Recording of our April 25, 2021 online worship service
by Denise Levertov
read by Annette and Eric Sargent
But we have only begun to love the earth.
We have only begun to imagine the fullness of life.
How could we tire of hope? – so much is in the bud.
How can desire fail? – we have only begun to imagine justice and mercy, only begun to envision how it might be to live as siblings with beast and flower, not as oppressors.
Sure our river cannot already be hastening into the sea of nonbeing?
Surely it cannot drag, in the silt, all that is innocent?
Not yet, not yet—there is too much broken that must be mended,
too much hurt we have done to each other that cannot yet be forgiven.
We have only begun to know the power that is in us if we would join our solitudes in the communion of struggle.
So much is unfolding that must complete its gesture, so much is in the bud.
by Jane O'Neil
Over the past year or two, my interest in indigenous people, and the lessons we can learn from them has been growing. Recently I discovered Robin Wall Kimmerer, and I want to share some of what I’ve learned so far from her, and from others.
Dr. Kimmerer is a Botanist,
an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi nation,
and also a mother and a poet-and-author.
As a Potawatomi, Kimmerer was raised with their practices, and the practices of the Honorable Harvest.
As a botanist—
she is a PhD at State University of New York where she is also a Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology –
She learned about the scientific side
of relationships that she already understood with what she calls “a different way of knowing.”
Much of that way of knowing is understanding the interdependence
and the interactions of
plants with plants,
plants with animals and insects,
and humans with nature.
This interdependence shows up among first world peoples
as a Culture of Reciprocity.
Kimmerer shares a ritual that happens in many indigenous nations
that she calls The Thanksgiving address,
And is also called “The Words that come before all else”.
These words are recited at the beginning and end of many gatherings,
and their purpose is to
set gratitude as the highest priority.
But it is a full serving of gratitude, which means it includes responsibility for reciprocating with one’s own gift.
It describes gratitude to the various parts of the earth for giving what they ‘give’, even though it is their responsibility to give it.
It starts out like this:
Today we have gathered
and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue.
We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony
with each other and all living things.
So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People.
It goes on at some length thanking Mother Earth,
the waters, fish, plant life including food plants and medicinal plants,
trees, animals, birds, the Four Winds, lightning and thunder,
the sun, the moon, stars,
enlightened Teachers, and finally the Creator.
It names what gifts are received from each of these ‘non-human’ entities and gives thanks for their existence and continued fulfillment of the needs of others.
RWK: “Each part of Creation is thanked in turn for fulfilling its Creator-given duty to the others.”
I sometimes hear the phrase ‘do your job’ with the implication that if you are getting paid for something, that is all you should expect. No appreciation or gratitude will be forthcoming. Similarly, we often understand ‘duty’ as being one-sided, the responsibility of the doer but something that the beneficiary simply receives, or maybe doesn’t even notice.
But duty and money are hollow substitutes for the real connection that true gratitude brings.
This culture of reciprocity is in contrast to what we in our dominant culture have,
which is a culture of acquisition.
A culture of acquisition creates emptiness and need which cries out to be fulfilled, over and over.
Because it isn’t really what we need, it is never satisfying. We continue to acquire physical belongings but the satisfaction is fleeting.
We have so much stuff we don’t even want, we have to hire people to help us organize and throw our excess stuff away, and we have whole industries that sell our excess stuff, some of it never having been used.
Sometimes we think we can justify this behavior by being grateful for having so much. I have often been party to this, in conversations with friends where we stop and say to each other “we are so fortunate.” It’s not a bad thing to appreciate the comfort that we have, but this cheap gratitude is weak.
It can even be toxic.
It is a way to paper over negative things, to make ‘everything fine,’
to make the speaker feel better about their part in the inequities in the world,
to avoid having to take responsibility or to change their own lives at all.
Al Gore says that false hope is a form of denial, and I believe this kind of gratitude is a form of denial as well.
Real gratitude comes with responsibility to reciprocate. All the parts of creation that provide what we need are described as giving us what we need, and also as fulfilling their duty.
When we are responsible to and for someone or something, when we have a duty to them, these are important aspects of that thing we also call love.
Kimmerer asks us to consider,
“What do you think might happen if we believed that the earth loved us back?”
“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate.
But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.”
Noticing and expressing gratitude for everything the earth gives us is an important step into “a different way of knowing” that the earth loves us – knowing it with our hearts as well as our heads.
How do we reciprocate? On a personal level what does nature need or want from us?
We need to be in a relationship with our habitat in order to know how to reciprocate.
We also need to be aware of our own gifts, whatever talents or abilities or resources we have that can be of use to Mother Nature.
In describing the Honorable Harvest, Kimmerer describes various ways to reciprocate.
It may be in asking for what you want before taking it, and listening to the answer.
It might be taking only what you need, instead of everything you can hold.
It might be a gift of art or ceremony to help others express acknowledgement and appreciation.
It might be listening, listening to the words of others expressing their gratitude.
Or our gift might be to stop talking and to start listening to nature and all she has to say to our hearts.
by Mary Dunn
Since the dawn of human consciousness, nature has had the potential to be a source of inspiration, sometimes fear or mystery or possibly a reflection of god – big G or little G.
What is nature to you? What do you sense in your backyard? When you visit the Great Lakes or gaze at this year’s spring bloom? Do you have a “nature connection”? Not everyone does.
I personally have a hard time explaining my connection with nature. Perhaps my brain chemistry has something to do with it. Whatever the case, my experience is different from a family member who views cocktails on the deck as communion with Mother Nature. To each their own.
For me, there is a sense of awe and comfort when I am outdoors, and this moves me to preserve nature for generations to come. I want to share the glories of the planet and views of the heavens. At the same time, I view our economy as a subsidiary of the earth which supplies raw materials and crops. So, the frugal part of me wants to ensure there are resources and groceries for the future.
Our congregation and many of us as individuals continue to learn about and to act on behalf of our earthly home. This work will continue for years. Will we have the “juice” to sustain us for the long haul? Perhaps nature itself can provide some support.
Consider Creativity which can stoke activist efforts. Can we look at the diversity of plants, animals, water, and stone to challenge ourselves to be innovative?
Dr. Katharine Hayhoe states that the most important thing we can do about climate is talk about it. Have we discussed climate with family or friends in the last week? In the last month? What creative approaches might we use to chat about this critical issue?
Dr. Hayhoe suggests looking for shared values to anchor a conversation. First listen to others respectfully, attentively. Connect “where that person” is. Be creative as you identify the “hook” to initiate conversation. Then speak, with authenticity. As an agnostic, biblical quotes from me about creation care would ring hollow to an Evangelical Christian and rightfully so.
Does your neighbor remark about early weeds this spring? If so, point out how climate change is lengthening the growing season.
Do you share a love of beer or exquisite coffee with family? Check how altered weather impacts hops needed for beer and shade for coffee plants.
Are you sharing a box of Kleenex with another allergy sufferer? You may point out that carbon pollution and warmer temperatures cause plants to produce more pollen over longer growing seasons. While you are at it - please pass the Benadryl.
Tenacity is another one of nature’s attributes. Consider the bristle cone pine, a small tree native to the Rockies. It grows at elevations above 5,500 feet where temperatures drop below freezing and the growing season is so short that some years there is no growth ring. Yet bristle cone pines are among the oldest living organisms on earth. Thousands of years old. Now that is tenacity!
We do not have thousands of years to address climate change or the next extinction. But our tenacity to address these issues will in part determine our success. What does tenacity look like?
One option is to contact federal, state, and local lawmakers to communicate concerns and what we want done. Remember, these office holders work for us – the voters! Communication can include meeting with a member of congress or staff. It can be an email. Legislators are more impressed when they receive a handwritten post card or letter. Submit a letter to the editor of a local paper. And don’t forget the ever-handy telephone.
Tenacity means repeating this communication multiple times a year. Not just during campaign season and no matter which party is in office. It also means thanking legislators who have supported climate action.
What other inspiration does the earth provide to support our climate activism?
Beauty – beauty includes the geometry of a pinecone, soft hues of apple blossoms and the melodies of bird song to name just a few. Beauty is abundant.
Taking time to surround ourselves with nature can buoy us when we are weary and can recharge our batteries. It can provide a rest, a meditative break. So, turn off the digital devices. Walk away from the TV. Put aside cares about viruses and politics. Go ahead and putter in the garden, visit a park, or plan a canoe outing. Allow the array of earthly delights to bless you with peace, creativity, and tenacity for the work ahead. Amen and Blessed Be.
read by Annis Pratt
Of the running wave to you
Of the flowing air to you
Of the quiet earth to you
Of the shining stars to you
Of the gentle night to you
Moon and stars
Pour their healing light on you