To complete the first year of Earth Sanctuaries, I’ll first summarize the year’s posts, each of which was about some important aspect of eco-psycho-spiritual community. Then I’ll describe a vision of deep belonging to the whole community of life, toward which these posts have been leading. Expanding our understanding of what constitutes whole community will be a focus of Earth Sanctuaries in the coming year. As stated on the home page, “Earth Sanctuaries is dedicated to honoring the sacredness of Earth and fostering an intimate relationship between people, land, and the spirit that infuses all.”
November, 2017: Natural Communities of North Carolina – Illustrations of our native plants and animals living together in their beautiful and varied habitats. These beings embody the sacred right here on Earth. These treasures of biodiversity are given to us to be honored and protected for future generations.
December, 2017: Community, Art, and Landscape – Reflections on pilgrimage to Ireland where local people gift their communities by honoring and protecting ancient ritual landscapes marked as sacred by Neolithic, Celtic, Christian and contemporary artists, by creating hiking trails through gorgeous landscapes, and through the conservation of flourishing native habitats.
December, 2017: Waiting for Winter Solstice – A poem in which an intimate community of sun, creek, forest, hawk, squirrels, and two friends celebrate together the moment in time that holds us in suspension, in the standstill before the light returns to warm us all.
February, 2018: Earth Dreaming – Heartscape – A dream about being in a sacredscape, the heartscape, that is the Reality of Love. Myth-saturated, spirit-permeated wild landscapes are the Earth’s dreamings. Earth is inviting us to dream with her, to dream for her, and to share our love for her. Let us share our dreams of the Earth.
March, 2018: Welcoming the Green! Spring Equinox/St Patrick’s Day – A neighborhood shares Irish music and celebrates the re-emergence of the lovely woodland wildflowers and the re-greening of the lush mosses in the garden sanctuary, with portraits of these beautiful flowers and mosses.
April, 2018: Ancestor Ritual in the Moss Garden Sanctuary – A story about creating a ritual to honor the memory of a beloved artist-gardener, an integral member of our Dance community who joins the community of her loving ancestors and the spirits who watch over the land she loves.
May, 2018: Beltane/May Garden Gathering – A neighborhood celebrates in the pollinator garden the fertility of the land and our lustily mating bird life. The local Audubon community teaches us what the birds need in order to thrive and certifies our native plant garden as platinum level bird-friendly habitat. Shows how your garden can be bird-friendly habitat, too.
May, 2018: Longleaf Pine: Brunswick Adventure – A story about getting to know our native landscape so as to feel rooted in a sense of Place. Longleaf pine savanna, with its many colorful orchids and carnivorous plants, is one of our most diverse natural communities. An indigenous perspective would be to see the ancient cypress trees as elders, as ancestors, with whom to enjoy a kinship of reverence and respect.
June, 2018: Memorial Day Ritual: Grieving for the Trees – Friends create a ritual for the appropriate and necessary grieving for the trees, the plant communities and the natural habitats that we are losing. Our grieving frees us to praise, appreciate, sing to, and pray powerfully for all our beloved trees.
August, 2018: Happily the Rains Subside – A poem about encounters with and between us animals in the sanctuary garden. Frogs, turtles, and butterflies, oh my!
August, 2018: Visiting Ojibwe Family – A story about visiting the northwoods cousins of our Ojibwe Ancestors, deepening our relationships with all our relatives, our human family, the plants and animals, and the land and waters of this beloved place. The indigenous community is reconnecting with their native foods and medicinal plants to regain their food sovereignty.
September, 2018: Ireland on One Foot – An account of our first pilgrimage to Ireland in which I broke my ankle, and it seemed like the whole Irish community, humans, fairy folk, and the rocky landscape conspired to help bind us body and soul to this magical, spirit-filled land.
October, 2018: Hazelnut Wisdom – Practical, Mythical, Mystical – A story about the intimate relationship between a human who is trying to become more indigenous to her place on Earth and one of the beings in her community of relatives on the land. A wise plant being of both the Otherworld and this world, Hazel teaches wisdom through compassion, humor, and playfulness.
November, 2018: River of Life: An Elder, A Community, A Ceremony – A tale of what happens when a dream group makes a ceremony to honor an Elder who has become a bridge for us between Earth world and spirit world. The whole community of plants, rivers, and ancestors of the land join together and participate in nurturing us!
Belonging to the Community of Life
I ended the River of Life story saying, “May our sense of community expand to include all the beings, the native plants, animals, rivers and ancestors of the sacred Place that we call home.” Yes, may we each feel a deep sense of belonging in which our friends and families are joined intimately with the natural communities around us, with the communities of loving ancestors of the land, and with the local native peoples who have never stopped loving this land as sacred. And, beyond that, may we be held within a world-wide network of ancient indigenous, re-awakened, and new Earth-based spiritual communities.
For the most part we of western culture are raised to be separate from nature. We are split, I have felt split, between the scientific community and the religious community. All my life I have longed for and needed a community in which to celebrate both the very material Earth and the vastness of Spirit. I long to be in spiritual community with a landscape of wild plants and wild animals around us every day. I’m finally learning that this is not some weird fantasy. For thousands of generations this was a very normal human need. The need for a human community that daily, ritually celebrates our belonging in our local community of plants and animals, our land, our identity as people of the coast or of the forest or of the plains, is a healthy need, for our well-being and for the health of the planet.
If we go back in time far enough, before our ancestors were dominated and colonized, we, each and every one of us, had indigenous ancestors who were intimately connected to their beloved lands. We are not so bound by space and by time as our western worldview leads us to believe. Our ancient healthy, loving indigenous ancestors and their communities can bring healing and guidance to us here now. (For deeply respectful ancestral healing work I highly recommend Dr. Daniel Foor’s Ancestral Medicine.)
I am realizing that my longing is the longing of my more recent ancestors. My need is a deep ancestral need. My pain is the pain of generations of my people who were separated from the spirit moving in and through the plants, the animals, and the land we call home, displaced by oppressors who were perhaps themselves displaced from the lands they loved.
We can call on our indigenous Earth-Spirit connected ancestors to heal the pain of our separation, to participate with us in joining with, and tending to, the communities of our lands right here now. Even though we may have been displaced from our place of birth (and the generations before us displaced from theirs as well) we can recognize ourselves as a community of Earth-Spirit connected people, right here on the land we now know as home, joined with and supported by our nourishing ancestors.
For the past few years I have felt a call to reach back beyond the guilt and shame of colonization to my loving deep-time indigenous Irish ancestors and appeal to them to connect with our wise, deep-time indigenous Anishinaabe ancestors. Asking them to bring wisdom to us in these dire times, to show us how to join together to heal this desperate split between our peoples, and to heal the split between us and our mother, the Earth.
Lest this seem like a woo-woo idea, as indigenous communities all over the world rise and make their voices heard we are hearing calls to transcend our wounds, our alienations, and join together, communities to communities, spirits to spirits, ancestors to ancestors, for the sake of healing ourselves and our world. This is neither to deny the wounds nor condone them, but to reach beyond them. The Earth needs us to make this bold leap of reconciliation. Now is the time.
Geologian Thomas Berry called on us to realize our “emotional-aesthetic-spiritual communion with the natural world.” We all have the capacity to open to the Otherworld, the dream world, the spirit world that overlaps with this world to gain vision and inspiration from the plant and animal beings, the living waters, the spirits of the land, from the wise ancestors of place. With hearts open we can listen to and hear the stories, the songs of the sacred landscape, and respond creatively with our gifts of beauty. Let us become a community of creative responders to the glory of the magnificence that we have been given.
We each have an inner wildness, body and soul, that connects us to the wild, spirited body and soul of the Earth. Living energies, subtle energies, move in our bodies, in the bodies of the trees and animals, in the land, and in the field of energy around and between us. We can support each other to engage in the ritual practices, the body practices, the love practices that connect us to the wild of Self and the wild of Earth-Spirit. The Earth wants us to dance with her. We are the Earth dancing.
We may be surprised to find that the community of Earth beings and spirit beings of the land eagerly participate with the community of us humans, present and ancestral, when we connect with the sacred landscape and spiritscape through acts of listening, tending, restoring, honoring, communing and celebrating. The Earth loves us to love her.
I hope that we will continue to expand into the community of all our relations, like circles expanding in a pond, as we meet with each other for walks in the woods and fieldtrips to sacred sites, for rituals and healing ceremonies, for sharing our creative expressions. As we meet in small groups, as we tend gardens for wildlife, as we make art, dance, and song that celebrates the beauty all around us, and as we try to relearn what we have forgotten about how to have loving relationships with our other-than-human kin. Whether you are tending your garden or your local creek, helping to conserve or restore wild lands, or walking in beauty with awareness of the sacred all around you, know that you are an integral member of the great Belonging.You belong to the Earth. You belong to the Community of Life.
What has this to do with climate change and the extinctions we are enduring? Everything. We know that carbon must remain in the peatlands, the wetlands, the forests. We know that the most important thing we can do is protect and restore the land for the sake of the plants and the animals and for the biological, hydrological, atmospheric, and carbon cycles to function properly. For this to happen we need to be restored to our function as lovers and protectors of life. And for this we need to feel like we belong to a local community and to a vast community of nurturers of life. We need to know in our bones that the Earth needs us like it needed our ancestors in order to co-create life. We didn’t think we were needed to create with the Earth, but we have learned that we certainly have the power to destroy life, so we have the power to create, too, by honoring and protecting the integrity of the web of life and reweaving ourselves and all our relatives back into the beautiful tapestry of creation, the great circle of Belonging.
Text and photos (c) 2018 Betty Lou Chaika