During the months I lived in St. Louis, I went to the banks of the Mississippi River and watched the water flow downstream. It didn't display much current. There were no big waves or whitecaps. Yet I sensed that below the surface, the river had hidden strength less obvious than the force of gravity and more influential than earthly inclines.
I stood on Laclede's Landing beyond the Gateway Arch where the red bricks along the bank of the river still hold the mooring chains once used to secure the river boats that brought goods to and took supplies from the city. St. Louis got its start as a trading post and the area that was once an active business district is now littered with paper cups and plastic bags that float along the water's edge. Across the river piles of coal dotted the landscape and even on a sunny day the scenery was dull and lifeless. Where I imagined a forest once grew, I saw a concrete wasteland. Behind me, the glistening steel of the tallest manmade monument in the world cut across the blue sky. It is a marvel of modern engineering that was created in tribute to the glory of the U.S. national expansion. To my right blocks of abandoned warehouses stood with boarded windows and spray painted graffiti on their brick walls. I was surrounded by signs and symbols of my complex culture: the price that had been paid for the creation of a wealthy nation, the pride of those who believed they built it, and the evidence of its shortcomings. The colorful buildings made the brown water passing before me seem lifeless. I imagined when vegetation had lined the river banks, the water before me had been shimmering blue.
There is a plaque in front of an exhibit at the St. Louis Zoo that reads: “Rivers are the lifeblood of the planet. They connect our lands, our wildlife, and our cultures. Carrying nutrients and water, the essentials for all living things, rivers sustain the diversity of life.” Clean water is essential for all life. Yet, I knew that industrial waste had been dumped into the mighty Mississippi and agricultural run-off had overwhelmed it and people could no longer eat the fish that grew in it. I told the river that I was sorry that all of that had happened. I apologized for the damage the dominant culture had done. Then I asked it to find the strength to heal itself. I know my motives are selfish. But my faith is strong. I believe in the possibilities of reclamation and renewal. I believe that mankind can once again exist in harmony with nature. My belief is backed by my newest favorite quote from Albert Einstein: "Everything is energy and that's all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics."
Again I called upon my imagination and I saw reclamation projects and green pathways and abandoned warehouses transformed into an eco-tourist district. And in my mind I reconciled Mr. Einstein's teaching and my awareness of quantum physics with the wisdom of the ages. Every living thing in nature has a spirit. So I spoke to the spirit of the water. I offered it tobacco as I had been taught. And I left the river knowing that the wisdom of Indigenous People will hold true to the discoveries of modern science and that the conflicts between cultures will be laid to rest. This is so because the evidence of the failure of the western mindset is on display along the banks of the river in the city that stands as a reminder of the westward expansion of the United States. No engineering feat is going to allow white culture to disregard the damage that has been done to the natural environment. The signs of disrespect are obvious. The path of resolution perhaps not so.
Like Christians around the globe, I have prayed the Lord's Prayer and asked for the coming of the Kingdom. Lately, I have been questioning how many of us have thought beyond the words we so often recite. Are we able to imagine an earthly world of God's Kingdom. What would it look like?
Chief Phil Lane, founder of the Four Winds International Institute, posted a blog on March 20, 2010. He begins his essay with an acknowledgement of these challenging times on planet earth and explains that these days have been predicted by the elders of indigenous cultures for centuries.
To create a new world of peace and harmony, he maintains all members of the human family must first acknowledge that they are one human family which is by nature not adversarial. There is no debating that an end of warfare and the preparation for war will bring peace; but I've found (among those who claim to want peace) a separate belief in an inherently hostile human spirit. In other words, they believe there will always be war; because mankind creates war. This of course, is the sticking point: How can there be peace on earth if so many believe in the inherent hostility of others? I don't believe mankind is by nature hostile. I believe we are all about self-preservation, but just haven't quite figured out how to support the peaceful coexistence of so many. Of course, it must begin with a means to control greed which is (if not part of mankind's inherent nature) certainly a major cause of injustice. I think the Kingdom we were born to create is not only harmonious; but incredibly beautiful. When it manifests, the natural gifts (the bounty of the earth) will flourish in order to sustain all life on earth and man will fulfill his role as facilitator (as opposed to destroyer) of the natural order and cycle of life.
Brother Phil Lane emphasizes the importance of world communication and explains the possibilities for coordinating needs and resources among nations. He places great emphasis on a highly functioning world body. And I couldn't agree more. While the strengths and weaknesses of the United Nations are too broad a subject for this posting, his posting encourages me to have faith in the possibility of a governing world body that puts human needs before economic interests.
With my thoughts attuned to the welfare of a whole earth, a place where all God's creatures are respected and nurtured -- I wondered what, if anything, I might be doing that could be counter-productive to the outcome I desire. And it occurred to me that I have spent a great deal of time being angry over social injustice and environmental degradation; and that in the world where God's Kingdom has manifested, there will be no place for my anger.
It may be true (as I believe) that Americans have been duped by their government, but positive actions not immobilizing anger will bring an end to the chicanery. I am convinced that a better world is being created. I know that the collective energies of hope and love for all creation will prevail over those of greed and injustice. The only thing I've left to overcome is my impatience, but I am learning to wait with joy.
The title intrigued me and the agenda was substantive, so I traveled to Lawrence, Kansas to attend a workshop hosted by the Indigenous Environmental Network titled "Rights of Mother Earth: Restoring Indigenous Life Ways of Responsibility and Respect." The conference was held on the grounds of the Haskell Indian Nations University an institution dedicated to educating American Indian students.
Early in the first session I felt indebted to the people who have devoted so much of their professional lives to the fight for environmental protection. They have been at the forefront of the battle to maintain the integrity of the land, air, and water. As I write that sentence, I am fully aware of the fact that there is an ongoing battle to preserve the integrity of Mother Earth. And it seems ridiculous that such an effort should have to be undertaken. Who are they that must be fought? Who would want to hinder the planet's ability to sustain life?
Sometimes the answer to a question is within the question. And the hint to answering the above is to replace the "who" with "what." What would disregard the earth's natural life-sustaining systems? What is it that has effectively compromised the glorious means by which Creator has demonstrated His love for humanity? The gifts of the natural world, from magnificent seashores to captivating mountain peaks, water resources, fertile land, and everything above and below the ground, appear to be at risk. It is all subject to the threat of possession, exploitation and in most cases destruction by the all-consuming corporate being which easily levels mountaintops, gulps great quantities of water and leaves in its wake toxic waste. Its appetite apparently knows no limit. It attempts to justify its insatiable demand for natural resources by asserting that they are essential to produce materials to meet human needs.
In April of 2010, the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (held in Bolivia) adopted a Declaration that has since been submitted to the United Nations for consideration. Elements of that declaration were discussed in Kansas last week. Of primary importance was the definition of the word "rights." It seems that the word itself has no counterpart among the languages of Native American peoples as the idea that one would have to assert an element of their own existence was is unknown to to them.
Their ideas have been changed as has their lifestyle. And now they are using words foreign to them to express concerns fundamental to their survival. Article 2 of the declaration affirms that "Mother Earth ... [has] the right to regenerate ... free from human disruptions" and ""the right to full and prompt restoration" for violations of rights "caused by human activities." And I wonder how mankind can live on earth without causing some human disruptions. Article 3 reaches for middle ground in its first provision: "Every human being is responsible for respecting and living in harmony with Mother Earth." To show consideration for the earth and to live in agreement with her seem fundamental to human survival. But with the many different cultures and world views of those inhabiting her, how will this objective be achieved?
In addition to the major skirmish (the battle to protect Mother Earth), it became apparent during the afternoon of the first day of a three day conference that there were underlying issues within the army. I think every general knows that the troops have to be united before the enemy can be defeated. Therefore it came as a painful surprise to me (when we were initially asked to breakout into groups wherein the nonindigenous participants would meet separately from the Native Peoples) that in 2012 there were still those who did not want to integrate the troops. This approach distracted from what I believed to be the main objective of the meeting. But the conversations around the issue helped me draw some of the most significant conclusions I was able to take away from the conference. That is the reminder that everyone looks at the world through their own set of lenses and that racial bias and prejudice are as likely to appear in gatherings where there is a presumption of a united "spirituality" as any other. This realization saddened me because I do not believe the well-being of Mother Earth will improve unless all of her children work in harmony to restore her health. Surely, she will be defeated by the squabbling among her offspring as much as by those whose demands are excessive. It seemed clear to me that the current mission is to learn to live harmoniously with each other as well as upon Mother Earth during this challenging and complex era; but that conclusion wasn't easily arrived at. Nor do I believe will it be simply achieved.
But I do believe it is achievable. I believe it in the words of the Lord's prayer beseeching the coming of God's Kingdom. And I wait for it to unfold as the prophesies of the elders and teachings of the indigenous peoples foretell. Also, I believe in the goodness of mankind, that his true nature is Godly despite history evidencing the contrary. The conference made it clear that we are not yet a united people able to achieve our highest objectives. We get caught up on words, and spiritual beliefs, and shades of human skin. It also made it clear that opportunities for growth and healing make random appearances, and when those same objectives are sought by any individual, they will be embraced by others seeking the same.
I am indebted to the conference sponsors, speakers, facilitators and attendees. I learned a great deal, not the least of which is how much I still have to learn.
Prophesies foretold of this era we're in, a time when science meets spirituality and those that doubt will be shown proof of the existence of a force commonly termed God. There would undoubtedly be more rejoicing if the average reader could understand the proof offered in the physicists' arguments. I think the delay in experiencing the epiphany can only be attributed to the difficulty of understanding quantum physics. Recently I finished Fred Alan Wolf's Taking the Quantum Leap. This was quite an accomplishment since I'd never enrolled in Physics for Girls which was offered as part of my high school curriculum.
I can't say I found the book to be any easy read. The concepts are cumbersome; but the conclusions are cause for celebration. Why? Because they bring the reader into agreement with ancient spiritual beliefs. Most importantly, science tells us that our perception changes our reality. And that there are invisible energy fields around each of us that define our worldview. So that by changing our perception we reach for a new identity, a new sense of self, or a new lifestyle. Ancient oriential spirituality agrees by asserting the individual is reality and that the God force resides within. In God or within the human all things are possible.
All this brings me to why I commend those marching on Wall Street and now around the country. They are the consciousness raisers reminding us that truth, justice, and integrity are possible within government. They are helping us wake up and remember who we are and why we are here. It takes a lot of energy to move creation, so I am glad their numbers are growing. Even if I am unable to join them physically, I think I've caught their wavelength. And my perception is that they have already succeed in their efforts. I feel this because I believe the better world we all want to live in has already been created. No healthy human being wants to see another go hungry. Or shiver helpless in the cold. Or fail to achieve their full potential. And so I believe that the dis-ease of greed, corruption and thoughtless disregard for the welfare of others has already been cured. The old ways of this earth will fall away as the people of this world reach for a better existence. It's out there. We simply must all believe in it and reach for it together. One, two, three.... GO!
Last Sunday, when the newspaper banners blared NEVER FORGET, the minister preached Forgiveness. I was glad that his message was short and sweet. Glad that because he had preached it; I could write about 9/11 with an introduction that might be more palatable to those who still see America as invincible.
All week, the papers were full of individual recollections: How lives had been changed that day, How we as a nation would never be same. Yet, I think our behavior as a nation hasn't changed since then. As citizens in the world's greatest democracy, most of us are still slugging along in our everyday lives; many more of us struggling to make ends meet. And I am wondering whether any of us have begun to pay more attention to the actions of our government: direct and indirect, covert or overt that would foster the kind of ill-will and resentment toward our country that precipitated the attacks? None of these reflections could diminish grief over the loss of loved ones, or the respect due our nation's heros who rise from among us during a time of crisis. Still, I think it's fair to ask whether we are any closer as a people to having a clue as to why religious fanatics would make us their target. Not that their actions should be justified or excused; but that they could be understood in terms of compassion for the suffering of the disenfranchised who share the perspective of seeing the mighty U.S. as the cause of their suffering.
Whether that perspective rings true (and I believe there are lengthy and valid arguments on both sides of the question), it bears consideration because it is a fact that Americans live in fear of terrorist threats from "enemies" whereas people who have only true friends would have nothing to fear.
Last Sunday, the choir sang A Canticle of Hope. It was a hymn of worship and praise to "the God who restores." It made me question the length of the restoration. Undoubtedly, much of America would like things to go back to the way they were before the towers fell. So many folks see this day as the "day the trouble began". It is their reference point and their rage against the terrorists prevents them from recognizing actions or events that lead up to that day. Native American people might hope for restoration that went a little further. I think this gives us a lot to contemplate as a nation and I believe the sooner we balance our pride against some of the less-than-noble actions our country has undertaken, the closer we will come to living in a peaceful world.
In case you are curious, the Bible passages read last Sunday are found in Matthew. Chapter 18 versus 21-35. There Jesus teaches that if you have been wronged, you should forgive not just up to 7 times, but 70 times 7.
Chief Avrol Looking Horse stood in front of the blazing fire and explained that we were connected to all the sacred fires around the world; and I had a silly thought about a scene in a Harry Potter episode where Harry learns that he can jump into the fire and travel anywhere.
I should explain that "we" was a gathering of over 200 people who had congregated on the summer solstice at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers a historic meeting site for the Dakota people. The land is considered sacred to indigenous people who also believe that June 21 is a day that should be spent in worship. Traditionally, the sun dance is held on the summer solstice. It is seen as a time for renewal, a time to honor Mother Earth, to give thanks for Her blessings.
Taking part in the ceremonies that were held that day brought me great peace.
I believed in what I was doing as much as anyone who believes in prayer hopes their prayers are worthy of being heard and answered. But as the fire burned at the center of our gathering, my eyes were drawn to the suspension tower holding wire cables transporting electricity throughout the grid. The paradox between the obvious display of the force and energy created by man as opposed to the invisibility of spiritual power transmitted through the fire or thought of man seemed apparent to me. And I wondered about the effectiveness of our prayers at the same time I felt the urgency of them.
Surely, in earlier times people who prayed had worries and fears about their life. They wondered whether the buffalo would be found, if the hunt would be successful, if mother nature would be kind, if their children would be well. Regardless of how technologically advanced a culture may perceive itself to be, it would seem that the nature of prayer throughout the ages hasn't and won't change. As human beings we ask our creator to grant our desires for comfort and security as well as the blessing of having our basic needs for food and shelter well provided. And yet, I believe the prayers said during this solstice were different from the ones prayed by people who stood on turtle island hundreds of years ago. Back then it is doubtful that they worried about pollution and environmental destruction. Their prayers for renewal of Mother Earth more likely acknowledged her power - the giving and taking and sustaining of life itself as opposed to the destructive forces of mankind that have so substantially interfered with the general course of nature.
I don't know how many people stood around sacred fires that burned around the globe that day. I only know that I listened to a woman explain the necessity of healing mother earth like this: The hole in the ozone layer is analogous to an opening in the aura of a human being. The sacred sites around the globe are the same as internal human energy fields known as chakras; thus prayers for healing at the sacred sites (places from which energy is transmitted) will help our planet heal. While thinking of the human body and the earth itself as energy fields is undoubtedly a big leap for the part of America that relates to energy in terms of electrical sockets and transmission grids, I accept the philosophy with ease. I also think the terminal tower standing behind the sacred fire that burned throughout the four-day event, was a paradoxical reminder of the tangible and intangible sources of energy currently surrounding each of us. The energy transmitted through the power grids may make life more convenient for us, but it is the strength and substance of Mother Earth that creates the bounty that sustains us.
Just as Christ brought the teachings of the Judeo Christain beliefs to world, there have been teachers in native tradition. One of the most revered is the White Buffalo Calf Woman. Long ago She brought the sacred pipe to Her people. She taught the elders and medicine men how to pray with it and She taught the women sacred ceremonies to help them raise their children and care for Mother Earth. Her prophesies tell of a time of great turmoil when it will be important for the races of humanity to unite in order to prevent chaos and destruction. As the 19th generational holder of the sacred pipe brought to his people, Chief Avrol Looking Horse is entrusted not only with the physical keeping of the pipe, but also with the duties associated with a healer, a medicine man whose people have a great tradition of recognizing the goodness and bounty of Mother Earth. What a challenge to share messages of hope, healing and renewal during these troubled times; especially when a metal suspension tower -- a tribute to the force and some would argue destructive nature of mankind -- stands over a sacred fire.
I enjoyed the experience of gathering with like-minded souls praying for renewal and for healing of Mother Earth. Even though many would consider the beliefs and behavior primitive, I believe many in the modern world may have forgotten the essence of who we are, that we have been born on Mother Earth, are part of her and rely upon her for sustenance. So perhaps we should pray as though every day were as significant as the solstice; because, it might be!
(Note: the photo was taken after the ceremonies were complete and the ceremonial fire extinguished).
Do you recite the Lord’s Prayer mouthing “thy Kingdom come” without thinking about what it might look like if it were here? I’ve been contemplating it lately especially after seeing crowds cheering the death of Osama bin Laden. Would they consider their actions part of God’s will: that He would want his children to celebrate vengeance and violence?
I am not the first to argue that violence creates more violence and hate breeds hate; but I am wondering how America which proclaims itself to be a primarily Christian nation can stand and cheer the violent death of an unarmed human being. There was rejoicing in the streets at the same time it was understood that bin Laden’s death would undoubtedly result in more terrorist attacks around the globe.
It is one thing to stand up for freedom. Defending yourself in a life-threatening situation or killing to eat in order to survive are inherently accepted survival methods. But when will we as a culture move beyond the “eye for an eye” theology of the Old Testament and into the “turn the other cheek” ideals of the New? From where I’m standing, the Kingdom looks like a place where people try to understand one another and work toward a goal of mutual respect. So when the towers fell, why didn’t we as a nation ask ourselves what we’d done to initiate such contempt? Why wasn’t our rage directed toward the apparent incompetence of appointed officials who ignored the warning signs of an attack? And most importantly why haven’t we as a Christian nation stood up to violence and met it with love and compassion as our teacher instructed us? Instead many have turned to hating Muslims – in many cases proclaiming theirs to be a violent religion; at the same time turning a blind eye to acts of aggression by American's who call themselves Christian. This isn’t what my Kingdom looks like. In it there is forgiveness, understanding and peace and no one celebrates the violent death of another.