All the Water Is One Water, #4

In honor of World Water Day, I am sharing the fourth part of my chapter, “All the Water Is One Water,” from Finding Our Way Home.

Some Indigenous stories of North America say we are like a younger sibling on this earth. The other beings and species are more acclimated to their purpose and their relationship to the whole. And so, when we are feeling overwhelmed by the ecological messes we have created, we might turn to our older relatives on the earth to find wisdom for our journey. Permaculture follows this practice by using the wisdom developed by millions of years of evolution, to find solutions for the problems we are facing today.

Water is such a teacher. According to my friend, gkisedtanamoogk, the Wampanoag people consider water a Manito, a mysterious life force that has its own life. His people know fresh water as Nipinapizek, and regard her as a grandmother. He wrote to me, “i think that we humans only exist because there is a significant number of people who remember to Give Thanks to all Those Ones who are the Keepers of Life, one of Those being, NIPINAPIZEK. May we continue to Give Thanks….”

When I was growing up Catholic, we used to bless ourselves by touching our fingers in holy water. I associated it with purifying ourselves because we were in some way unclean. But now, the blessing of water feels more like remembering our heritage. We come from water. All water is holy, and we are holy too. We are washed by water, we are restored by water, we are nourished by water.

Each of us faces a choice. Will we approach water as a commodity to be bought and sold, or as a blessing, a teacher to be honored and protected? Water is the mother of all life. There is no life without water. Whether we view it scientifically or spiritually, water is the womb from which all living beings have been born. We are made of water and we need the constant flowing through of water to remain alive in this world. Thankfulness can be the beginning of restoring our relationship with water. If I can remember to be thankful to water, then I have the capacity to take action on its behalf as well. I can join with the many other people who are working for water as a human right, or who work to restore the flow of rivers or clean up pollution in the sea.

Meandering BrookThe path forward will not be a straight line. I find hope in that. A river or stream meanders on its way to the sea. [Thank you Starhawk for teaching me about this!]  Because of the friction of the river bed, the water on the bottom of the river moves more slowly than the water on the top. So it creates a spiraling current that wears down one bank and deposits sediment on the other, and then vice versa, as it moves around and around in sweeping curves. Just so, our journey into a new relationship with all life on earth will meander—I imagine in this case, there is more movement at the bottom of our culture, while the top is going much slower. But since we are all connected, movement in any segment has a ripple effect on the whole.

We must keep taking steps, even small steps, in the direction of living in balance with the rest of our interdependent web. We must work our magic and offer thanks and take action in practical and political ways. We must meander in the direction of wholeness, of earth community. Each creative step forward will ripple out into a spiral momentum toward greater balance.

PRACTICE

When I made the conscious choice to regard water as a blessing, I decided to stop using plastic bottled water as much as possible. I like to carry water with me, so now I carry tap water in a special reusable metal or glass bottle. Anytime I drink water, I am reminded to offer thanks for the blessing. I invite you to give up plastic bottled water, and to start carrying water in a reusable container. Each time you fill or drink from the container, give thanks to Water for giving us life.

 

Pray with Water Protectors Today

The Water Protectors at Standing Rock have called for a day of prayer today.  The Governor of North Dakota and the Army Corps of Engineers have given an eviction notice to the Oceti Sakowin camp that takes effect 2 p.m. today (Mountain Time).  They have said that everyone remaining in the camps will be arrested. You can call the Army Corps at 202-761-8700 and demand an extension. But also–Pray!  The people in the camps have been cleaning up the camps from the aftermath of the blizzards in December and in preparation for spring flooding.  In a video released Monday, women said

“After the deadline for February 22 at 2pm, we are all at risk of facing arrest, police brutality, federal charges and prison time.”  “In the history of colonization, they’ve always given us two options. Give up our land or go to jail, give up our rights or go to jail. And now, give up our water, or go to jail. We are not criminals.”

From Arvol Looking Horse, last night:

Right away I woke remembering our history of abuses we have suffered from the continued need from Mother Earth’s Resources. My heart is heavy today, for what we are all facing together with tomorrow’s deadline in the removal of the Standing Rock’s Camps…
Because of the seriousness of this situation, I humbly would like to once again call upon all the Religious/Spiritual Leaders, URI and the People who traveled to Standing Rock’s sacred fire on December 4th. (Sari At Uri) Pray with us at your own sacred places for Mother Earth, her Mni wic’oni (water of life) and the protection of our People who are still at the Standing Rock Camps.

We also need to remember healing for those who are making these dangerous decisions that have only ended up abusing all life.

I too will stand in the sacred place with our Sacred Bundle to offer prayers – if anyone would like to join me by bringing offerings to the Bundle, they are welcome – @ 2:00pm mountain time on Wednesday February 22, 2017.

Please pray with us where ever you are upon Mother Earth.

Mother Earth is a Source of Life – Not a Resource.

Onipikte (that we shall live) ,

Nac’a Arvol Looking Horse C’anupa Awiyanka (Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe)

When I walk in my own neighborhood at dawn, I pray, and I come to this sacred place, the small brook that feeds into Capisic Brook.  On the walk, I hear and see the cardinals singing.  They are praying.  Back in my yard, I pray there, because this too is a sacred place. The crows are shouting to each other.  They are praying.  Let us all join in this sacred work, from wherever we are.  Water is life.  The Earth is our mother.  We are all one.

Capisic Brook feeder

[Capisic Brook]

What now?

chickadee-bird-bath-mj-dsc00898

Are you getting thrown off-balance by the shocking pronouncements every day from the Trump administration?  I have been wrestling with my heart, needing quiet, needing spaciousness to hear, underneath the din, the voices of the Spirits.  I think I am coming to some clarity.

It is easy to want to pass along the latest Facebook post with one more horror that is being perpetrated on innocent people or the earth.  So much outrage fills my heart when I hear about what is being done.  But it is their plan to stun us with horror, so that we are debilitated and unable to act.  So I plan to stop passing along horrifying posts. I will try to pass along posts of resistance and beauty and solidarity and compassion. I will also continue to post what news I hear from the resistance at Standing Rock, since that is often kept from the media.

Every week I am invited (via Facebook) to several rallies or vigils or demonstrations.  I am happy to see people in the streets–it is important.  But for me, I need so much solitude to keep on track, so much quiet to hear what is going on.  Unlike some people, I don’t find it empowering to be anonymous in a passionate crowd.  I can’t go to the rallies and marches every week.  Maybe I can do this once a month.  Rather, I need to make connections at a personal level.  So when something is coming down that might be hurting people, I will try to reach out to those with whom I have some possible link, to offer more personal support.

Similarly, we’ve been encouraged to inundate our elected representatives to try to stop what is happening.  I know this needs to happen, but it is generally not my own area of strength or passion.  (I have also come to understand that petitions aren’t usually effective, so unless it seems particularly well-suited, I am not going to spend energy on those.)  Phone calls are supposed to be the most effective way of getting counted.  So, I have found a website that sends an email once a week, with simple options for making phone calls on the current issues.  5 Calls uses your location to find your local representatives, and provides phone numbers and scripts so that calling is quick and easy.  I can do that once a week for 5 minutes, and maybe it might work for others too.

I don’t want the Trump administration to hijack my own calling, my own work.  I don’t want to be overwhelmed with guilt or “shoulds” or some internalized expectation of what an activist must look like.  The Spirits say to me, “Be a human being! You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to be the “savior” of the world. Risk your heart. Use your preaching voice to speak the truth. Keep doing your core work.  It is still necessary to wake up to our connection to the earth, our connection to spirit, our connection to each other.  Stay centered in that work.”

Do you have core work that you need to do?  Please know that it is okay to Listen.

 

Prophecy, #4

Another important aspect of communal prophecy is that those of us whose voices are often heard, who have the privilege that creates a larger platform, need to stop speaking sometimes; we need to step back and take time to listen to the voices that have been marginalized. We need to listen to those who are targeted, not merely to come to their aid, but to learn from them, and to take leadership from them. Indigenous people and other people of color have access to truths that mainstream American society may not be able to discern, or may choose not to notice.

For example, those who are new immigrants have valuable truths to share. I think about how so many newcomers to Maine survived in the midst of oppression and persecution in their home countries. They developed personal and communal tools that might be important for all of us in the coming months. Plus, they can observe truths about American culture that those of us who have lived in it all our lives can’t see.

Reza Jalali, a human rights activist and educator, and immigrant to Maine from Iran, gave me some hopeful insights when we were talking about the change in power in Washington. He said, “America has so many non-governmental organizations, like schools and hospitals and churches, and other voluntary associations. These are a potentially powerful source of checks and balances against the damage that the current administration may try to do. Other countries which fell to authoritarian regimes did not have this resource for resistance.”

I had never really thought about our associations and organizations as a resource like that. I had assumed that every country had such things. But someone who has been an outsider can see more clearly what we often take for granted.  Those who have been outsiders within our own country can best name what needs to be known.

I am reminded of a song by Holly Near, called Listen to the Voices. One verse goes like this: “Listen to the voices of the First Nations/Calling out the messages Of the earth and sky/Telling us what we need to know/In order to survive”

Native people have been on the front lines for many decades, even centuries, in the battle against corporate takeover of land and resources. When the people at Standing Rock tell us that water is life, and we need to protect the water, that is prophecy of the highest order. When they build a movement based on prayer and non-violence, we should be taking notes.

Indigenous activist Winona LaDuke has said,

My advice is: learn history. Take responsibility for history. Recognize that sometimes things take a long time to change. If you look at your history in this country, you find that for most rights, people had to struggle.

One of our people in the Native community said the difference between white people and Indians is that Indian people know they are oppressed but don’t feel powerless. White people don’t feel oppressed, but feel powerless. Deconstruct that disempowerment. Part of the mythology that they’ve been teaching you is that you have no power. Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. It is what your ancestors, your old people gave you. Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.

To be a community of prophecy, to see what is happening, we must listen to the voices that are speaking the truths we cannot see ourselves. We must listen to history, we must listen to the earth, we must listen to people of color, and we must listen to the voice from within, the power in our spirits.

Sun on frozen pond

Too Small to Make a Difference?

Snow on branches

[Snowflakes on branches]

Continuing from my prior post, as we confront the great challenges of our time, there is another hurdle that we may face—sometimes we feel as if the problems of our nation are so big, that what we have to offer is too small to make a difference. One approach to this problem is offered by Israeli writer, Amos Oz. He says,

Everyone of us has to choose confronting a big fire. Everyone of us has a teaspoon. Fill it with water and throw it in the fire. The teaspoon is very small and the fire is very large, but there are many of us and every one of us has a teaspoon. I do what I can as a teacher, as a writer, as a neighbor, as a citizen, to pour some water on the flames of hatred and incitement and fanaticism and bigotry and prejudice. I have words and I use words. My words are my teaspoon. This is what I can do. What can you do?”

When each of us does our small part, something can change about the larger problems.

Writer Charles Eisenstein goes even further. He addresses the underlying logic that permeates our society and our movements, that we need “big solutions to big problems.” This logic says, “whatever you do on a local level, you’d better make sure… it can go viral, because otherwise its impact will be trivial.” He says that “contained within this logic is an implicit hierarchy that values the contributions of some people more than others. It values the activities of people who have a big reach, a big platform, a loud voice, or the money or institutional power to affect thousands or millions of people.” And he finds this suspect in the movement for transformation because it is the same valuation as the dominant society’s allocation of status and power.

He explores the theories of change that underly such logic—that “change happens only when a force is exerted on a mass.” But the problem with this logic is that “the ruling elites” of the world always have “more force-based power—more money, more guns, …a bigger voice—than any activist organization ever could.” Yet, throughout history, there have been changes that happened in unexpected ways, from unexpected places. He says, “Reality often turns out to be the opposite of what the arithmetic of measurable impact would suggest. The most potent actions are often the ones done without forethought of publicity… Every act we take ripples out to affect the whole world…”

He goes on to reflect,

“My indoctrination into the logic of bigness has exerted an insidious effect on my own life, causing me always to question whether I am doing enough. When I focus on the small, intimate realms of life, taking the hours to tend to a relationship, to beautify a space, perhaps, or to enter the timeless child’s world with my youngest son, I am subject to an unease along the lines of, ‘There is something more important I’m supposed to be doing.’ The logic of bigness devalues the very heart of life.”

I thought about this logic of bigness quite a bit when I was trying to publish my book. I sent book proposals to several publishers, but got only rejections. One publisher was kind enough to give a reason. They said, your writing is good, but we don’t know how to market this kind of book because you are not well-known, and there is no big hook to pull people in. I didn’t have a big enough voice. But when I decided to self-publish the book, it grew from a sense that even a small voice must speak its truth, even a small bird has a song to sing. And so I named my publishing imprint Small Bird Press.

If we are all interconnected, then our gifts and our limits are intertwined for the life of the whole—what each of us has to offer is unique and irreplaceable. In the world of which we dream, hierarchy has given way to the circle of community. In the world in which we struggle, some of us will have the power to lobby, to protest, to rage against the destruction that can be caused by greed run amok. Others will have the power to grow gardens, to teach children to be kind, to dance and sing so that our spirits are replenished. All of it is important in this time.  We must live the life that wants to be lived in us, we must follow the lead of our hearts.

Questions to Ask Ourselves

img_0448I have been asking myself and others, what does the change in our country mean for our personal activities and commitments?  Every day I receive dozens of emails asking me to sign this petition or donate to that organization working on behalf of immigrants, or women’s reproductive health care, or the environment, and on and on. Invitations to March on Washington, or Boston, or Augusta. Invitations to lobby my senator or call my congressperson. I can feel overwhelmed by trying to make decisions on what to choose, what to ignore, what to do with the same amount of time in each day, in each week as I have always had.

How are we meant to respond to the current challenges in our world, to the pain and suffering we see? On the one hand, we can say simply—follow our values, care for the vulnerable, fight for justice. But Quaker educator Parker Palmer, in his book, Let Your Life Speak, asks us to take a step back, to look more deeply at what we are being called to do. Palmer says, “Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be… True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Beuchner asserts when he defines vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.’”

So one question we might be asking ourselves is, What is our own deep gladness? What sparks in us a sense of joy, because it taps into the very essence of our gift, our personality, our being? Another way to think of this might be, What are we good at doing? The influential African-American theologian, Howard Thurman, puts it, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

But is it really okay to pay attention to our own hearts, to our own deep gladness, to what makes us come alive? Shouldn’t we be mobilizing, organizing and lobbying every day to support our values in a society where they are under attack? I think what Palmer and Beuchner and Thurman are reminding us is that we can’t give what we don’t have. Not that we can’t learn new skills and rise to challenging occasions—but we can’t sustain a commitment if it goes counter to our nature.

For example, some people might be very at home with organizing a protest rally—making phone calls, posting on social media, renting sound equipment, contacting the right speakers, giving a stirring speech, and so forth. Some one else might be very good at going door to door, talking to neighbors and strangers of all political persuasions, making a connection and bridging the divide. Someone else might be good at strategizing behind the scenes, mapping out goals and objectives, and a course of action to take to get there. Someone else might be very good at bringing coffee and cookies to the meeting, and making sure that each new person is welcomed and brought into the conversation, and leaves feeling a sense of connection and involvement. Even in organizing and mobilizing, we each bring our particular gifts to the table.

And by that same token, we each have limits. Parker Palmer points out that he learned as much about understanding his calling from his limits as from his talents and gifts. He said, “Lacking insight into my own limits and potentials, I had allowed ego and ethics to lead me into a situation that my soul could not abide.”

He isn’t referring to the external limits that society places on people because of our gender, or the color of our skin, or the country of our origin. Rather, he means the limits that arise from our personalities, from our natural way of being in the world, from who we are at our core. We are encouraged to be tender with our natural way of being in the world, and not ask our souls to bear what they cannot abide.

For example, if someone is a complete introvert, they would not best serve their soul by forcing themselves to go to a march or a meeting. Rather, they might be happier to write letters to the editor or to their congressperson. Another person might not be able to go door to door, talking to neighbors, but they are really good at tutoring asylum seekers one-on-one to help them learn to speak English more quickly and feel at home in this country. Our limits and our strengths are mirrors to each other. We need to ask ourselves about our gifts and our limits.

I want to mention something about external limits. Parker Palmer admits that he holds a lot of privilege as an educated white male. Even to ask ourselves about “our soul’s calling” assumes that we have the privilege to ponder the question. Many people work overtime in jobs that do nothing to provide gladness, and barely enough to support a home and food. Another important question to ask ourselves is about our areas of privilege or areas of marginalization. What we can offer the community is dependent upon our social location—and that goes both ways. As a woman, I would not be welcome to share a gift for leading worship in the Catholic community. This is an area of marginalization for me. On the other hand, as someone currently with a steady income, it would be inappropriate for me to try to teach people in poverty how to save their money. It would be intrusive and disrespectful.

We must understand our position in a social fabric, the powers we hold and the challenges we face just by who our people are, where we live, the color of our skin. I am reminded of the advice given to budding writers—write what you know.

So we must ask, What are our gifts, what gives us joy, what are our limits, what is our location? Palmer says, “Is the life I am living, the same as the life that wants to live in me?” It is from this place of understanding our own essence that we can best respond to the great needs of our world.

Business Is Funny

title-pageMy book, Finding Our Way Home: A Spiritual Journey into Earth Community is now available for $17.99 through Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and via special order at your local bookstore through Ingram, as well as directly from lulu.com.  You can follow the links, or search using my name.  It may ask you, Did you mean “Mike Johnson”?  Say, no, “Myke Johnson.”

A funny thing.  If I go to its listing  at Amazon.com, it also says there are “2 used and 11 new copies” available from other sellers. But obviously, there are no used copies in existence yet–this is a print-on-demand book that was just released.  But there are all kinds of discount booksellers who list it at prices varying from $14.52 to $24.44 plus shipping.

From the business side of things, it is still better for me (financially) when folks order it directly from lulu.com or get a copy from me in person.  This is because other sellers take over half the list price, so I receive about a third of what I would receive if someone ordered it directly from lulu.com.  On the other hand, if someone orders it from their local bookstore, it helps to support local booksellers, which is fabulous. And I myself use Amazon.com for its convenience and speed, and its free shipping when I accumulate a few titles. Plus, you can look “inside” the book on their website.  So all in all, it feels good to have it listed out there in multiple venues, so folks can get a copy in the easiest way.

It has been illuminating to learn more about the business side of book publishing.  I don’t expect to make a lot of money from this adventure in publishing, but I do want to get the message out to wherever it might be welcome.  It is up to me to do the promotion and marketing for the book.  But it won’t really work without some help from my friends. Thanks very much to those who have already purchased a copy!

And thanks very much to some wonderful members of my congregation who are hosting a book launch party this weekend.  If you are near Portland, Maine it is from 12-2 at the Allen Avenue UU Church on Saturday, January 14th.  There will be copies of the book to buy, a reading of selections from the book, music, refreshments and I will sign your copy. Everyone is invited.

Other ways you can help:  If you read the book and appreciate its message, tell your friends about it or give it as a gift.  Share it on Facebook.  You can also help promote it by writing a review under its listing at lulu.comAmazon.com, or BarnesandNoble.com and then sharing it via Facebook or Twitter.  Thank you in advance!