Earth-Centered: A Theology (Part Two)
by Ruby Sara
Hey, friends Pagani!
Spring has decided to make a guest appearance this week, and you can hear breath unlocking and hearts unfurling all over the city. The lesson that Mother Lake and the Mama have taught me best since my arrival here in the pretty-damn-wild urban midwest is that spring is a season of outrageous thrill. We are not yet free from winter, and don’t I know it doveys, but there is hope, big hope, spilling through the streets and the still bare trees, and the rattle of morning birds is testament to the coming of the Kore. In the garden center this morning, I spied the first robin of spring. The wind in March tastes like sweet rainwater, laughter and expectancy…a delicious promise-wind. Soon soon soon, the lift of crocuses! Soon, the bold, silky, breath-catching perfection of tulips and lilies! This past weekend, I visited one of my favorite flower shops (where every early spring I spend my annual candle allowance on precious beeswax tapers from their astonishing basement stocked full to brimming with candles and silk ribbons), and near the register were small bouquets of hyacinths, snow white with streaks of lake-purple in their blossom hearts. I couldn’t resist a small clutch of them for the altar to my Beloved. Under the melting snow is the shock of dark earth and the green stirring of newness! Deep within the bulb and the seed, the Mama is preparing all the colors of the world! How can we not jump up and down! How can we not laugh out loud! Io Kore! Evohe!
Whew! It has been a busy couple of weeks here at PG headquarters. I am pleased to say that some deadlines have been successfully met, and I have a little breathing room that will allow me to push on through the second installment of the earth-centered theology I’m attempting to assemble. But very very first, we must offer up our best red shoes to dance the caveat dance, beloveds. It’s our little tradition after all. For it bears repeating that this is by no means the only theological definition for what it means to be “earth-centered.” Or the best, or the most…anything. It’s just mine. And it also bears mentioning that everything that I’m talking about here is about eight fraktabuhjillion times larger and more complex than can possibly be covered even remotely adequately in one or two or three blog posts (even painfully long ones). Find me the one book on even a pretty specific Christian theological concept (like, say, the eucharist) that covers everything there is to say about it in minute detail, and if you can pick it up without doing serious injury to yourself (virile you), I’d really like to see it. Find me the one blog post, and you…well you can’t. What I’m saying is, this is just a little bitty set of inadequate ramblings about a religion/worldview the size and shape of…well…the planet. I am not up to this task…I’ve just decided to muck about in it for a minute.
Though really, if one *is* gonna muck about in it, there is no better time of year, I think. The blankets we batten over our windows have been temporarily raised, and the window is open – light spills into the room and the whole world is different – that same March wind, crisp, clean, and brisk, comes curling over my hands as they reach for my favorite mug. The kitchen smells of new bread and coffee. A good time for sorting through cobwebby thoughts from winter. And you know…they may not make any more sense than they did then, but at least they’re all in one place. Like when you finally get around to organizing and sorting the junk drawer in the kitchen…the one where you keep things like the lint brush, loose screws, and random playing cards. Will it stay organized? Hell no. Is most of what’s in there any use to anyone? Nope. Do you feel accomplished anyway? MwhaHA! YES!
So let’s get down to it then and commence theological lint-brush organizing (*party noise-maker fweep-sound*)!
In the first installment we established three things: 1. The primacy of the Mama and the setting of my conception of Earth-Centered theology in that monism plus a correlating animism. 2. The importance of an embodied ontology coupled with a sensate epistemology (*the bright red pomo bingo light freaks out in the background*). And 3. I’m a big tree-hugging anarchist (this is not actually news).
For this next set, I’d like to try to begin to address the How of these theologies, and ask the question “what does an Earth-centered theology look like on the ground?” i.e. how do the concepts outlined above express themselves in my ceremonial life, my daily life (sometimes the same), and in the choices I make. I find that for me spiritual praxis and ethics often occupy the same space, so I won’t make any effort here to delineate one from the other.
First, in thinking about all this, I made the discovery that I think this blog over the course of its few years (with the exception of that, oh, two year lacuna there when nothing appeared here a’tall), has really been an exercise in articulating quite a bit of that for myself. Music, embodied mysticism (and weather-based rapture), emotional integrity, pronoia, ecological lament, struggling for eco-authenticity, delicious nonsense, poetry (poetry…um…poetry), stories, ritual, the moral nature of ecological conduct, etc. (links included for those really stalwart souls who wanna take a trip down the dusty halls of my previous verbal jitterbugging).
In looking through the above, I can say that a few themes pop out at me as recurring motifs in my developing practical theology. Each of them could take an entire post, series of posts…an entire book…series of books…unto themselves. But I’ll just outline each in a short paragraph for the nonce.
1. Storytelling. The world is made of stories. I believe this to be literally true, though I’m happy for it to be taken as metaphor as well. Stories seem to be our most basic human function. They are the building blocks of the universe. What lies in between in the dark matter between stars, or between the electron and the nucleus? Stories. What exists in the space between one breath and the next? Stories. To read them and hear them and tell them – to truly engage with them may be the first and best practice of a body-centered and earth-centered theology that I know of.
2. Music, art, poetry, and live, organic performance arts. And by extension from storytelling, we arrive at art. Storytelling in music. The power of the human voice raised in song. The manipulation of color and pattern and rhythm by human hands. The megaton power that rises between performer and audience. The language of a million galaxies swirling in through the sinews of poetry. I once had the notion that human beings existed purely for the purpose of reflecting the Mama’s Being back to her through art, music, poetry, storytelling, dance and ritual so she that could know and be aware of Herself as the mother-child creatrix/incarnation of Beauty. I haven’t found a theory I’ve liked better since then.
3. Commitment to authentic emotional integrity. Emotionality is not a disease or a weakness. Emotions are natural messengers. For example: crying is a response mechanism – it is a sign, an omen – the outward expression of our deep being. It’s a deeply beautiful system. By crying, our bodies are alerting us to something our limited minds may not even yet know. And not surprising, our culture – grown ignorant of omens and signs – debases the act of crying and calls it something silly, pathetic, weak. Yet, consider its purpose, and its beauty. It is the twin to laughter – sometimes difficult to tell apart. Could one survive without the other? Maybe. Would you ever want to test that theory? The body mourns, and likewise celebrates. The gnosis of the heart is vast.
4. The engagement of authentic relationship. Everything exists in relationship. It is the most critical fact of our existence. We are never not engaged in relationship. This moment, I am breathing in, relating to the air, the temperature, the sound of the road outside, the light, the blood in my body. The rosemary plant on the other side of the room. The cat asleep on the couch. And a million and one things unseen. I am in relationship. The pursuit of harmony and ethics for me lies in the pursuit of authentic, mutual relationship.
5. Ceremony and ritual (i.e. embodied storytelling and re-membering) created in line with a liturgical theology based on notions of embodiment. This embodied ritual theory (ERT) is something that I am currently working to develop in conjunction with other thinkers on the subject. For now I will just quote something I wrote once in a previous post: Ritual they way I define it in my practice is a space and time that is set aside in which the participant is radically engaged with all their senses (those spiffy extrasensory ones included), and is promoting Beauty, giving thanks, celebrating the Holy Body, aspiring towards Awareness, and creating/maintaining Sacred Relationship…
Living in the world, particularly at this moment in our history, is made up of choosing which of these stories to embody. And ritual is the method by which we may say, “yes, these are the stories I choose.” Ritual is the conscious embodiment of story. We affirm, embrace and tell stories in the rituals we enact…
Ritual is also a fundamental part of the healing of corporate and personal wounds and the deep work of worldview-shifting – yet Ritual has existed before and will exist beyond civilization, in ancient cultures of reciprocal relationship and in future cultures of gratitude and celebration. Rituals will continue past our need for the radical toppling of the genocidal infrastructure of our current paradigm. The work of remembering is forever. Remember how the world was made so we know where we come from. So we can celebrate who we are. So we can be grateful for what we are given and what we create. Remember where we’ve been so we can choose how to be right now. Remember our ancestors so that our Land and our communities are rich and fruitful. So that the spirits and powers will speak to us and tell us delicious secrets. So that the Mama will Know that She is Beautiful through our Art and our Story and our Songs. Ritual to tell. To remember. To know. To exist.
Ritual and story are the human project. Tell, pray, sing, enact. Forever and Ever. Amen.
6. The conscious cultivation of consistent Awareness (the Be Here Now). The New Age movement has been keyed into the rhetoric of the Now for some time, though in my experience some of its current manifestations often seem to emphasize radical ego-dissolution and disembodied transcendence. I don’t totally know how I feel about ego-dissolution (given its incredibly formidable role in classical mysticism as well as traditional animistic visionary healer initiation), but I feel pretty firmly that notions of the importance of transcending the body and wielding draconian, iron-fisted control over the emotional body are pretty much completely antithetical to my own thoughts on the matter. After all, if you are reading this, chances are pretty damn good that you’re inhabiting a physical body. Therefore, for me, any attempt at seeking after the authentic Now will by its very nature require you to engage with your body, to be radically connected to it and in awareness of it on a deep level. I once read a passage in a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel wherein Laura is participating in a town spelling bee. She describes feeling deliciously alive in the excitement of the moment, aware of everything, down to the crack in the floor beneath the toe of her shoe. This kind of awareness, this sense of ultimate connectivity, of the delicious, focused and forever Now in the body is the kind of awareness I seek.
So…at the end of the day, what do these big blobby practical theologies really look like? Well, naturally, they vary (anarchism, remember). As folks have mentioned, oftentimes people perceive living an earth-centered theology as simply being dedicated to composting and recycling. And certainly, these actions have merit as mindful practices (whether they have merit as tactics that have any long-lasting effect is up for debate) that reinforce the commitment to living ethically on and within a divine, sentient, interconnected, multi-leveled, intricate complexity such as the Mama. But they are not the only expressions of this worldview. The baking of bread, the participation in ceremony, walking in all weather, making offerings, singing with others, marking the movement of the seasons, volunteering, feeding people, participating in political action, performing spellcraft, gardening, writing poetry, making art…the list goes on.
It occurs to me that nowhere in this two-part collection of blithering did I mention anything that could be said to resemble any specific contemporary Paganism. And that’s because, well, I don’t think it’s necessary to subscribe to a specific Pagan religion in order to do ecotheology. The Earth is my religion – and the theology and practices that best serve Her and us as moving, singing parts of her are what I choose to dedicate my breath and my work to. Yes, I worship Dionysos, the madness in the vine, the poetry in the hyacinth, the panther in the grass. Yes, I practice witchcraft and folk magic. Yes, I am a fair-weather student of Hermeticism and Gnostic Christian thought. These things fill me with fierce joy, ecstatic struggle, pie-bald illumination and anarchic, half-formed beauty – they are stories, laden with meaning and rich with weirdness. But the true universalism, for me, when I am feeling bold enough to say it, is the Mama. And it may be that, at the end of the day, I have come to believe that Paganism does need a unitive vision, and that vision is one that finds the Earth to be sacred, whether that expresses itself in pantheism, panentheism, or bioregional animism (or all of the above). Without that unitive vision, or any unitive vision, the title of Pagan is essentially meaningless. What would happen if we chose the same story? I don’t know.
It was a struggle to write this post, friends (not even counting the moment when I lost a good half hour of thoughts due to a computer error…and the ensuing expletive-fest). Every sentence engenders multiple questions beneath it, questions of clarification or challenge. It all looks really inadequate when it’s done. But it’s a beginning I guess. And it’s nothing if not interesting always to shimmy and shake in the realm of the divine.
This is what it means to me to live a religion that is earth-centered. Fact is, it’s complicated and half-baked, and so am I.
Grok Earth, Pagani. Pray without ceasing.