This month we explore Earth-based spirituality, which is defined as “nature as a whole considered to be the source of universal consciousness and energy”.
The complete sermon can be read below:
Some of us have idiosyncrasies that others around us have to adjust to. Some of us have partners with particular irks and quirks to which we have to adjust. My partner has a couple that come up with some frequency.
One is the frivolous use of the word ‘starving.’ Following her year-long residency in Africa where she witnessed people who were literally starving, she has no appetite for the commonly used phrase “I am starving!” to denote the experience of being pretty hungry.
Another is sports teams ‘borrowing’ Native identifications. There are in fact numerous teams that have helped themselves to Native distinctions, such as the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves.
You can imagine her exasperation over the country’s capitol team being named the Washington Redskins, and that my hometown NFL team is the Kansas City Chiefs.
These sentiments, shared by many Native and non-Native people, are not born of enjoyment of division or discord, but instead is based on concern over the sacredness of these designations being overlooked.
Similar to such recognition of the sacredness of Native people and their Earth-centered traditions, our own tradition of Unitarian Universalism also recognized this sacredness, and as a result did something that had never been done before.
Let us step back in time for a moment to the early 1980s.
The UU Statement of Principles and Purposes had been created, and remained un-revised for nearly a decade with only five sources. Then a effort was started to include a sixth source: “Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”
As you can imagine, the mere suggestion to amend to the only set of ‘guidelines’ we have caused a great deal of dialogue (and dissension).
It is interesting that, while hotly contested when it first came forth as candidate for Source-hood, many now (including myself) would say that the overarching tenets of our UU faith tradition are more parallel with the Sixth Source Earth-centered traditions than all the rest of the faith traditions included in the previous Sources.
There are some striking similarities between the two.
The primary Earth-centered theological teachings are:
Sound familiar? The second upholds direct experience as key to spirituality – our first Source. The third bears a striking resemblance to our 7th Principle – the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Another aspect of native theology is that it is not monotheistic. Land is considered holy and powerful. All elements of nature - trees, animals, plants, stones, and water have spirits.
This reminds me of a conversation I had not long after I moved to Toronto. While chatting with someone from down the street, a new neighbor, Jenn, said, “Don’t ever believe any Canadian who says that all racial strife is down in the States. Canadians bear much blame and shame due to our own unfortunate history with our Indigenous people.”
Clearly she had said this out of respect for Indigenous peoples and their traditions.
Later in that same conversation, the detail of my chosen faith tradition came up. To this disclosure Jenn unapologetically replied, “I could never be a UU. I’m not in to worshipping grass.”
The irony is that recognizing holiness in all aspects of the natural world (including grass) is far more relevant to Earth-centered traditions. We UUs, as newbies compared to these most ancient religions in the history of the world, are just trying to catch up.
Another area in which our traditions are similar is our holy books…or lack thereof.
Native traditions do not rely on a book to reflect their experience and understanding of the Sacred, but instead pass on the fundamentals of faith and tradition through story.
A Native woman once said: "If you take a copy of the Christian Bible and put it out in the wind and the rain, soon the paper on which the words are printed will disintegrate and the words will be gone. Our bible IS the wind."
So too have we as Unitarian Universalists chosen the vibrant and fluid oral tradition over dogmatic writings, unlike the more traditional Western religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which all draw their authority from single written sources.
And the beauty of the oral approach is…the stories are never outdated, they are malleable and relevant in any age, and are concerned about experiencing life, both internally and externally.
Author, Joseph Campbell, writes this in his book entitled “The Power of Myth” …
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that is what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on a purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being’s reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
Followers of modern earth-based religions practice rituals that create an immediate, unmediated, profound experience of being alive, of being connected to others and to the earth itself.
Former UUA President Bill Shultz applied this to UUism when he said,
“What could be more crucial for the present day than the nurturance of an organic faith that…is faithful first to the needs of our planet? Human survival depends on our willingness to think and act in global…ways. With our respect for the earth and our tradition of universal sympathy, Unitarian Universalism might well model a new way of being in the world.”
Perhaps we UUs are, or can be, models of a new way of being in the world. But in order to be successful in that endeavor it is imperative that we engage, and thus have unification between internal profound experience and external connection and action.
In our reading earlier, we heard the storyteller say,
“Sacred places are the truest definitions of the earth. If you would know the earth for what it really is, learn it through its sacred places.”
Are we engaged enough with our spiritual lives to seek out sacred places… places that transport us to a profound inner place, places that help give us the direct experience of not only knowing about, but feeling the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part?
Maybe it’s your garden, or the lake or woods at your cottage. Maybe the park where you walk your dog or play with your grandchildren.
If we, as part of the UU faith community, as a part of this UUCD spiritual family, are going to truly engage in being models of a new way of being in the world, we cannot overlook the world/the earth, and the sacredness it holds.
In addition to internal engagement in practices, such as being in sacred places to feed our spirits, there’s also external engagement…what we’re doing to be models of a new way of being (which is actually an ancient way of being for Earth-centered peoples).
This external kind of engagement is reflected in an exhortation of the Hopi elders, entitled “We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For.”
I believe this reading speaks directly to us, UUCD, at this juncture in our history when we are especially embracing change and growth.
As I read these words, hear them for their sacred essence, and try to simultaneously apply them to our place in this congregation.
We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For
You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is The Hour.
And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships? Are you in right relation? Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community. Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore,
push off into the middle of the river,
keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
See who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally,
least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do,
our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we've been waiting for.
May we heed these prophetic words in our personal lives so that our internal spiritual roots can deepen within us. And may we also attend to this important message in the life of our beloved congregation so that growth may emerge among us as well.
So may it be.
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