Midweek Faith Lift
April 22, 2020
For the Beauty of the Earth
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
This morning we are celebrating Earth Day, as we are alone together social distancing from home. And I want to begin by watching together a video that I received from Barb McKelvey by way of her brother about how COVID19 is impacting the Earth. As we watch this together, let us be mindful of the following quotation from conservationist and author of Finding Beauty in a Broken World, Terry Tempest Williams:
“Our kinship with Earth must be maintained; otherwise, we will find ourselves trapped in the center of our own paved-over souls with no way out.” -- Terry Tempest Williams
As we continue to live a lifestyle that is unfamiliar and completely different from what we have ever known, we encounter questions and circumstances that tell us that we are in a time of transition. We will be living with the pieces of our shattered illusions as a culture, as a country and as a world from now on. We have seen first hand how it is that all we do in the way we live impacts the planet. And as the video shows, we can no longer be in denial about the impact that we have, individually, collectively and globally. And having seen, we cannot unsee what is.
There seems to be a resurgence of poetry, literature, music and art that is opening us to consider the question, “How do we find beauty in a broken world?” In this time of contemplation, of reflection and disruption of our “normal” routines, it has become very clear that what we called “normal” wasn’t really working very well at all for most of us, and not at all well for the Earth. All of what we have claimed as our right and privilege is clearly neither our right nor privilege. We are in a period of transition from “breakdown to breakthrough,” and transitions such as this are neither quick nor easy.
One of my sources of inspiration this week was an interview by Tami Simon of Sounds True, with Terry Tempest Williams that was syndicated by Sounds True on April 12, 2020. I have included the link in the printed version of my talk if you are interested in reading the whole interview:
Terry Tempest Williams lives in Utah and is an author, conservationist and activist for environmental mindfulness and cultivating a sense of place, of our deep connection to the earth. In the interview, Terry talks about her journey after the breakdowns of 9/11 and the need to find a deeper connection and understanding beyond the shrillness of just writing opinions and editorials. She needed a new word, a powerful word that could unlock her heart to how the pain of 9/11 could serve as a transformative experience. The interview chronicles her journey and her process as she went first to Italy and then to Rwanda.
Her first journey to Italy was to take a class in doing mosaic, which she had misunderstood as a craft. In fact, mosaic is an art form that is exacting and precise and requires a new way of looking at the world. It is a form of integration that requires taking all the pieces and integrating them into a new whole. It is painstaking and difficult but brings great beauty. Then her journey took her to Rwanda, a country shattered by genocide that was trying to put itself back together after the war ended. The concept of mosaic was again especially meaningful and appropriate.
As I read of her journey, it really landed with me that we are now living with a whole lot of shattered pieces and that we are faced with creating a new whole, a really new vision from the myriad shattered pieces of what was. Because as much as we may long to put the Genie back in the bottle, there will be a new understanding of BC- Before COVID and AC-After COVID. We as a global community will never be the same. This has been a collective traumatic experience, which we are only beginning to realize. We really will not be able to just pick up and go on as if this had not happened, even if we want to. The reality of all that has happened, all the death and suffering is impossible to ignore. And we can no longer ignore the suffering of the earth.
Once again, I also draw upon Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest whose meditation on April 14, 2020, about suffering was particularly meaningful. He draws a wonderful parallel with the suffering of Jesus and what it truly teaches us. He says it this way:
Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah” (see Luke 11:29, Matthew 12:39, 16:4). Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a situation that we can’t fix, can’t control, and can’t explain or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens. That’s when we’re uniquely in the hands of God. Right now, it seems the whole world is in the belly of the beast together. But we are also safely held in the loving hands of God, even if we do not yet fully realize it.
The genius of Jesus’ teaching is that he reveals that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound or punish us, but to bring us to a Larger Identity: “Unless the single grain of wheat loses its shell, it remains just a single grain” (see John 12:24). The shell must first crack for the expanded growth to happen. In such a divine economy, everything can be transmuted, everything can be used, and nothing is wasted.
As we are in the belly of this beast together, as we allow our hearts to be cracked open so we can lose our defensive shells, we sit with all the broken pieces of our beautiful world, open to how we are to be transformed. It is really important right now that we not jump too quickly to “fixing” it. Rather, we need to embrace the artist’s perspective of mosaic, the perspective of integration, of taking the broken bits and integrating them into a new whole. That feels like a tall order. Unity Worldwide Ministries has had as a mission statement to “create a world that works for everyone.” While that sounds nice, I can’t really relate to it right now, with all the broken bits of the world. I don’t know what that means right now. I need something more down to earth and immediate that I can get my heart around. And I found it in what Terry Tempest Williams said in the interview:
Here is how she put it:
"I think what is being asked of each of us right now [is to become] really fully who we are so that we can be of use. And it is scary. But I think the risk is worth it. And what do we lose and what do we sacrifice if we are not fully present, fully engaged, fully embracing who we are?"
~Terry Tempest Williams
It takes a tremendous humility to fully embrace who we are, warts and all. To see the beauty in the breakdown and integrate all of that into what can be of use in creating a new mosaic for our world, our earth. Here is what Terry shared of what she learned while working in the shattered aftermath of genocide in Rwanda. It is from that same Sounds True interview with Tami Simon:
And what I realized is that whatever I thought I knew was shattered, whatever I anticipated never happened, and what I never anticipated did, in full range. So again it goes back in very simple terms that it's simply a witnessing. A sharing of what I saw and what I felt and what I learned. And I think what I learned through that one wild word [mosaic] is that finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.
And that is where we are, looking at the broken pieces of the world that was and creating beauty in the world we find. And lest we are too eager to put it all back together too quickly, without really integrating all that we have experienced, there is one more bit of wisdom I would share with you from another author, Barbara Kingsolver. She states it this way:
Empathy is really the opposite of spiritual meanness. It's the capacity to understand that every war is both won and lost. And that someone else's pain is as meaningful as your own. -- Barbara Kingsolver
We have been waging all kinds of wars, with all kinds of winning and losing. This emerging mosaic of our AC- After-COVID life will require a deep empathy for all the suffering, and all kinds of healing as we search together for how to create the path from breakdown to breakthrough. How can we be of use?
Blessings on the Path,