So much has altered since Covid 19 became a pandemic. The interconnectedness of all of life has moved from a concept to a lived experience fraught with anxiety, yet also with an unprecedented coming together in co-operation across boundaries both geographic and political.
In the first weeks of the pandemic, there was an already visible effect on our wounded planet. Photos from space showed a clearing in earth’s atmosphere, particularly above northern Italy. Astounded Venetians saw fish, dolphins, white swans swimming in suddenly clear canal water. Bird song was being heard in Wuhan, China, in air cleansed of dense pollution.
That we noticed these early signs of healing of the Earth was due in part to the seeds of new relationships of respect and love between humans and other forms of life planted and nurtured over decades before COVID. Harbingers of this newness: writers, teachers, parents, poets, as well as scientists and naturalists had been calling us into a new relationship with the earth, with all that lives within, on, around her. The feminist theologians, writing in the last third of the twentieth century, used their powerful intellects, their theological training, and their own experience to show that the “objective” masculine theological teachings, thought to apply to all humankind, actually reflected the masculine way to God.
The feminist theologians found the heart of the difference between the masculine and feminine ways to be within the perceived dualities found in Greek thought: spirit/matter, sky/earth, thought/ feeling, supernatural/natural, mind/body, spirituality/sexuality, man/woman. More than a separation, there is a perceived hierarchy. Spirit, sky, thought, the supernatural, mind, spirituality, man are viewed as separate from, superior to, matter, earth, feeling, nature, body, sexuality and woman. This is a worldview where God is separate from creation, from humanity. To find this God, we must soar above the human, above the natural world.
Through the writings of the feminist theologians, I learned that to recover a sense of the sacredness of the feminine would be to recover as well a sense of the sacredness of the Earth, of the body, of feelings, of sexuality.
At this time in the story of our planet Earth, this recovery is vital. The Sacred Presence of Love lives within all of life, within the Earth herself, within the creatures that walk, swim, fly, crawl upon and within her. Only this knowing can give us the courage and the strength we need for the work we are called to do with the Earth as she heals from the ravages of our despoiling of her.
In the sixth chapter of her book, The Web of Life, theologian Carol Christ, who died recently, writes compellingly of this call: To know ourselves as of this earth is to know our deep connection to all people and beings. All beings are interdependent in the web of life….We feel deeply within ourselves that we are part of all that is, but we must learn to speak of what we know. We know, too, that we participate fully in the earth’s cycles of birth, death, and regeneration…. The fundamental insight of connection to all beings in the web of life is experienced by children, poets, mystics, and indeed, I suspect, by all of us, though we may lack the language to express what we feel….(p. 113)
Acknowledging the difficulty of speaking of this deep connection “in the face of criticism rooted in dualistic thinking”, Christ quotes Jewish theologian Martin Buber who wrote of his “I-Thou” relation to a tree:
I contemplate a tree.
I can accept it as a picture: as rigid pillar in a flood of light, or splashes of green traversed by the gentleness of the blue silver ground.
I can feel it as movement: the flowing veins around the sturdy, striving core, the sucking of the roots, the breathing of the leaves, the infinite commerce with earth and air – and the growing itself in its darkness…
But it can also happen, if will and grace are joined, that as I contemplate the tree I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It. (Martin Buber, I and Thou trans. Walter Kaufmann, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970 pp. 58-59)
In the writings of Susan Griffin we find a recognition of “This Earth” as intelligent and aware: I taste, I know, and I know why she goes on, under great weight, with this great thirst, in drought, in starvation, with intelligence in every act does she survive disaster. (Susan Griffin in Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her New York, Harper and Row, 1978 p. 219)
A beautiful reweaving of dualities into wholeness flows from our embrace of Sophia. Once we take our first turning towards a Sacred Feminine Presence, welcoming her into our lives, change begins. In Rebirth of the Goddess (1997), Carol P. Christ writes of how turning towards the presence she names the Goddess altered her life.
If Goddess is an intelligent power that is fully embodied in the world, then the notion that divinity, nature and humanity are three totally distinct categories collapses. If Goddess as fully embodied intelligent love is the ground of all being, then it makes sense to speak of intelligence and love as rising out of the very nature of being and of all beings as intelligent and infused with love. Human intelligence and our capacity to love do not separate us from nature. Instead, everything we are arises from the nature of being, from our grounding in the earth. (p. 123)
Today’s poets and writers are expressing these thoughts in the midst of our new reality. This piece written by Kitty O’Meara expresses the hope we may hold even in the grip of uncertainty, suffering and grief:
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply.
Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in
ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.