Magic in the Yard

Today I woke early, it was raining, and I was drawn out to the screen tent in the yard to journal and pray and connect with our land. I was writing about a dream when suddenly I was startled by a loud huffing sound, and looked up to see a deer jumping into the brush and trees at the back of our yard. I didn’t see where she had come from, but wondered if she had ventured into the yard, and then suddenly was startled by noticing me in the screen tent.

I kept peering into the bushes all around the back of our yard looking for her, but all was quiet.  And then I saw her head peering over the bushes at the west corner of our space, perfectly still, almost invisible.  I would never have seen her if I hadn’t been looking so intently.  She was peering back at me. I silently sent her a message–I honor you, I won’t hurt you, I am sorry I scared you. Thank you for being here.  And then she moved away into the little woods of undeveloped land behind the houses on our street.

I sat for quite a while longer, astonished and moved, and pondering how the wild creatures might be passing through at any time, or watching us when we least expect it. Even right here in Portland.  I thought about the future of this space, how this year we are observing everything we can about the land, and also asking the land, what do you want for our partnership? Margy and I had been talking about maybe a little orchard in the sunny space just behind the house, and maybe vegetable beds in the side yard which was also sunny.  Maybe further back a pond for frogs and other creatures to drink from, and maybe a fire circle.

This morning I felt how sacred this space really is, already.  How lucky I feel that we were able to find this place and move here.  And how wonderful to be imagining the ways we can bless this land and be blessed by it.  I had a new thought, too–perhaps we can invite folks into this shady space at the back for learning together about how we journey into earth community.

Then I came into the house, intent to blog about all this.  I was looking on my laptop for possible photos to use with this posting. Suddenly our cat Billie jumped up to the window behind me and was looking into the back yard, and so I looked too.  And there was the deer, standing in plain view at the back of the yard, looking toward the house. I went around to our back door, and even opened the door and looked back at the deer.  She watched for the longest time.  And let me take this photo.

Oh earth, you never cease to amaze me!Deer in our yard

Sacred Space

Screen TentI am wondering, what is it about a screen tent that is so perfect for creating sacred space outdoors?  It is somewhat sheltered from the sun and rain, and from biting insects.  Yet, it is open to the earth beneath our feet, the air moving through the trees, the sounds and sights of creatures all around. So much of my connection to the land at our old home came from sitting outside in the screen tent hour after hour, day after day, paying attention, listening, sometimes lying on a blanket, often praying.

A couple weeks ago I put up a screen tent in our new back yard.  This one is green–our old blue one had disintegrated after last summer.  We had purchased this one several years ago on our last camping trip to Winslow Park–someone was selling it used at the campground, and since we loved our own so much, we bought it.  So glad now that we did.  Finally, this morning of the new moon, I came outside to pray and read my journal of this moon. Inside the tent there is a chair and a little milk crate table, and I brought a blanket to sit or lie down upon.

Today I have seen tiny sparrows chattering and feeding in the grass–I think it was a mother teaching her young one, because she gave it some food directly.  I saw the shadows of cardinals jumping from branch to branch in the underbrush.  The wild turkey came into the yard and rested beneath the pitch pine tree several yards away, and then while I was resting with closed eyes, she walked around, coming within a few feet–maybe checking me out.

I am reminded that I need to come out here more often in order to make a connection to this land which is new to us.  And this is my sacred space, this little tent, this beautiful yard. I feel so grateful!

Why Fractals Matter-Reading the Book of the Universe

Why should fractal geometry matter to those of us who are not mathematicians? First of all, fractals give human beings a new way to look at the universe. When we can describe something, we can see it better than if we cannot describe it. Because we are better able to see the natural world, fractals enable us to have a deeper relationship to the natural world.

It reminds me of learning to read a book. In order to read, we need to understand the patterns of squiggly lines that form the letters of the alphabet. And then we need to understand how those squiggly lines are combined in multiple ways to form words, and then sentences, and so on. A person who cannot read may look at a book, and it might seem beautiful, or there might be pictures in it to be curious about, but that person cannot understand what it means. When we learn to read the patterns of squiggly lines, the book becomes a doorway into a whole story, and suddenly we have access to a wealth of ideas and thoughts and understandings.

The natural world is like a sacred book; it is the place where we search for truth and beauty and goodness. We might say that the universe itself is our bible. We don’t have to understand the world to appreciate its beauty. Even a baby can laugh with delight at the bright colors of flowers, or try to catch a butterfly. But the more we understand the natural world, the deeper can be our appreciation, and the more its mystery opens up to us. Fractals help us to read the book of the universe.

Fractals give us a way to measure and describe the complex patterns in the natural world. Fractal geometry, in fact, reveals to us the inherent patterning that permeates the universe. A fractal is a pattern that repeats itself, from an infinitely small scale to an infinitely large scale. Complex entities are created from simple designs extended out to many dimensions. We see in the patterns and shapes of nature that there is self-similarity at all levels. Ferns DSC05288

An Orientation to Place

Vine Deloria, a Lakota scholar, and author of God Is Red, wrote about some of the distinctions between European ways of thinking and American Indian ways of thinking. One of the differences he believed was important is the difference between a primary orientation towards place and a primary orientation toward time. 

I remember, when I was in Catholic grade school, learning about “salvation history.” We were taught that God was working throughout time to bring humans into a higher level of existence. Deloria points out that Europeans understand the world as an evolutionary process where humankind has evolved from lower forms into higher forms, including the evolution from so-called primitive religions into monotheistic conceptions of divinity.

Deer Tracks MJ DSC01675American Indians are oriented to space and place, and their theological concerns are spacial concerns. Within this framework, each place has its own experiences of divinity, which may be very different from those of another place, without any contradiction. Rituals are important for connecting a people with the places in which they live, with the deeper powers of those places. This is why the land rights struggles of Native people cannot be separated from their struggles for religious freedom. Their religions are focused on nurturing their relationship to the specific land which is their land.

Another difference between American Indian views and those of mainstream society is in the conception of land as object or subject. To view the land as an object, is to see it as something to be acted upon: to be bought and sold, to be used for its minerals and plants, to be owned, to be abused, or even to be watched over carefully. To view the land as subject is to see it as we might see a person, as a being with its own actions, its own view.

The word own is an interesting one here. We use it to describe possession acquired by buying something. As in “I own a piece of property.” Yet it also can be used to describe relationship. My own mother, my own lover, my own family. To say “our land” can mean this is the land we have purchased, or it can mean this is the land we have a relationship to, we belong to it as much as it belongs to us.

European peoples are new to the land we call North America. Our history includes the theft of this land from its original people. Any work we do to reconnect to the land must pass through the entanglements of that history, must include work to heal the brokenness of that history.

If we wake up to the earth, we must listen to all her stories

All places and all beings of the earth are sacred. It is dangerous to designate some places sacred when all are sacred. Such compromises imply that there is a hierarchy of value, with some places and some living beings not as important as others. No part of the earth is expendable; the earth is a whole that cannot be fragmented…
Leslie Marmon Silko

Winter Path DSC01793When I was in theological school, we spoke of the sacred texts in which people find revelation of divinity. To be open to the sacredness of earth, is to let the earth be our text: let the earth be the revelation for the presence of divinity. The earth can be teacher, the earth can be sacrament, the earth can be worship, the earth can be Goddess.

But if we wake up to the earth, we must listen to all her stories. If we live in the Americas, we must pay attention to a story of brokenness in each place because of the theft of the land from the Indigenous peoples who belong here. If we are seeking to restore our connection to the land, we must reckon with that brokenness. All of us are a part of the brokenness.

Lakota writer Luther Standing Bear said, “Men must be born and reborn to belong. Their bodies must be formed of the dust of their forefathers’ bones.” To be indigenous is to belong to a particular place, through that interweaving of dust and food and knowledge which accumulates over centuries. When I lived in Jamaica Plain, I used to walk in Forest Hills Cemetery. None of my ancestors were buried there. No familiar ghosts recognized me or called my name. I was not indigenous to that place, nor to any of the places I have lived.

I learned more about what it might mean to be indigenous to a place through the marvelous novel, Solar Storms, by Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan. Her main character, Angel, is a young woman who had been separated from the Native community of her birth, and raised in foster care after being abused by her mentally ill mother. When Angel returns with her relatives to their ancestral lands, something happens for her.

A part of me remembered this world… it seemed to embody us. We were shaped out of this land by the hands of gods. Or maybe it was that we embodied the land. And in some way I could not yet comprehend, it also embodied my mother, both of them stripped and torn…. My heart and the beat of the land, the land I should have come from, were becoming the same thing.

In the novel, Angel’s family has returned to their homeland in the north of Canada because it is being threatened with hydro-electric development. This is no pristine wilderness or unspoiled scenery to which she is responding. The land is under assault, and they feel a responsibility to fight for its protection. She speaks of how the bonds between the land and the people had been broken by the developments of many years. The elder Tulik tells Angel, “Here a person is only strong when they feel the land. Until then a person is not a human being.”

Another member of her family was a woman named Bush who was Chickasaw from Oklahoma and had become part of the family through marriage. She had also come to help in the struggle. Angel talks about how it was different for Bush. The land in the far north loved Bush, “but it did not tell her the things it told the rest of us. It kept secrets from her.” Here was another Native American, yet she was not indigenous to that particular land. Through this story I began to better understand how loving the earth was not just about loving the planet, but about loving a particular river, a particular valley or hill or peninsula.

Quote from Leslie Marmon Silko is from Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit.
Luther Standing Bear was quoted by Vine Deloria quote in God Is Red.