Spiritual sustenance, naturally.

Archive for February, 2010

Snow Day, Flowing Sap and Animism

We canceled our trip to Vermont; now we’re digging out from a deep, heavy, wet snowfall – and it’s still coming down. It is absolutely gorgeous outside because the snow is sticking to the tree branches, creating a visual fairyland. The power is still on right here, but down the road the power is out. As the wind picks up, more tree branches may come down. It’s beautiful, and it’s destructive – nature’s pruning processes.

Snow, Maple, and Barn, February 24, 2010

A few days ago, before this snowstorm, we trimmed a low-hanging branch on a young maple near the barn, thinking it would be best to do this while the sap is still in the roots. Well, we were too late – the sap slowly dripped from the cut, and I had an urge to fetch a bandage for the wound. Who knew that in February the sap has already begun to rise? I didn’t.The sap froze into skinny, sweet icicles, and now the tree’s branches are piled with snow.

I’ve begun reading a book on “new animism,” by Graham Harvey (Animism: Respecting the Living World). First he gives a survey of the historical, problematic uses of the word “animism,” then explores case studies and the new life that the concept of “animism” has taken on in the lives of people today. I’m not very far into the book, but so far it is intriguing reading. It also has made me feel especially disrespectful toward the tree for trimming his/her limb at a time when the sap is rising. The book helps me better understand why I felt like bandaging the wound, murmuring apologies to Maple, and listening for what Maple might be “telling” me.

Communing with Oak, Ireland 2004

Having been raised by botanists, I have a strong leaning toward science and rational explanations, but the world is a very complex and dimly understood place. Short shrift is given to “other ways of knowing” in our Western culture. A few years ago, I found myself researching ‘highly sensitive people’ to find stories of others who share my intense sensual involvement with the world in which we’re all embedded. Discovering and creating my place, my earthly tribe, my cosmic clan, in a way that goes beyond including just human persons, has been a life-long process begun in childhood. The circle has been ever-expanding: hence, sanctuary without walls.

Now I’ll wade through knee-deep Sister Snow to take a photo of this lovely day.

Wondrous Words

In the past few days, I felt out of sorts, as if my life no longer “fit” properly. In my experience, when I feel that discomfort – like a hermit crab that’s outgrown its borrowed shell, or a snake on the verge of molting – it is uncomfortable, constricting, dark and tight.

There was nothing to do but wait for whatever was wanting to come forth. I found myself wistfully remembering the spaciousness in which I usually live, wondering where it went. Waiting. Knowing that I’ve been through this experience before. Being a compassionate witness to my own tight, small predicament, without being overwhelmed by it. Not trying to think my way out of it.

And this morning, a reminder came that opened me to the world again. It was another natural wonder, this time in the form of written words from another person. The words were not addressed specifically to me, but to “readers” in general, yet they flew straight to my heart. Such is the dance we weave with one another, unpredictable, surprising, amazing grace.

Sometimes when other people share their deepest thoughts and feelings, they can lead our hearts to open. When we are warmed by the touch of others, we find ourselves shedding the thick blanket of self-stories in which we have wrapped ourselves. By simply reading the words of another struggling, growing person, my window on the world was thrown open. Heart-strings stretched, the door swung out upon on its hinges; I could step through it. Are there any words that can adequately describe these liminal threshold experiences?

In addition to reminding me that I am not alone, this morning’s communication revealed to me that we are fractals of one another, beautiful patterns within patterns, recognizing ourselves in one another.

The shell, the too-tight skin is left behind. “We are called again and again to come forth from our tombs.” Alleluia! And it’s not even Easter yet.

Our Ecstatic Identity

Picture this:

* a morning in early spring, crisp air with new sunshine, long-awaited respite from a fierce winter season in the North Country, near the Canadian border.

* a winter-beaten field at last free of snow, surrounded by bushes and small trees behind a white frame house, near the edge of a quiet village.

* a small girl of seven or eight, dressed in a  navy blue wool coat, matching hat and snow-pants.

She walks slowly, daydreaming, into the center of the field, idly examining and poking with the toe of her boot the swirled and crumpled patterns where the pressure of the winter’s snows flattened the tall grasses and weeds of her previous summer’s explorations and adventures. The low hummocks of grass and straw are now dry and crunchy under her boots, but give slightly under her step, as spring begins to thaw the ground beneath.

Suddenly she drops to her knees, then lies face down on the grasses, sun warming her back, and chilly air tickling her face. She closes her eyes, pressing her ear and cheek to the bleached brown stubble, sniffing the rich scent of awakening earth through the sweet smell of dried grasses. Her eyes closed, she feels the firm support of the earth beneath yet can almost sense movement, and is slowly flooded with the feeling of being held, while being one and the same with the air, the sun, the earth, boundaries dissolving.

*     *     *

The snow that has been overwhelming various parts of the country recently has reminded me of my childhood home in the “North Country,” which is how people there refer to St. Lawrence county in northern New York State. I was fortunate to grow up in a loving (yet eccentric) family, with parents who taught biological sciences at St. Lawrence University. At that time there was a Universalist theological school at St. Lawrence, where my father was sometimes asked to present the atheist position in their debates, which he did with vigor and enthusiasm. With my mother and sisters, I attended the Universalist Church.

The earliest “religious” experience in my memory did not happen in church, but in my own back yard. The great outdoors was my home during my childhood summers, and my earliest memories of spiritual awakening have to do with experiences in nature. At a conference I attended about ten years ago, the workshop leaders asked those of us in attendance questions about our formative spiritual experiences. Lo and behold, the majority of people related nature experiences.

There are powers at work not only throughout Earth and the universe, but also within every one of the cells in our bodies. We “incarnate” these powers, and when we are conscious of them, our identity expands. Most of the time we struggle to realize our shared identity with other people, never mind animals, plants, rocks, the sun, or the stars. But with the development of our cosmological imagination, our identity can be stretched, and indeed must be, in a world both torn apart and deadened by difference and alienation. Yet we are capable of living ecstatically, finding new energy and joy in life. Some traditions speak of something akin to this “incarnation” and the consequent expansion of our identity in terms like Christ consciousness, or Buddha nature.

Brian Swimme, in his book The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, has a naturalistic, yet transcendent understanding. He wrote,

“We were born out of the Earth Community and its infinite creativity and delight and adventure. Our natural state is intimacy within the encompassing community. Our natural genetic inheritance presents us with the possibility of forming deeply bonded relationships throughout all ten million species of life as well as throughout the nonliving components of the universe.” (p.34)

“We need to put our energy into inventing cultural forms for initiating ourselves into an ecstatic sense of involvement with the community of beings that is the very universe.” (p.36)

People have been doing just that. A Google search on the words Universe Story will bring up plenty of information about earthy and cosmic play and celebration. It’s one thing to read it, and quite another to experience it: in a field or forest, climbing the rocks, under the stars, at the water’s edge. Or maybe in your own back yard.

Green Spirit

On this white and snowy day, I’m sharing a springtime photo, plus a link I just added to this blog.

The people of GreenSpirit:

* celebrate all existence as deeply connected and sacred

* understand humanity as integral to the planetary landscape rather than its distinguishing feature

* find inspiration in the traditions of Earth-based peoples and Celtic spirituality

* are exploring the unfolding story of the Universe and promote common ground between people in the context of this vision

* seek to redress the balance of masculine and feminine and befriend darkness as well as light

* create ceremonies and celebrations which connect us more consciously with the cycle and seasons of the Earth

* seek a more just, sustainable and peaceful way of life in harmony with the Earth

The statements above (in italics) are from the GreenSpirit website. I learned about this organization  from my friend Marian, an active GreenSpirit member. This group in Great Britain is based on the Creation Spirituality movement. To learn more about Creation Spirituality, visit the CS website.

Meanwhile, closer to home, through Sanctuary Without Walls I am looking forward to hosting gatherings where we can explore how our place as part of the natural world and our earthly and cosmic story can offer us inspiration, healing, a sense of peace and balance, a profound feeling of belonging, and more. Posts about this and other events will appear as plans develop.