- The Farm
- The Alliance
The problems with the online groups have been resolved. The links on the website now work for joining Zoom groups. Briefly, here’s what’s coming up.
Wednesday April 29, 6:30-8 pm – Zen study group. Here is the Zoom link We are currently working with the book Living by Vow; details on the event page. If you would like to come for the first time, please email Shodo. It’s okay to come before you have the book. Please note that we’re skipping a week.
Life has been intense and busy; I’m working from home, offering additional groups, and writing. Here are some thoughts on the pandemic; there will be more.
We’ve reached the 50th anniversary of the original Earth Day. I was there 50 years ago, with my husband and infant daughter, in the college gym. Senator Gaylord Nelson had said “The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment.” Zero Population Growth was pushing for people to have just two children. There was so much enthusiasm, so much hope, so much energy.
It seems lifetimes ago. If I’d even remotely imagined that we would be HERE, now, I would have done something. But I believed that government worked, business leaders were honest, and technology could solve everything.
I wish I could have those simple easy beliefs back, but reality intervened. We are now paying the price for that naivete that we all preferred – and for not saying NO to things that were obviously unworkable.
We are facing life and death. Sure, we always have, but now it’s impossible to ignore. Things are uncertain and unpredictable – they always have been, but the scale is worse. Sooner or later, each of us will die, as will those we love – we cannot rely on anyone or anything. Taking care of our actions is a way to be steady, to be stable, to be calm – as well as to contribute to our world.
The Coronavirus attacks the lungs. Lungs are grief – in Chinese medicine. Grief is frozen sorrow, piercing sadness with a cause. There’s an association with injustice in the history of the word.
I was thinking about our collective grief, our unspoken mourning for the loss of the world we once lived in, for the liveliness that we remember in our daily lives, for the many individuals dying and species ending. Here now, with the virus, here is a mourning, here is a whole people mourning with our bodies. Here is a whole people giving up our entertainments (reluctantly) and contemplating how we might care for each other, how we might collectively survive and heal…. We are mourning with our lungs, with our coughs, with our fevers.
We live in a time of immense grief, and also fear.
Some grief is obvious. Climate change may kill us all, we mourn the loss of a future, or of a beautiful future for our children and grandchildren. I miss drinking water directly from a lake, I miss the woods where I grew up roaming wild, and the safety to do so as a child. So many have much more to grieve: murdered indigenous women; Covid-19 striking African-Americans hardest; chronic illnesses related to environmental factors. Wars. Health problems. Poverty. Violence against immigrants, against people of color, against women, against trans people.
But I want to go back further, and deeper. I want to say,
The core grief is that we don’t trust the world in which we live. We think we have to manage it. Like Adam and Eve, we want to be like God. We have to be God, because we no longer trust the gods – or God, or the spirits, or the plants and animals and mountains and rivers. We are on our own. We are orphans. There is no mystery, no unknowable. And we are not God, or gods. We are humans with powerful technology who deny that anything is still holy.
I don’t mean that you and I deny it. I mean our culture denies it.
This is tragic. We are cut off from most of life.
In this culture, humans are like gods. We have the right to use everything, consume what we want, build, pave, ship, plow, create. We even create new forms of life through genetic engineering. And we are the only ones that matter. If we kill other humans en masse, we call it genocide; if we kill animals en masse we call it food production, and if we kill forests, prairies, ecosystems en masse we call it progress.
Most of the people in the history of the world have lived a different way. We call them hunter-gatherers, or pastoralists, or horticulturalists. The Garden of Eden gives a picture of that way of life. Being thrown out to do agriculture was a curse, but it was the natural result of trying to be gods, refusing the gifts freely offered.
“Living in the hands of the gods” is a term invented by Daniel Quinn to describe these people. In the hands of the gods, you are part of a community that includes more that just human beings. You have a right to exist, and so does everything else. You can compete with the other beings for food and space, but you can’t wage war on them.
Humans lived well in this way for millennia. Like other top predators, they lived by culling the old and sick from the herds of other animals around them, and from gathering the surplus of plants, while carefully maintaining the well-being of the host population. Like other animals and plants, in case of drought, flood, or blizzard some of them would die. They did not expect otherwise.
In a recent example, the Menomonie of Wisconsin have profitably managed a forest for timber products since 1860. The forest is healthier now than when they began. Humans know how to do this. Our culture does not. A few of us do, as a whole we have not a clue. We know how to control, not how to participate. And this is our great sadness.
We live in a culture that does not know how to be part of the family. We are estranged. We are desperate for control, because we can’t trust. The tragedy is that, like a traumatized child grown up, we can’t see that there is kindness and love in the world. And so collectively, for survival, we become the bullies of the world, where personally we would never willingly bully anyone.
(I have a smart phone. I know it’s made unsustainably with rare earths. I know it’s made by child slaves who are poisoned by the elements in it. I know that someone invented a cell phone that was neither of these, and it’s being test marketed in Europe. And my phone is incredibly convenient. It exceeds the most extreme fantasies of the science fiction I read in the 1960’s. The science fiction didn’t usually mention slaves or sustainability. I make excuses for having the phone. My guilt helps no one.)
Deaths of people, animals, and oceans are woven into our daily life so deeply that avoiding them would be a full time job. This is pain. This is the hole in our society, the hole in our hearts, the reason lung problems and heart problems are the major killers in America. This is the hole we have to cover up in order to go on with our lives.
The pandemic is helping us with that. It gives us permission to be sad about dying, sad about the people who are taking risks, and permission to be angry at the injustice of who does and who doesn’t get help, angry at those who profit. And some of us are stuck at home, with our families or alone, with time. Time to read, time to create, and time to give to others. Mask making, mutual aid societies, free concerts and donations of all kinds – something is flowering, in the middle of stress and of death.
It may be that great changes will come, as they did after the Black Death in Europe. May they be changes of more kindness and not of more control. May we act in a way that creates more kindness.
We live this day as well as we can. With kindness for ourselves and others. Taking care of what needs to be done – make food, wash the dishes – who needs attention – our families, our selves – and letting that create our lives. Today’s actions create the self who wakes up the next morning.
Here is where we come back to the Five Remembrances. I am of the nature to grow old, to have ill health, to die. Everything and everyone around me will change and I will lose them. Only my actions are reliable. My deeds are the ground on which I can stand.
That sounds a little solitary. “My deeds are the ground on which I stand.” We might understand that our friends and children and husbands and wives are with us. We might understand that our congregation is with us. We might organize a community mutual aid society, or feel grateful or angry at the actions of the state or the nation. But mostly we don’t think of ourselves as part of a family that includes flies and ground squirrels, deer and maple trees, the Cannon River, the Great Plains, the wheat and the buckthorn and the clouds in the sky. It just doesn’t occur to us.
There have been people – through most of the history of earth, actually – who did experience themselves as part of that family. Some of the relatives were annoying and troublesome, some were kind and generous, some had to be appeased or pacified and then they would be kind or helpful.
I propose that as we take our individual and family and community actions, we understand that we are not acting alone. And I can’t tell you what action is yours. I can only observe. A whole group of people here are checking in with other members every week. A whole group of people are doing heroic work in making services happen online – nine people met yesterday for over an hour to make today happen. Kristin gave us another year so we don’t have to search for a new minister during this time. A lot of people are sewing masks and giving them away. I know someone who recovered from the virus and is going back to work on an ambulance. Doctors, nurses, custodians, bus drivers, grocery workers, shoppers are keeping things going. Farmers are growing food, and organizing to get it to people – they’re building an alternative economy that will be more trustworthy than the centralized one. And so many people are simply changing their lives in very uncomfortable ways, to not endanger people they love.
Organizations and unions are agitating to protect those workers from the risks that wouldn’t be happening if we had decent government – and state governments are stepping up to the challenge. There are quiet conversations everywhere about what to do if martial law is declared, if how to resist the outrages already happening. People are singing in the streets, having dance parties, taking care of each other, staying home to protect each other. People are offering classes and meditation and concerts online free, for donations. Water protectors and land defenders are finding creative ways to continue resisting; Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light continues to work on stopping Line 3 in northern Minnesota. People are gathering online to talk with each other; I’m hosting one of those gatherings every week, and a Zen study group. People are studying and sharing ideas: Barbara’s last blog post was about this, I’m writing about it. We do whatever we do. We’ll never be the same.
Our actions create our selves, and so do the actions of those around us, including people, plants, animals, stars… we’re all creating each other, that’s how the world works. Our deeds – all together – our deeds create the ground on which we stand, and on which our future can be built. Our deeds are building that future – all of us.
I’d like to end with a quotation from David Abram, which says this in very poetic language:
The animate earth around us is far lovelier than any heaven we can dream up. But if we wish to awaken to its richness, we’ll need to give up our detached, spectator perspective, and the illusion of control that it gives us. That is a terrifying move for most over-civilized folks today — since to renounce control means noticing that we really are vulnerable: to loss, to disease, to death. Yet also steadily vulnerable to wonder, and unexpected joy.
For all its mind-shattering beauty, this earth is hardly safe; it is filled with uncertainties, and shadows — with beings that can eat us, and ultimately will. I suppose that’s why contemporary civilization seems so terrified to drop the pretense of the view from outside, the God trick, the odd belief that we can master and manage the earth.
But we can’t master it — never have, never will. What we can do is to participate more deeply, respectfully, and creatively in the manifold life of this breathing mystery we’re a part of.