October 29, 2017
May the light we kindle now
Show us the worthiness of all beings
May it illuminate the value of all living things
We are intimately connected to all of it
To birds and trees and fish and the humblest microbe
Let us know our connection
Let us see we are family
Let us live with respect for all things
Reading: 'Still', by A. R. Ammons
I said I will find what is lowly
and put the roots of my identity down there:
each day I'll wake up and find the lowly nearby,
a handy focus and reminder,
a ready measure of my significance,
the voice by which I would be heard,
the wills, the kinds of selfishness
I could freely adopt as my own:
but though I have looked everywhere,
I can find nothing to give myself to:
everything is magnificent with existence,
is in surfeit of glory:
nothing is diminished,
nothing has been diminished for me:
I said what is more lowly than the grass:
a ground-crust of dry-burnt moss:
I looked at it closely
and said this can be my habitat: but
nestling in I found below the brown exterior
green mechanisms beyond the intellect
awaiting resurrection in rain: so I got up
and ran saying there is nothing lowly in the universe:
I found a beggar:
he had stumps for legs: nobody was paying
him any attention: everybody went on by:
I nestled in and found his life:
there, love shook his body like a devastation:
I said, though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly in the universe:
I whirled through transfigurations up and down,
transfigurations of size and shape and place:
at one sudden point came still, stood in wonder:
moss, beggar, weed, tick, pine, self, magnificent
Reading: From Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
A vast similitude interlocks all,
All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets, comets, asteroids,
All distances, however wide,
All distances of time - all inanimate forms,
All Souls - all living bodies, though they be ever so different, or in different worlds,
All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes - the fishes, the brutes,
All men and women - me also,
All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages,
All identities that have existed, or may exist, on this globe or any globe,
All lives and deaths - all of past, present and future,
This vast similitude spans them, and always has spanned, and shall forever span them, and compactly hold them.
As I walked with my dog the other day, I had thoughts of today’s message in my head. I thought - just as an experiment - what if I imagine that all the plants I passed by had consciousness. What if each of them thought and felt and mattered as much as humans do - or at least as much as my beloved dog does?
And - despite this being an enormous city - there were plants everywhere. Giant trees, ivy flowing over fences, tiny flowers, sturdy grasses pushing up everywhere, and a myriad of other forms.
It wasn’t hard to do. I started to feel a bit odd. Slightly odd, first, because I was imagining something I know not to be true. But then I felt odd in a better way - a very powerful way. I was surprised at the strength of the feeling because the world began to feel very different to me. I began to feel a greater sense of connection to the world around me - a sense that my worries are not so big - a very hard to describe sense that I am connected to all of this. And more - that everything - the ivy, the trees, the flowers, the moss, the squirrels, the birds, my dog, me - everything - that everything is somehow sacred. That - as Peter Mayer’s song says - everything is holy now.
Halloween is just two days away now. I’d like to turn our thoughts away from the commercial embodiment of Halloween. It has become yet another opportunity to sell stuff - to sell costumes, sweets, chocolates, halloween fairy lights and other decorations.
The origins of Halloween are ancient and are fairly far removed from the modern celebration. Halloween - or All Hallows Eve is probably a Christianised version of pagan celebrations that have long taken place at this time of year, and especially of the Celtic festival of Samhain.
Samhain was understood as a time when the boundaries between the worlds of the living and dead became thin and became permeable. It was a time when it was thought that spirits could cross from their separate world into ours.
For the ancients, the world could be an enchanted place - alive with spirits of humans and animals living and dead. There were spirits too in other living things. We touch wood today to ask the spirits of the trees for protection or to prevent malevolent spirits living there from creating mischief based on something you just said.
This way of seeing the world is akin to a theology called Pantheism. The prefix pan - as in pandemic or panacea - means all or everything. Pantheism is the view that everything is holy - that God - if you choose to use that term - is everything and that everything is God.
Pantheism does not make room for some god outside of the natural world - a god that looks upon creation. (For the theology geeks amongst you, that variant is called Panentheism - everything is God but God is also a bit bigger than everything.)
I imagine that most of you saw the film Avatar a few years ago? Yes - it had great special effects and you could watch it in amazing 3D. And yes it was a heavy-handed view of good aboriginal people vs. bad commercialised, industrialised people.
But I think that Avatar showed a world that represents what we might imagine of a truly pantheistic world. Everything is connected. All creatures - all living things. There is communication and there is energy that flows between all living things. As a result, creatures treat one another and all living things with deep respect. There is a sense of reverence - of seeing everything as holy and acting accordingly.
We live in a world where people act like nothing is holy. We decimate forests for wood to build with or to create fields. Animals are raised in industrial farms and treated with less respect than we would accord to machines. We are destroying our very planet in the quest for more growth, more production, and more money.
I am not against progress. I’m not against technology. I’m not even against eating animals, although I choose not do it. But we have made our world a dead place in our hearts and that has allowed us to treat it without any respect whatsoever.
Ecotheology and ecopoetry represent attempts to shift that thinking. A.R. Ammon’s poem, Still, shows a different way of thinking. After a search for anything devoid of wonder, he proclaims that ‘everything is magnificent with existence, is in surfeit of glory.’
What if we all learned to see the world in this way? What if we learned to see every living thing as deserving of respect. What if we learned to consider our whole world and everything in it as sacred. What if we lived with Peter Mayer’s song on our lips: ‘everything is holy, now.’
What a different world this might be then.
I want to be absolutely clear. I am not asking you to believe in God - I don’t. I’m not asking you to believe that everything is holy or sacred - we don’t even have a shared meaning of what those words mean!
And, despite the power of my dog-walking experience in considering plants, I know for a fact that plants do not have consciousness. They respond to light, to attacks, to lack of water, and thing like that, but they are not thinking creatures. There is no thought of ‘Ouch - that bug just bit my leaf’ or ‘Ooh, the sunshine feels so good - I’ll just lean a bit more over that way.’
I didn’t have to believe any of that was true to feel different and that feeling was the beginning of action.
Those of us who see the world in a scientific and naturalistic do not have to choose between factory farming and living off the grid, living on home-grown hemp.
If you put a pencil between your teeth, your brain feels your smiling muscles move and you get happier. If you stand in a confident pose - even when you’re feeling intimidated - you start to feel more confident.
If you start to treat other living things as though they are sacred or holy or even as though they have consciousness, it can change the way you feel and the way you act.
Let us take our place in the vast interconnected family of living things. Let us treat one another and every creature as deserving of respect. And let us come to know the world as a home for all of us - interconnected in mutuality. Let us care for one another.
May it be so.
All of the life on this planet is deeply interconnected
When we disrespect other beings, we disrespect ourselves
When we harm others, we harm ourselves
Let us live as though everything is holy
As though everything matters
And let us build a better world for all beings