Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Holy Day

"Earth Day 2015"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

I always thought that Earth Day should be treated more as a "holy day" rather than a civic holiday. It is a day for all of us, spiritual, religious, believers and even non-believers to be reminded of a truth that the universe in which we live is so wonderfully mysterious, pulsating with a common energy that connects everyone and everything and weaves it into a complex web.  For me, this energy is the abiding presence of "God."

Every day as I walk out into the vast wilderness where I live, I am made aware of that Holy Presence flowing in the world of nature - in the desert sands, the towering mountains, the desert bushes, cacti that bloom in the spring, in all the creatures of this earth, in me and in you.  We all belong to each other - the world of nature outside of me isn't outside of me at all. Everything that exists is one body, and that body is literally the very "body of God."  

A story is told about the Christian missionaries who came to the New World to convert the people of this strange, foreign land.  But, upon arriving in North America, they were none too pleased to discover that the Native Peoples were indeed already a very spiritual people with a keen awareness of a Holy Presence abiding in and through the world of nature. 

The Native Peoples believed that the Great Spirit was present in the rivers and mountains, the forests and the trees, plants and animals, and in all the people who walked the face of this earth. So when they prayed, they focused their gaze upon Mother Earth - they prayed to the abiding spirit incarnate in this holy planet.

This practice of praying to the earth infuriated those early Christian missionaries. Obviously these Native Peoples were pagans, misinformed savages,  because everyone knew that Jesus lived up in the heavens sitting on a throne at the right hand of God. So they forced the natives to abandon their indigenous religion and accept their European Christian faith. From now on, "true prayer" was to be directed  to a distant God enthroned up in heaven.

As I think about the missionaries bullying the original people of this continent to accept their European brand of religion, I wonder who it was that actually needed conversion? As I see it,  the Native peoples had it right all along. "God" is not a distant king in a faraway land but an intimately abiding, living presence, an energy pulsating in and through the beauty of all creation. 

Gazing upon the earth to pray rather than looking up to an unreachable heaven is a noble gesture and sacred practice. 

I once came upon this Prayer to the Earth from the tradition of the Ute Tribe of North American Indians. It seems like a perfect prayer for Earth Day.

Earth teach me stillness, as the grasses are stilled with light.
Earth teach me humility, as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me freedom, as the eagle that soars in the sky.
Earth teach me resignation, as the leaves that die in the fall.
Earth teach me regeneration, as the seed that rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself, as the melting snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness, as dry fields weep in the rain.


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