I’ve just released my first ever YouTube video, in response to what I see as part of America’s growing crisis of compassion: the appalling attacks made by Christians and non-Christians alike on the women and men brave enough to speak out of their own pain to try to halt the silent juggernaut of sexual abuse in our culture. The video is called Women’s Abuse Through a Forest Lens: #Metoo in the Voice of Trees. You can see it here. It speaks of sexual abuse as a tree might speak of human assaults on forests.
I chose to get involved with this divisive issue because it’s where I live: I’ve carried the scars of childhood sexual abuse through most of my life . . . although I’ve never spoken of it publicly before–partly because it’s intensely personal, and partly because of the kind of vilification sure to be aimed at those who do speak out.
How can it be that the old cliches still endure? She must have asked for it . . . it must be her fault . . . she tempted him . . . You know the words, although I hope you’ve never spoken them. How could people believe that human beings, male or female, would join their voices to the #metoo movement and invite such slander without cause?
No, the cause is there. It’s the scarlet elephant in the drawing room, the unspeakable secret, the sin shrouded in silence. It’s the enduring pain in the lives of men and women who’ve been sexually abused–pain as agonizing as any physical illness, and as destructive.
One piece of bedrock wisdom offered to people healing from sexual abuse is to bring their memories into the light and speak them aloud, refusing to accept the shame abusers ladle out to silence them. The voices flooding our media from #metoo are doing just that: coming into the light and speaking their truth. Why are the nation’s Christians not standing with them? “There is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be brought out into the open . . .” Even now light is shining into a place of cruel darkness. Why do we not join our light to theirs?
I’m sure that the #metoo phenomenon has its fakes and charlatans, but “babies” and “baths” come to mind here. More damning to me are the Christian voices that admit abuse is a reality but dismiss its importance. In their eyes we who suffer from such things are Other (lesser) humans: women, children, LGBT, non-white, poor. We don’t matter.
But even if we don’t matter to many of America’s powerful, we matter to the One Creator. We are among “the least of these” who look to our leaders with hope, and whose well-being the living Christ counts as his own.
You can see the images from Through a Forest Lens below. The video is posted on YouTube.
I found myself more than usually burnt out after finishing the launch of Yeshua’s Loom, so I took an autumn break: hiking and photographing the changing forests in upstate NY. Luckily my brother Don came to visit, so we photographed the woods together!
One of my readers said that my photos looked as if I were trying to find windows into the One’s Spirit in the world. I mentioned that to Don, who said that was exactly what he did! Spending deep time with someone who’s known you all your life is incredibly nourishing. Here are some of my photos–taken by the writer at rest, with her brother. Click on individual photos to see a larger size.
The first album is from Ferncliff Nature Reserve in Duchess County:
The second album is from the Devil’s Peak Trail in the Indian Head Wilderness area above Woodstock:
This third album is from a very windy day along the Hudson River:
And finally, the Vanderbilt Estate on Halloween, after I took Don to the airport:
“If the people were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Luke 19:40
The stones are speaking. Are we listening?
The memory of stone. People have spoken of it since humankind first wielded tools to chisel its surface. What stories might be locked in the smallest of river stones, the bedrock beneath the plains’ rich soil, the mountains crushed into gravel for our roads? Certainly we find there the record of the earth’s transformations, the bones and footprints of long-dead species, delicate traceries of plants, massive forests. But what about human lives? Have stones absorbed the fleeting touch of our lately-come species, the storms of blood, tears, laughter, prayer that accompany our kind wherever we wander? Do stones remember us?
I love stone. I have loved it from earliest childhood. I love the weight and feel of it in my hand, the warmth of it beneath me when I rest from walking, the magic of its kaleidoscopic patterns. When I can I travel to mountains and canyons and deserts to spend time in its company. Stone is alive, sentient in some way I can’t explain. I feel it most strongly in wilderness, where human busy-ness is limited—but it has also caught me unawares in urban alleys.
I am unlikely ever to hear a stone speak in human words, or a tree in propositions, or a dog in iambic pentameter. A stone communicates in the manner of stones, just as a dog communicates as dogs do. My experience of the speech of stones is deeply non-verbal, partly visceral and partly emotional, untranslatable. Sometimes I take a photograph or pick up a stone when I feel it; other times I simply let it be. The imagery comes later.
I am not a professional photographer, or even educated in photography. In the past I saw the images in a camera’s eye as an imagined canvas, in terms of shape and balance, tension and flow, light and dark. Now I find myself photographing scenes that pulse with the energy of subtle presence, and I let the rest take care of itself. Sometimes my pictures absorb a hint of that power, sometimes not.
What is a photograph? At its simplest it is a record of objects seen, events observed, people known. But like history, a photograph participates in the awareness of the one who watches and records. And like a scientific experiment, the photographer’s participation is a variable that must be considered. The same scene taken by different people with identical cameras at roughly the same time may be distinctly different—based on something I call “soul,” for lack of any better term. At times the camera’s eye appears to mediate an exchange of understanding? meaning? relationship? being? between photographer and subject, and this fleeting touch (or lack of it) marks the photo.
What are the stones saying with their images? I believe they are communicating their presence, no more. “Look at us!” they cry. “We are alive, in ways you have forgotten you ever knew. We are—as the trees are, and the waters, and the atmosphere that shields the Earth from the extremes of space. Truly see us—see all of creation—we who have been dismissed by your arrogance as mere commodities. See us, before only stones remain to see the sunrise.”
Slipping unseen along the fringes of consciousness, the temptation is always there—to “clean up” the images, make them perfect, adjust their proportions to fit more neatly into Western ideas of beauty. Sometimes I make changes without thinking, and then I have to destroy the image if I can’t undo the edits. We have an implicit understanding, the stones and I—that their images will remain as I find them, removed only from their matrix, and, at most, adjusted for contrast. After all, they are the language of stone, and much is inevitably lost in translation.
Many years ago I discovered a new word: panentheism. Not pantheism (many gods), not theism (usually one god separate from creation), but pan-en-theism—one Spirit present in all creation, without the great divide between spirit and flesh that seems unavoidable in most Western traditions. Perhaps this word can suggest a way to bridge the gulf between stones that speak and a planet of dead rock.
In Christian scripture the apostle Paul describes the perceptions of ordinary people: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly . . . .” These words could describe any human being who has lost her sense of kinship with the web of life in which she lives. We see the world distorted in a bit of poorly polished metal—and ourselves more prominently than all else. But unlike Longfellow’s Lady of Shallot, we have no curse to excuse our stubborn avoidance of the Earth’s true face.
Stone is patient. Stone does not envy or boast, and is neither arrogant nor rude. Stone simply is, demanding nothing. Stone is not false, but embodies the truth of creation. Stone accepts human abuse and awaits our healing. Stone endures all things, is always being transformed, yet is ever the same.
All the photos in The Stones of Easter series* were taken on my brother Don’s mountain during Easter week, 2010, when I was deeply immersed in writing the final chapters of The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat. Starting on the morning of Maundy Thursday and ending on Easter Sunday, each day I packed a lunch and water flask and set off up the mountain with my camera. In a very literal sense, I went in search of a vision.
The result of the vision that met me there is Yeshua’s Cat.
And, of course, one of Wendy’s cats.
* Sixteen photos in The Stones of Easter series are available for sale at http://www.zazzle.com/moon_seasons. The original series included 24.
This post was originally published in April, 2014.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how This Madness of the Heart (and all the following Miranda Lamden Mysteries) fit together with my Yeshua’s Cats series–and why I feel certain the two series can coexist as books by the same author. But since my reasons are more feelings and instincts than logic, I’ve had trouble putting them into words.
So I did what I often do when I need to make sense of something: I created a piece of art (below). After all, what good is an art therapy degree if you can’t use it to clarify your own confusion? If I’m lucky, by explaining the image I’ll be opening up what lies behind it!
So, what are you looking at here?
First, I chose a Hubble image for the background: “Interacting Spiral Galaxies” . . . surely ideal for this project, since galaxies don’t often interact–anymore than churchfolk and professor-sleuths! It felt like a propitious beginning.
Three interlocking circles fill the foreground. The center circle pulses with a glowing gold and green light; the Christian Chi Rho emerges from its heart.
What is the Chi Rho? Like most symbols, it has different meanings across cultures, but for me it’s a symbol used by early Christians in the first three centuries after Yeshua’s birth–before Constantine transformed it into an imperial banner (the cross didn’t emerge as a Christian symbol until after the year 500).
The Chi Rho gets its name from the two Greek letters that overlap to create the symbol: Chi and Rho, the first two letters of the Greek word Christos, or Christ. In the image above, the Greek letters Alpha and Omega are added. I did experiment with using a cross in the center circle, but I like the visual effect of the Chi Rho better, probably because it has “rays” like the sunburst. Anyway, the central circle is meant to be the Christian faith–not the organized religion–but the living faith of all the individuals who hold themselves to be Christian.
The circle to the right is Mari, from Yeshua’s Cat, turning aside from a path in a green forest to investigate the central circle. In her circle she represents all of the natural universe. Creation. Everything that exists naturally, apart from the intervention of humankind. This natural order also includes human beings, since they’re part of the created universe–but not their civilizations.
The totality of the created world–as we know it on Earth–is flowing back from Mari’s search like the tail of a comet.
The circle on the left is where Miranda, my detective, lives. Her circle is the world of human civilization–urban, complex, multi-cultural, and often unsure exactly what they believe. Many, like Miranda, have their roots in Christianity, but have turned away from the church. Spinning out from her circle is a spiral of different world religions. But in her circle she, like Mari, has paused to examine something about the Christian faith that has caught her eye.
Both Mari and Miranda live outside the Christian fold, and they approach it from opposite directions. Mari moves from the non-human, natural environment, Miranda from a detached, urban, academic world. Still, both find themselves intrigued by the light in the center circle. Mari has the easier approach: Yeshua introduces himself by saving her life, and she joins him as a friend. But Miranda has been scarred by her Christian experience; she mistrusts the church and its agendas. As a professor, she sees all religions as examples of the human yearning toward the divine. Truth claims don’t enter the picture. She simply records what she observes, without making judgments. Her methods are catlike: she steps cautiously toward anything new, not committing herself, poised to slip back into the shadows if conflict threatens.
I knew a number of women like Miranda in my years apart from the church. Their worlds were full and rich, but they didn’t screen their experiences through a Christian worldview. Yet they were sometimes attracted by a light shining out from this tradition many of them had left behind.
. . . maybe the light shone through a person
a man like Elmus
or as comfort in the midst of evil
perhaps through the One’s presence in some crisis of their own
or simply in prayer and meditation.
But today we live in a world where it’s increasingly difficult to say, “I believe.” The language is lost. What does it mean to believe? Who are we believing in? People who live in the secular world can’t respond to most Christian overtures–because they don’t understand the words anymore. God-talk is becoming literal non-sense to those outside the churches.
People like Miranda are who they are, just as cats are cats. Each responds to life according to their gifts . . . but for some reason those inside and outside the churches are drawing further apart.
Perhaps we might learn from the effort, and love, we put into cross-species communication with our cats (and dogs, gerbils, birds, and ferrets) . . . and look at the incomprehensible human beings around us as if they concealed inner selves as delightful, unique, and full of surprises as a cat’s. It’s not really such a stretch.
I happen to find the lives of alienated Christians intriguing, perhaps because I’ve been there myself. And if the polls are right, their numbers are growing. Their honesty is often fierce, like their determination never to be taken in again by faux-Christianity and self-serving lies. Sadly we don’t have to look far to find the lurking predators they’re avoiding. And that’s what This Madness of the Heart is about.
Miranda peers into the light of Christian faith–but she looks from a place apart. Her own experiences haven’t shown Christianity to be that promised “light to the gentiles.” So she watches, examines, records, and considers. In the meantime, I feel privileged to narrate her journey.
Click here to visit my Miranda Lamden Mysteries site.
When I want to focus my prayer over time and through all my senses I create prayer as art–in my intent, in my praying, and in my prayer’s final emergence into the world. So here is the embodiment of the prayers I’ve been praying during an extended retreat for the last week or so, as I’ve grieved and prayed for the healing of the inhumanity I see steadily emerging in the patterns of our nation’s new administration. I believe that the reality that is taking shape there honors neither America’s historic democracy nor the Christian faith.
“A Christmas Prayer” prays that the incomprehensible divine love we celebrate at the Christmas season will fill all our hearts, from the smallest child to the nation’s leaders, and open our eyes to the wideness of God’s mercy, which encompasses the whole of Creation.
I, too, feel the times growing harder; the American dream seems to be slipping through our fingers. But I don’t understand how so many of America’s Christians could have gotten so muddled in their distress. How could we forget that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”?
We must hold to these and other words that have shaped our faith:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.”
“Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”!
“What does the Lord require of you but to do do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Jesus did not model the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” by narrowing the definition of “neighbor” to those whose race, language, skin color, birth country, and beliefs were identical to his own.
I grieve for us as a nation.
We have stumbled and fallen at the 3rd temptation where Yeshua stood firm: we have grasped for temporal power. These words are from Yeshua’s Cat describing his final temptation in the wilderness:
There was silence for a time. Then ben Adamah’s eyes cleared, he saw me watching, and he smiled. Now he was looking at a definite place, somewhere to the right of where I stood (my fur was bristling, and I was ready to spring away at any moment. Did I see something moving there in the moonless dark?).
“Oh, you evil fool,” the son of Earth laughed, “you have misjudged your game tonight! I have seen too many good men corrupted by even a little of that power to fall into its snare. The power I seek is the power to heal body and soul, the power of one who walks unnoticed among many, seeking the good of all: the power that binds creation together, not a power that consumes it. Burning through my heart is a power that rejects you and all you offer. I will have none of your thrones, your palaces, or your rich robes. No man, woman, or child will ever grovel before me in fear! Get out of my sight, corrupter of innocence. You have no place here.”
The night grew quiet then, the tension vanishing on a slight breeze. Whatever had been happening was finished.
“Come, curl up beside me, little mother,” ben Adamah said softly. “My vigil is over for tonight. It’s time to sleep.”
For those of you with a curious turn of mind, I’ll explain a bit of what’s going on in this digital mosaic. The overall pattern is based on the south rose window at Notre Dame of Paris. Literally thousands of tiny pieces of layers were combined to complete the whole.
- At the very center is a spiral galaxy from the Hubble series, with a star superimposed, also from Hubble, and a close up of Mary and the baby Jesus from William Holman Hunt’s “The Triumph of the Innocents.”
- Around the central image is a circle of 12 identical panels of the “Tree of Jesse” from a Chartres Cathedral window. The, tree, or root, of Jesse–Jesus’ human lineage (from the prophet Isaiah)–is often called the Tree of Life.
- The round rose-window shapes in the next ring are 24 identical images of grape vines from another Notre Dame rose window, pieced together into rings.
- The next circle out from the center is composed of elders from traditions all over the world, including Pope Francis, an Orthodox bishop, Rev. Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, and many others from cultures great and small.
- Behind each elder’s head is a plain aquamarine stained glass circle.
- Above these circles are hands of different colors, each reaching out to help others and to the One in prayer.
- Beyond the ring of hands are round stained glass windows framing the faces of ordinary people from ethnic groups around the world.
- Interspersed between these portrait circles are small stained glass windows from Notre Dame de la Croix.
- Around the outer edge of the circle are flowers from blossoming trees holding the faces of the world’s children, overlain with translucent spring beech leaves.
- From behind each blossom the Bethlehem star shines out.
- Throughout the whole circle the branches of the tree of life weave in and out of the pattern.
- And overall, a rainbow of stained-glass light colors all the shapes beneath it, just as the One’s love embraces all Creation.
I wish you all a blessed Thanksgiving and Christmas, filled with gratitude for our many blessings, and with prayers for our leaders’ wisdom.
Anyone who has studied the history of religions is aware of the shift in human consciousness that began sometime in the last millennium BCE and lasted into the early centuries of the Common Era. During those years human religious practice moved dramatically away from old communal forms and took on more personal expression. Individual human beings began to approach their gods in increasingly distinctive ways, and more and more spiritual teachers emphasized the value of individual human lives. Even C. G. Jung tried to explain the phenomenon in his Psychology and Religion West and East.
In India the sage Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha, offered seekers a Middle Way to enlightenment between the extremes of asceticism and worldly sensuality. In Persia Zarathustra introduced the idea of the freedom of individual human beings and the importance of their choosing to labor with the God of Light, Ahura Mazda, against the forces of darkness and ignorance.
In Israel the prophets emerged, offering ethical virtues such as compassion and mercy as alternatives to the old sacrificial system; Hillel the Elder followed in the 1st C BCE with his Golden Rule, and his famous statement that “whosoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world, and whosoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
Jesus of Nazareth, born around 4 BCE, brought a unique gospel of love and life to humankind, known for two millennia as Christianity.
All around Jesus, throughout the ever-spreading Roman Empire, Mystery Religions were attracting followers by the tens of thousands. In each of these Mysteries, individual men and women found hope of eternal life through initiation into secret knowledge unavailable to those outside their communities. Dionysian, Eleusinian, Cybeline, Isaic, Mithraic, and Orphic mysteries were but some of them. In many instances the secret knowledge was imparted through the initiate’s participatory experience in the death and rebirth of the god or goddess.
In the process of writing The Cats of Rekem, the third volume in the Yeshua’s Cats series, I wandered into the jungle of Greco-Roman Mystery Religions. I won’t try to offer an explanation of why they exploded into the ancient world, but they were spreading like wildfire across the Mediterranean basin in the years before and after Yeshua’s life. Early Christians were well acquainted with these religions, and in many cases they came to the Church from them.
Numbers of people have written countless volumes of material about the relationship between early Christianity and Mystery Religions, some scholarly and accurate, many biased and inflammatory. As a writer of historical fiction whose characters are rooted in the beliefs of their day, I came up against the question of Mystery Religions in a very personal way. In particular, I found myself needing to understand exactly how Yeshua’s original message differed from the message of the Mysteries. And I didn‘t want to expound the same old Christian apologetics and bland assurances that no overlap ever existed. It obviously did.
So I dusted off my books on Greco-Roman culture and began to refresh my memory. I took notes, and made charts. I even drew up a spreadsheet. I concluded that there were many, many apparent similarities between the practices of the early Church and the Mystery Religions; in fact, there were far more similarities than differences—baptism, equality of men and women, depictions of mother and child, separation of the community from the wider society, hope of immortality through the death and resurrection of a god or founder, ritual commemoration of that same founder’s death and resurrection. The list goes on and on.
But this left me with two troublesome questions. First, did these obvious similarities in the early Church really reflect Yeshua’s message? And second, allowing for the possibility that they might not, how did Yeshua’s message itself differ from the Mysteries? I even went so far as to wonder what he might have said to one of the Mystery devotees that surely crossed his path.
In the end I isolated several radically new ideas in Jesus’ message that found no parallels in the other religions of his day. In some cases these ideas didn’t survive very long in the young Church. Here they are, as I see them:
- He preached a loving God who sought reconciliation with humanity—not justice, or retribution, or punishment
- He brought this God into direct relationship with human beings, without priests or organized religions between them and the Deity who loved them
- He offered his listeners a simple choice: accept God’s love and embrace the freedom growing out of that love, or turn their backs and lose themselves in their own darkness
- He preached a peaceful, non-violent approach to life
- He didn’t call for a system of initiates vs outsiders: the thrust of his message was always of mysteries revealed, hardened hearts opening to understanding, and truths simple enough for a child to grasp
- Perhaps in contrast to the Mysteries, (which were celebrated in darkness) he characterized his message as one of light, revealed in the light of day for all to see
- Rather than the emotional frenzy common to the Mysteries, where initiates agonized and suffered, imagining themselves suffering with their dying and rising god, he offered his followers a death accomplished, and new life freely given: where such participatory agonies have entered the Church, I suspect they may have come by way of the Mystery Religions, not Yeshua’s words
The first two hundred years of the Church were violent and chaotic, and the records are conflicting. Many stories lie outside the scope of the Bible. I believe that there’s room to question traditional understandings of the Church’s message–and to question the way the Church has interpreted the words of Christ.
But don’t take my word for it: look for yourself! If there’s a mystery, it’s hiding in plain sight.
Now! Yeshua’s Cats’ Advent Puzzles are back!
24 days of amazingly detailed masterworks of Christmas art
each hiding its own tiny cat! Find Mari (or Miw)!
Click on the link above to start!
My recent immersion in ancient Egyptian art (for A Cat Out of Egypt) has reminded me of the many hours I’ve spent roaming happily through the art of the Ancient Near East–as far back in human history as the Stone Age years (roughly 50,000 to 10,000 BCE). Just in surveying the history of Egypt, I’ve traveled through so many cultures so quickly that thoughts on the nature of cultural change have finally stopped me in my tracks. So today I want to share with you some of my wandering thoughts on time, change, and Western culture, born of encounters with the work of long-dead artists.
Before Einstein turned science on its head, people in Western culture tended to picture time as a single line which connected the beginning and end of all things. This is no longer the case, at least among scientists. The idea of linear time emerged from the early cultures of the Ancient Near East and was essential to Judaism’s understanding of reality. Judeo-Christian culture embraced linear time as its own, and structured history and reality accordingly. Wherever the Church—and later Western culture—extended its influence through colonialism and conversion, linear time was a non-negotiable part of the package.
But many cultures prior to Judeo-Christian contact tended toward circular or spiraling ideas of time. These ideas took various forms, from the cyclical rebirth of the entire universe to models more directly reflecting the turning seasons and skies. Cycles of death and rebirth were generally part of these worldviews, but for those of us firmly planted in a linear model of time appreciating these other models can be difficult.
Oddly enough, I can offer an example of time as a circle/spiral from my own experience. I’ve always thought in images. So if I thought of time, I pictured it, just as I did everything else. For as long as I can remember, at least back into my elementary school years, whenever I’ve tried to recall memories in sequential order, I’ve imagined years as circles in an ascending counterclockwise spiral. Winter begins each new circle at the top, moving into spring on the left, summer at the bottom side, and fall on the right, all rising toward a new winter and a new circle on the upward spiral. The spiral’s circles are formed of rather misty mosaics of memory-images from the seasons and events of the year. I offer this example simply to suggest that if a thoroughly Western child of elementary-school years could spontaneously create such a circular model—one that persists on into adulthood alongside a standard linear model of time—then cyclical time might not be all that alien to any of us.
Linear time as the Church concretized it in Christian doctrine defined history as the stage upon which God acted to lead Creation to its divinely ordained conclusion–thus contributing, if indirectly, to the Western idea of progress. Also moving onto the stage at some point was the idea of a divinely chosen people whose own culture set the standard for all other peoples. By the 19th C, Western culture was producing theories of cultural evolution with “primitives” on the bottom and privileged Western society on the top. Immeasurable pain and violence were inflicted on other cultures as a result, and the damage is ongoing today. Although most reputable scholars rejected such ideas of cultural evolution by the mid-20th C, similar notions do still linger in the popular mind. Almost any person raised within a Western worldview is, at the very least, a carrier of embryonic presuppositions regarding progress and “primitivism,” whether they wish to carry them or not. It’s in the air, in our mothers’ milk.
So what does all this have to do with my journeys through ancient art? Well, I found myself asking, “Why do cultures change?” When Stone Age humans began domesticating animals, was it “development,” “progress,” or simply change based on circumstances we can’t see clearly today? Cultural change that led to dynastic civilizations and large-scale warfare can only be called progress (with any certainty) if where we stand today is the intended and best possible result in an overall plan of history. When Neolithic groups moved toward urbanization and the beginnings of metallurgy, was it progress, or simply change? What other paths existed in prehistory as possibilities—what waves had not yet collapsed? In Western Asia and Eastern Europe cultures adhering to traditional ways disappeared—or were wiped out by the widespread wars, plagues, and famines of the last half of the Bronze Age. And here a possibility began to grow in my mind.
I considered the course of events in recent centuries when Traditional, or Earth-based, cultures encountered Western civilization. One thing I had never considered before now demanded my full attention: African Traditional peoples, Native Americans, South Sea Islanders, Aborigines—these peoples did not progress, or develop, or evolve—their cultures were annihilated. They were not in the process of change when first contact was made. Change was not offered to them as an option. Whether they were killed with weapons, pestilence, starvation, or all three together, their cultures were extinguished. Greed for land and resources, brutally efficient weaponry with the sense of power born of it, and the tantalizing possibility of “might makes right”—these human factors undergirded the conquest of “new worlds.” Would it be unreasonable to suppose that these same human factors sealed the fate of indigenous peoples whose lands adjoined the Fertile Crescent and the civilization it cradled?
This line of thought led to disturbing questions often debated among academics—but for me, these questions have become personal. What is progress? Does it really exist? Why is change a good thing, if an existing situation is good already? Is it possible that unlovely traits like greed, abusive power, and fear have always been the most common motive forces in human change?
Now that the Western world is beginning to perceive the number and variety of plagues spawned in its long shadow, some people have begun to look with yearning and regret at Earth’s remaining Indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, when we look we tend to see through the lenses of our own worldview, darkly. We do not see these fellow-humans as people who belong to themselves, with their own lives and concerns, but as solutions to our problems, romanticized projections of our notions of a paradisal age.
Perhaps wisdom remains for the healing of the Earth. Perhaps sustainability is something we can learn. Perhaps if we ask with respect, elders may share their wisdom. But first we of Western culture need to look to our own house.
Professor and historian E. Glenn Hinson first introduced me to the thought of Teilhard de Chardin, a French priest and philosopher of the first half of the 20th century whose reflections on God and history led to repeated censures by the Catholic Church. But the one piece of his thought that burst into my world like a supernova was his assertion that God has given the future of the Earth into human hands: if we don’t take responsibility for our world, God won’t step in with an exasperated sigh and clean up the mess. In the Apostle Paul’s words, we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). “Progress” does not necessarily reflect God’s will, nor does God necessarily “will” what is happening in our world today. Christ has pointed the way in love, and the Holy Spirit strengthens us as we labor, but if we don’t work for the salvation of all God’s creation, humanity’s end times may be grim indeed.