I led a nature divination workshop in the University of Wisconsin Arboretum a few years ago. I asked the group first to ground and center, then remind themselves of their oracular question, and then simply look around at the marshland where we had gathered. One woman decided to ask two questions rather than just one.
She stationed herself on a boardwalk overlooking the marsh, closed her eyes and asked: “How can I find the time and energy to enjoy my life, given the fact that I am extremely busy with work right now?” When she opened her eyes, she immediately noticed the swaying grasses and rushes in front of her and realized that she, too, could be flexible like these plants. She could go with the flow and fit pleasure into the small cracks in her work life.
Then she closed her eyes again and asked: “What should I do about my nephew?” Opening her eyes on the same scene less than a minute later, she noticed a large tree in the middle distance that appeared sturdy and deeply-rooted. Yes, she thought to herself, I could provide this teenager with the kind of stability this tree represents if I open my home to him.
My student’s experience exhibits the extent to which her insight depended on her own perception. Because she was looking for different types of feedback, at the same place and at almost the same time, she noticed two very different images.
This is exactly the type of experience I wanted to foster when several years ago I proposed a project to my daughter, the painter Linnea Vedder. My idea was a deck of divination cards that helps people access their own insight. Linnea illustrated the cards and I wrote the accompanying book. We call it The World Is Your Oracle.
On July 22nd, the height of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, fruits and vegetables ripening, sun baking or steaming, cool waters beckoning, warm nights full of stars and fireflies, when our senses are so engaged, the Roman Catholic, the Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox churches all celebrate The Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene. Or Magdalen, as some prefer. I know her as Maeve, the Celtic Mary Magdalen. This summer marks the twentieth anniversary of my first encounter with what might be described as an archetypal force, or, as one reader called her, an imaginary friend.
Mary being even more incarnate: Jules Joseph Lefebvre's 1876
Our time, as the media never tires of telling us, is the information age, a time when each of us can count on being besieged and bombarded by more information in an average day than most premodern people encountered in their entire lives. Now it’s important to remember that this is true only when the term “information” is assumed to mean the sort of information that comes prepackaged and preprocessed in symbolic form; the average hunter-gatherer moving through a tropical rain forest picks up more information about the world of nature through his or her senses in the course of an average day than the average resident in an industrial city receives through that channel in the course of their lives.
This week’s spiritual wisdom was sent to us by a member of the Faith and Spirituality group with which Tikkun is working to plan many workshops, a service, and a sacred space at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, Michigan, June 22-26. The member, Louisa Davis, suggested this poem as a blessing for the social change work taking place at the forum:
When I was ten years old, I had a dream: I wanted a chipmunk to eat out of my hand. I laid peanuts in a trail that led from 15 feet away to the tip of my toes, with one final nut in my palm. I sat for what seemed like hours before the chipmunk arrived. The small animal scurried around, looked the whole situation over, scampered away, and then quickly returned to pick up the first nut in her mouth. After she tucked it into her pouch, she proceeded to the next, and the next, and then scooted away to hide them in her burrow. Happily for me, she returned, getting bolder and bolder, until she had taken every single nut, every one, that is, except the one in my hand. She was much too scared of me to risk jumping into my palm for that final reward.
As you can imagine, I was greatly disappointed. The most carefully laid plans of mice and men (or in this case chipmunks and girls) had come to naught. Unfortunately, no one told me that I had made a good start in acclimating that chipmunk to my presence, or that it actually takes several desensitization sessions for a wild animal to become comfortable enough to first take a nut from a human hand and then – eventually – to jump into that person’s palm for the proffered peanut. I learned that myself last summer when I finally realized my 10-year-old’s dream and trained a chipmunk not only to jump into my palms, but from one of my hands to the other and finally into my lap for the nuts I had placed there. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to finally overcome this animal’s instinctive fear of me. For as opposed to my 10-year-old self, who wanted a “pet chipmunk,” I wanted a relationship with a wild animal.
Wildness, wilderness, Mother Earth in Her most primal state have always been important to me, even as a child. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that listening to the purple martins’cheet, cheet, chert as they talk to each other from our purple martin house, or watching the northern orioles flash their orange-and-black plumage as they fly to and from our feeder, or just soaking up the view from our porch over Lake Mendota has an undeniably relaxing and rejuvenating effect. As Nancy Wood says in her poem,
Cuatro master Roberto Fuentes. Photo: flickr/superartista
Roberto died at High Valley, our center, after a long illness. During his last weeks, his friends Karen and David cared for him there, joined by his mother Luisa from Venezuela. Until her recent move to a nursing home, Karen and David shared a house with my mother-in-law Olga, also from Venezuela. Olga’s last years at home coincided with the years Roberto, a musician from New York, stayed at High Valley frequently. Whenever he visited, he played Venezuelan folksongs on his Cuatro for Olga. In her nineties and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Olga knew all the words and sang along, tapping her feet to the rhythm. Olga and Roberto were more than compatriots. They came from the same island, Margarita, and spoke the same dialect. With his music, Roberto restored Olga’s memory of her earliest years.
This week’s spiritual wisdom comes from a piece about Earth Day by Jeff Vogel, a respiratory therapist at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York:
Earth Day 2010
Photo from NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
All living things — large, small, and in between — share in the precious gift of life on Earth. However, it is we humans, with our large brains enabling us to be self-consciously aware of this gift, that are the only creatures to celebrate Earth Day. As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, let us remember that this grand unifying perspective was made possible by one of our nation’s greatest gifts to the world, the first stunning photo of Earth from outer space taken during the Apollo moon missions. This awesome image of our beautifully round whole Earth, suspended in the vast blackness of space, may be humanity’s crowning achievement, the climax of our long collective urge to explore our surroundings. This new perspective of the Earth took our self consciousness to a whole new dimension. We could all suddenly feel part of a much greater self, the whole Earth.
Permaculture is a movement whose time has arrived. We’re all concerned about “global weirding” (climate change), and according to Starhawk, permaculture offers a set of simple solutions to this problem. In my last post (and the accompanying video), Starhawk talked specifically about how permaculture would sequester carbon in the soil.
Carbon Farmers of America is a group that’s taking this issue seriously. Star explained that they’re funding research to discover the best practices for large-scale building of soil and paying farmers for every ton of carbon dioxide they capture in new topsoil by marketing carbon sinks to the public to fund the work. Topsoil has the capacity as a carbon sink to capture the excess carbon in our atmosphere. And our soils desperately need that carbon. So this group is creating a win-win situation, really taking the permaculture saying “Pollution is the solution,” and applying it directly to “global warming” and topsoil depletion.
Starhawk was generous with her time while she was here in Madison a month ago. She granted me two interviews, the first about Palestine and the second — which I will begin to post today now that I’m back from my vacation — about permaculture. For those of you who don’t know her, Starhawk is the best-known Wiccan author alive today. She’s published eleven books, including The Spiral Dance, which introduced many of us to Wicca. From the beginning of her career, she’s been very involved as an activist, and since the 1990s she’s been most active in promoting permaculture.
Star came to permaculture as a natural outgrowth of her Paganism. After many years in the Goddess movement — where we declared that the Earth was a sacred, living organism that manifests Herself in the cycles of birth, growth, death, and regeneration that occur in all of nature, including our own human culture — Star discovered permaculture. She soon realized it was a practical application of her spiritual path.
On February 24, Rev. Paul Raushenbush issued a call for articles entitled “Dear Religious (and Sane) America” to inaugurate the launch of the Huffington Post’s new religion section. According to the article,
HuffPost Religion is dedicated to providing a provocative, respectful, and hopefully productive forum for addressing the ways in which religion intersects our personal, communal, national and international life. HuffPost Religion will demonstrate the vibrant diversity of religious traditions, perspectives and experiences that exist alongside and inform one another in America and throughout the world.
Huffington is clearly trying to expand its reach and become one of the big players in religion media, much as it already has in politics, popular culture, and even business. Based on initial responses to the section, it appears to be well on its way.