The Earth speaks…

Posted May 1st, 2015 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on The Earth speaks…

Many call it Gaia. Sometimes we like to romanticize that notion. We’re all part of a living planet. It is a marvel of life-giving wonder. It is sacred. It is full of spirit. It is to be revered, honored, respected.

And then it explodes, or it moves with tremendous violence, or it erupts in the streets of Baltimore…

So, first I was going to write about the volcano in Chile, the mountain that woke up for the first time in decades. Check out the pics at this webpage. I mean, what can one do before such power, such magnificence, such beauty, but bow down in awe – and then get the hell out of there.

Alex Vidal Brecas - European Pressphoto Agency

Alex Vidal Brecas – European Pressphoto Agency

Several thousand people remain evacuated as the ash poured down for many  miles, and there are fears of contamination of drinking water and farm crops. Mother Earth put on a great show, we humans are humbled once again.

Then, just as I pondered this post, last Saturday something else happened. Up in the Himalayas, the Earth moved.

Raw video

As of this writing, the death toll in Nepal has surpassed 5,500 and country officials fear it will pass beyond 10,000 by the time they get to all the villages and dig through all the rubble. Bad as the first shock of the destruction is, however, it is the weeks and months ahead that are always the hardest as people come to terms with homelessness, dislocation, often hunger and disease, amputations and other permanent injuries, and deep grief – over lost loved ones, over lost homes, and especially in this case, lost cultural treasures with enormous spiritual significance.

Beyond that is how the world’s attention will eventually turn elsewhere and the high probability that, as in Haiti, there will never be enough aid and attention from the world to fully heal the destruction and suffering in one of the poorest countries in the world – sadly, also one of the most corrupt [see country profile here].

The Himalayas are an intensely active mountain range still being lifted by the clash of two tectonic plates. It boasts the world’s highest peaks, including Mt. Everest, which also shook violently that day.

Video of Mt. Everest avalanche

All of this had me pondering again the tsunami that struck Indonesia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka in 2004, killing a quarter of a million people. And what can one say about these tragedies? This is all part of what the Earth does to be alive, to create the conditions for life. The ocean earthquake that created the great wave was a different kind than what is creating the Himalayas. In this case, one tectonic plate is sliding under another and every so often after the tension has built for a long time, the plates give. Energy is released.

Village near Sumatra coast after 2004 tsunami. Photo: Philip A. McDaniel, US Navy photographer

Village near Sumatra coast after 2004 tsunami. Photo: Philip A. McDaniel, US Navy photographer

Once upon a time, these things happened with a fraction of the number of humans now on the planet. Now they occur on an increasingly crowded planet with hundreds of millions of people living along fault lines, or in the path of exploding volcanic ash. Now, not only is there bound to be human suffering and death from these disasters, but we all get to watch it on TV or on the internet.

But it’s just the Earth constantly creating itself irregardless of how we feel about the ways it does that. One of these days Mt Rainier will blow and Seattle could be in a whole lot of trouble. Rock debris from the eruption that created Crater Lake in Oregon has been found in the Dakotas. Meanwhile, what Yellowstone really is is one big Super-Volcano which, if it blows, and it does about every 600,000 years and is also currently significantly overdue, would destroy much of life in the northern hemisphere.

It’s a big planet full of explosive might and power that boggles the poor human mind, that mind that makes us feel so mistakenly big and important. What it should make us feel, especially as we have learned more about this planet in recent centuries, is humble. We perhaps ought to be more aware of the preciousness of life, its vulnerability, how quickly it can be taken from us. Perhaps these minds of ours could teach us about how to live more appropriately, respectfully, humbly, honorably, on a planet whose mysteries and wonders and potent natural forces simply do not care about our economies or priorities and will not bend them to our will.

So as I pondered this post in light of this new event, as awe settled in once again and put so many things about human “civilization” in perspective, Baltimore exploded. I mean, that’s the Earth, too, is it not? We’re also the Earth, made of its stuff, created out of its life-bearing biosphere, each of us a “location” where some of that stardust gathered, reorganized out of billions of years of the solar system’s evolution, in unique expressions that make up the living creatures of the planet.

Humans are part of this creative process, not apart from it. And we have our own versions of tectonic plates built upon tremendous evolutionary complexities – tribes and races, cultures and religions, population growth crowding us in ways we do not desire, economies dominated by those with power and wealth, societies trying to hold in place vast injustices, subjugation of impoverished populations, and imposition of one set of beliefs on others by way of war, violent atrocities, and more.

Tensions build. In the case of Baltimore, a city I know well, the tension has been strained through centuries of racism and the more recent decades of economically structured poverty, police brutality, and a culture of law enforcement that uses the justice system as a form of social control once expressed in segregation laws, Jim Crow, and slavery.

Like those other tectonic plates, the tension builds, then something happens, something moves, and the Earth erupts.

blmIf we better understood the seismic forces at work in our world, maybe we could use some of that needed humility before exploding mountains and violent quakes to appreciate that in our flesh and blood we are also part of this planet. The difference is that we can relieve the human stresses long before the explosions. We can decide to use the tools at our disposal to address the violence and despair that plague so many of our cities, including mine (Milwaukee). What are those tools? Justice, for one. Compassion. Ending white privilege. Removing our lives from the control of big corporations bent on continuing business-as-usual. Opening our hearts to the wisdom and points of view of those not like us, instead of fearing them. Not clinging to ways of life that feel comfortable and reassuring if those lives are built upon foundations that assume poverty and injustice for others.

Tensions among the human community on the Earth are building. We all know it and feel it. In my 65 years on the planet, we have gone from a population of 2.5 billion to 7.3 billion and, if I live an average life span, could approach 8.5 billion by the time I leave it. This growth, and the industrial economy that has made it possible, has far surpassed the ability of the planet to sustain it. Industrial growth is built upon a level of extraction, consumption, and toxic waste that has reached levels where we are actually impacting some of the Earth’s most powerful forces – fracking creating real fractures deep in the Earth causing earthquakes, for example, or the spewing of carbon emissions into the atmosphere that has altered its chemical make-up and creating conditions for disastrous climate change, destruction of forests and soils that are undermining our ability in the near future to feed ourselves, overuse and contamination of water sources that mark a real crisis of survival in the decades to come.

Then pile on top of a list like this that we humans live in tremendous fear of one another in societies of varying amounts of structural injustice – well, it paints a grim picture.

We need to erase that canvas and start seriously joining together to start painting a new one. The good news is that this, too, is happening all over the planet. The more we join in, the more we add our energies to that path of “new creation,” the more likely humans can learn to live and thrive among the magnificent, volatile, energetic forces of the Earth.

So, while in the work of ecological wholeness, healing, and justice, we can learn to live more humbly before the forces of Nature as well as to live more humbly among all the sentient and non-sentient beings of our planet, it is equally crucial and necessary that we learn to live more humbly – and with justice – among our human sisters and brothers who are part of our natural, living, breathing, flesh and blood, community of life.

We can’t say this enough here: ecological and social justice are completely bound up with each other. We cannot have one without the other. And that, too, is a Law of Nature.

 ~ Margaret Swedish
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