working so hard, and making wars, to protect the interests of the wealthiest one percent?

One word: fear. The current model says scarcity is the basic condition of life. Scarcity. How does that word feel inside your body? Is there a tightening of your chest, a drop in your stomach, an acceleration of your heart? If I say resources are scarce, do you think people will share with you? Or do you want to run right out and grab all you can for yourself and your family?

This is a model grounded in fear. Fear that we are all alone, there is not enough, no one will share—and so we’ll die.

But what about the word abundance? What if I say, there is plenty for all? How does that feel inside your body? Is there some loosening, some relaxing?

Because there really is plenty for all, if we will just share. When we are willing to live within limits, and not take more than what we need, there is plenty for everyone. So the next question is, how do we learn to live in faith that there is enough? How do we calm our fears? How do those of us with wealth release our attachments to it? And how do those of us who live in poverty find the courage to stand up for what we need?

These are some of the central questions addressed by every religion of the world. And every religion of the world says similar things. One of these is that, for those people who have more things and money than we need, a really good way to release our attachments to them, is to release the things and money. Give them away. The less surplus we have, the more simply we live, the freer we are from attachment and fear. I have a friend from Grenada who tells me that her brother is a wealthy man who owns many things. He worries constantly that someone will break into his house and steal everything. But my friend owns very little. She leaves her house unlocked. She is free from worry. She is the most joyful person I know.

A second piece of wisdom from every world religion is that releasing our attachments to things does not mean we should become ascetics who revile the material world. No, in fact, the opposite is true; we should celebrate, revel in, lose ourselves in the beauty here, because simple beauty can fill us so full we need very little in the way of material things. What’s more, all the beauty we perceive, through smell and sound and sight and touch and taste, is a gift we are obligated to appreciate and participate in and share. Think of all the bread and wine Jesus and his friends ate together; think of Rumi wandering around, intoxicated by the moon; think of the erotic poetry of the Song of Solomon. Think of the Buddhist meditations on the lotus blossom, the bright colors of a Hindu festival, the dancing and drumming of a Salish potlatch. In the book Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl describes a group of Jewish men in a Nazi concentration camp. One of the men could sing beautiful arias. The other men saved their meager rations of food to give him in return for his singing. This is how deep is the human need for beauty.

Then there’s a third teaching I want to share, from Unitarian Universalism.  To understand it, let’s return to the question of fear—that fear of scarcity we need to calm if we are to learn to live sustainably and joyfully on earth. And also that fear of what might happen to us if we claim our power and stand up for what we need.

Nineteenth century Universalist theologian Hosea Ballou said that fear—the kind of fear that keeps us from becoming our best selves—is located in the body. Ballou believed this fear stemmed from the religious understanding, prevalent in his time, that God’s love was scarce, and only the elect would be saved.  He countered that fear with the idea of universal salvation, the idea that God’s love is so abundant that all are saved.  We have transmuted this to the teaching that every person has inherent worth and dignity, that all are equally worthy of love. But what of the fear that still resides in our bodies? Contemporary Unitarian Universalist theologians John Buehrens and Rebecca Parker, in their book A House for Hope, remind us that religious community offers us experiences of beauty that train our bodies out of fear and into love. When we come together in community to experience beauty through ritual and ceremony, through song and dance, through shared food and drink, we are training our bodies to share with each other, to trust one another, to trust in a larger love that holds us all. If we do this well, our fallback behavior during adversity becomes courageous, creative love. If we are threatened with violence, we meet it with love. If we are threatened with scarcity, we find ways to create abundance.

And so here we are today, sharing the bounty of the earth. Here we are, filling ourselves with the beauty of all these fruits and flowers and vegetables, the beauty of our singing, the beauty of all these loving faces. In this way do we begin to restore the covenant between ourselves and the source of life. In this way do we begin to make the communion of eating available to all. In this way do we begin to create the life abundant.

May it be so. Blessed be.

For further reading/viewing:

Buehrens, John, and Rebecca Ann Parker. 2011. A House for Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion for the Twenty-first Century. Beacon Press.

Cobb, John B. Jr. 2007. Sustainability: Economics, Ecology, and Justice. Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Kaza, Stephanie, ed. 2005. Hooked! Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume. Shambhala Publications, Inc.

McFague, Sallie. Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril. 2000, Fortress Press. (An extremely clear and simple explanation of ecological economics from a Christian theologian.)

www.100people.org

http://www.thp.org/knowledge-center/know-your-world-facts-about-hunger-poverty/

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/oct/13/half-world-wealth-in-hands-population-inequality-report

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?

Apocalypse When? Weaving the World Anew

Watch the video here.

Did you know the world just ended?  It did.  And then it just did again, just now.  The world ends in every moment.  But more importantly, in every moment, it begins anew.  It begins again, and again, and again.

That’s what physicists tell us, anyway.  That the universe, our world, is not so much a thing as it is a process, a series of events that wink out of existence the moment they occur, to be replaced by new events.

Does that make your brain hurt?  It does mine.  It’s easier for me to understand it this way:  the world ends all the time.  People we love die.  We lose jobs, and marriages, and homes.  We move.  We become ill.  Places we love get bulldozed.  And these are just the ordinary endings, terrible enough—but in the last few years, we’ve had a massive dose of the extraordinary:  nuclear disaster, shootings in schools, massive hurricanes, drought and fire, threats to women’s rights, threats of more wars…for months and months, it’s been one disaster after another.  I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired.

Each time some terrible thing happens, we are stricken.  We are dazed.  But we still are.  The moment our old world ended, a new world began: a world in which we must find our way for the very first time.

How do we make sense of all these endings?  How do we find the hope we need, to make new beginnings?  Humans have always done this by telling stories.

One of the most fundamental stories of Western culture came to us as a way of making sense of violent endings.  The world of the ancient Israelites ended again and again.   They were a small nation constantly caught in the middle of battles of empire.  First the Babylonian Empire came and conquered them, desecrated their most holy Temple, and sent the people away from everything they knew.    Then the Persian Empire overthrew the Babylonians and let the Israelites go home and rebuild the Temple.   Eventually the Romans came and conquered everyone, and destroyed the temple altogether.  The people of Israel were often refugees, whose men were injured or dead, the women raped, the children hungry.  They felt small and powerless.  In order to survive as a people, they needed a story that gave them hope.  And so when they heard this story from Zoroastrians of the Persian Empire, the empire that once rescued them, they adopted it as their own.  The story goes something like this:

“Once upon a time, a group of people was being oppressed by an evil empire.  The people cried out for help to their god, who sent a hero—a messiah!—to lead the oppressed ones in battle against the forces of evil.  The battle raged back and forth, with fires, floods, and famines.  The forces of good unleashed Plagues, but the schemes of the evil Dragons and Beasts on earth defeated them.  Animals, angels, and spirits fought on both sides. Eventually the forces of good won a major battle on a hill, and peace reigned for a thousand years.  But then the evil forces rebelled again, and so the god completely destroyed the earth and all its the forces of evil.  Then he made a new world, where he established a new kingdom that would remain for all time.” 1

Does this sound familiar?  It should, because not only is it a summary of the Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible, it’s also the basic plotline of nearly every science fiction and fantasy series ever written.  At least once a year, if not more, a new movie comes out in which the forces of good and the forces of evil square off against one another.  A hero comes along just in time to lead the forces of good in a cataclysmic battle that once and for all vanquishes the evil empire and replaces it with the good empire.  Sometimes we get a trilogy or even a seven-part series.

Biblical scholars call this kind of story an “apocalyptic.”  The word “apocalypse” is Greek for “lifting the veil,” as in revealing something that was hidden.  Apocalyptics always began by declaring that the story was revealed in a dream or vision.  And they always followed the same basic plot, just changing names and details and images.  Many apocalyptics were written throughout Jewish history, each to explain its own specific crisis.

Now, early Christianity, as you may recall, was a reform movement within Judaism.   So the apocalyptic story in the Book of Revelation follows the same formula that the earlier ones did.  It wasn’t originally accepted as part of the Christian Bible.  The Christians were a tiny minority in the Roman Empire and they didn’t want to upset the government by making such a violently critical apocalyptic part of their sacred text.  But after Christianity became the state religion, this changed.  Now that the empire was on the side of God, God must be on the side of the Empire.

Which brings up the reason this storyline has stayed in our consciousness for these last two thousand years:  it works for both sides of any violent conflict.  It not only gives oppressed people hope, but it also gives conquerors language to use in conquest.  As long as each side imagines itself as being on the side of good, the story meets everyone’s needs.

But there are many, many problems with the story.  Remember, it is a story people told to explain how their world could end in violence over and over again; it was born from a longing to be saved once and for all.  And so, it imagines a lone male hero, the savior.  It imagines time on earth as linear, having a beginning and an end.  It imagines this earth as a bad place, which will be destroyed in the final purging of evil from the universe.  And it imagines God as an emperor who does the purging through violence, replacing one empire with another.

These themes are the reasons why the word “apocalypse” in our common understanding has come to mean “the end of the world,” and a terrifying end at that.

Well, these problems wouldn’t be so bad if people understood the story for what it is:  a particular narrative that came from a particular time and place to make sense of particular events.  But according to a Time Magazine poll, 59 percent of Americans believe the events in the Book of Revelation will literally come true.  And throughout Christian history, the basic narrative has been used over and over again to justify the violence of empire. 2  It was used to drive the Crusades.  It was used by Europeans to colonize the Americas and slaughter their native peoples.  It was used by Hitler to build the Third Reich, and most recently, it was used by George W. Bush to take the United States to war on Afghanistan and Iraq.

But perhaps one of the most troubling things of all, to me, is that we seem to be so steeped in apocalyptic language that even environmentalists use it to talk about the ecological problems our planet is facing.  Repent, or die!  Change your behavior or the whole planet will perish!

Now, when fundamentalists who want the world to end, and environmentalists who want it to keep going, all start talking in the same terrifying ways about plagues and fires and floods and wars, it is easy to feel afraid.  It is easy to think we might indeed be close to the end of the world.  It is easy to lose hope.

But I think hope is our best hope.  And so I think we need to start telling a different story.   Is there a different story?   There are many.  Here is one:

Somewhere, high in the mountains, there is a cave. Inside the cave lives an old, old woman.  She spends most of her time weaving.  She wants to weave the most beautiful garment that ever was, and she has spent a very long time at it.  She has come to the point where it is time to attach a fringe of porcupine quills to the edge of the garment, and so she needs to flatten the quills with her teeth.  From years of biting down on the quills, her teeth have been worn down to nubs, but still she works on, weaving, and flattening.

Now, at the very back of a cave there is a stew, simmering, in a cauldron.  The cauldron hangs above a fire that began so long ago that it might be the oldest thing there is.  The stew in the cauldron contains all the seeds and grains and herbs that grow on the surface of the earth.  If the old woman doesn’t stir it, the fire will scorch everything and who knows what troubles could ensue.

So she gets up to stir the stew.  She leaves the weaving on the floor, and slowly, painfully, makes her way to the back of the cave.  Now the moment the old woman turns her back, a great dog springs up from the entrance to the cave.  The dog comes over and sniffs and paws at the weaving.  It finds a loose thread and pulls on it, and pulls and pulls.  But all the threads are woven together and so next thing we know, the weaving is all undone.

When the old woman comes back from stirring the stew, she finds, instead of her beautiful creation, a chaotic mess of destruction.  She stands there and looks at the heap of loose threads.  And then she realizes she is tired.  She has been doing this work by herself since the beginning, and she is tired and lonely.  So she calls on her siblings and her cousins, and they call on all their children and their grandchildren, and soon everyone crowds into the cave.  The people look at the threads, at their colors and textures, and then they begin to speak.  As each speaks, the others listen.  Even the littlest ones speak.  And as they speak, and listen, into their minds comes a beautiful design.  It is even more beautiful than the last one.   Together, they take up the mess, and they begin again, to weave the most beautiful garment that ever was. 3

You know, there have been many times in my life, when I felt bereft of hope for this world.  When I felt so weighed down by sadness for all that was being lost that I didn’t see how or why we should even bother trying to save anything.  But then I would read that there are six thousand women’s groups in Africa planting trees.  Or I would see a dandelion growing from a crack in a parking lot.  And I would realize that life loves itself:  it wants to live.  Human beings might have the power to destroy life as we know it now, but we do not have the power to destroy life forever.   There have been massive floods before.  There have been times when the sun was blotted out for years by the ash of volcanoes or the debris of meteor crashes.  There have been times when the whole planet was on fire.  There have been mass extinctions.  But life on earth has always survived.  It has adapted and recovered and taken wondrous new shapes and forms.  Endings have always meant beginnings.

Knowing this gives me hope.  And I think, what if we turn our own energies toward helping life along?  What if we imagine God, not as a vengeful emperor, but rather as the force of life that calls us toward love and beauty?  What if, instead of terrible and frightening stories of the doom that will come upon us if we don’t change, we tell stories of the beautiful world that is coming into being right here and right now, because we are co-creating it?  What if we lift the veil and find, instead of only destruction, also hope, and healing?

For while this is a world in which ancient trees are almost gone, it is also a world in which high school students are replanting forests.  While this is a world in which white police brutalize black citizens, it is also a world in which a multi-racial movement has sprung up proclaiming “Black Lives Matter!”  While this is a world in which fossil energy companies control the media and buy wars, it is also a world in which the Navajo at Black Mesa are replacing a coal-fired power plant with a solar one.  While this is a world in which industrial cities are falling into ruins, it is also a world in which people are making those ruins into farms and gardens.

What stories of healing are you living?  What stories would you like to begin?  Tell them!  Enact them!  These are the stories that will give us hope.  And hope is what we need in order to do our work of stirring the pot and re-weaving the world.

The world just ended.  Just now, it did.  And just now, it began again.  Let us lift the veil and see what is there.

Prayerful Reflection

Great Spirit of Life,
You who body forth as this starry universe
and our shimmering, blue-green planet:
Help us remember with love all that has ended.
Remind us when we lose hope
that each day—each moment!—
is a chance for a new beginning.
Help us let go of old stories, that make us afraid,
and embrace new stories, that give us hope.
In this springtime of possibility,
may we hear your clarion call to love and beauty
and together weave a world that is new.
May it be so.
Amen.


1 Nantais, David E. and Michael Simone.  Apocalypse When? America 189 (4) 18-20 Ag 18-25 2003.

2 Brock, Rita Nakashima and Rebecca Parker.  Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love for this World for Crucifixion and Empire.  Beacon Press, Boston, 2008.

3 A re-imagining of a story from Meade, Michael.  The World Behind The World:  Living at the Ends of Time.  Greenfire Press, Seattle, WA, 2008.  Pp. 15-17.