Tending the Earth with Tenderness
We desperately need a shift in our relationship with the Earth, from our dualistic, dominating indifference to a relationship of gratitude and caring attentiveness to this beautiful home of ours who is crying out for our nurturance. I invite you to join me in spending some time in reverential reading, contemplation, walking and tending the Earth with gratitude and tenderness.
Opening prayer (by John Philip Newell):
Time: 12 minutes
The following is a guided prayer for bringing a contemplative gaze to nature (you can choose between the 12 and 20 minute versions):
Reverential walking meditation:
Set aside some time to do a slow, deliberate walking meditation (10 or 20 minutes). If possible, it will be best to do this with bare feet.
Begin with a short while of standing, getting in touch with the felt sense of your body and your breathing, and then feeling your feet on the ground. Sense how your feet are held by the Earth.
Wriggle your toes in the grass, or on the ground, to experience the sensation of connection with the ground beneath you. Express your gratitude in some way for this ground that we take for granted.
Now take a slow step forward, feeling the sensations in your body and legs throughout the movement, and as your foot lands, bring it to the ground with an attitude of reverence for this holy ground beneath you.
Slowly find stability in this new position before moving your other foot forward in the same slow, reverential way.
With each step you could repeat a word or phrase, for example:
I am home
Here I am
If you find your mind wandering, come to standing again, reconnect with the felt sense of being grounded on the Earth, then begin walking slowly and reverentially again.
All three of these readings are poems by the nature mystic, Mary Oliver. I encourage you to read each one slowly, and then spend some time in quiet and prayerful reflection before going on to the next one.
Reading 1: Lead
Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing....
The next morning this loon,
speckled and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.
Reading 2: Invitation
Oh do you have time
for just a little while
out of your busy
and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles
for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,
or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air
as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine
and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude
–believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,
do not walk by
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.
It could mean something.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.
Reading 3: Thirst
Another morning and I wake
With thirst for the goodness I do not have.
I walk out to the pond
And all the way
God has given us such beautiful lessons.
Oh Lord, ................grant me, in your mercy,
A little more time.
Love for the Earth and love for You
Are having such a long conversation in my heart.
Listen or sing along to the following chant:
Whichever way you turn
There is the face of God.
Practice: Tend the Earth with tenderness:
In the coming days and weeks, I encourage you to find ways of tending the earth, even small acts such as removal of weeds or alien plants to help restore the natural ecology of your area, or picking up any litter that you see, or reusing/recycling, or making the choice to simplify and consume less, or some form of activism on behalf of the environment. As you do this, try to bring an attitude of tenderness and gratitude for this beautiful Earth who has nurtured us throughout our lives, and who now cries out for our nurturance. Consider how you can regularly build this kind of practice into your daily routines.
For further reflection:
Here are the quotes from the introduction and some additional quotes for you to reflect on further:
“How absolutely central is the truth that we are first of all part of nature, ... . In solitude, one is entirely surrounded by beings which perfectly obey God.”
"The doctrine of the Incarnation is itself an invitation to all believers to love the earth, cherish it, and find the divine in it.” He went on to describe mysticism as "the awe with which we respond to existence and creation when we learn not to take it for granted.”
"The world is not a problem to be solved; it is a living being to which we belong. The world is part of our own self and we are a part of its suffering wholeness. . . It is this wholeness that is calling to us now, that needs our response. It needs us to return to our own root and rootedness: our relationship to the sacred within creation. Only from the place of sacred wholeness and reverence can we begin the work of healing, of bringing the world back into balance."
Thich Nhat Hanh:
"At this very moment, the Earth is above you, below you, all around you, and even inside you. The Earth is everywhere. ... the water, the sea, the sky, and everything around us comes from the Earth. Everything outside us and everything inside us comes from the Earth. We often forget that the planet we are living on has given us all the elements that make up our bodies. The water in our flesh, our bones, and all the microscopic cells inside our bodies all come from the Earth and are part of the Earth. The Earth is not just the environment we live in. We are the Earth and we are always carrying her within us.
Realizing this, we can see that the Earth is truly alive. We are a living, breathing manifestation of this beautiful and generous planet. Knowing this, we can begin to transform our relationship to the Earth. We can begin to walk differently and to care for her differently. We will fall completely in love with the Earth. When we are in love with someone or something, there is no separation between ourselves and the person or thing we love. We do whatever we can for them and this brings us great joy and nourishment. That is the relationship each of us can have with the Earth. That is the relationship each of us must have with the Earth if the Earth is to survive, and if we are to survive as well."
"The earth beneath my feet is the great womb out of which the life upon which my body depends comes in utter abundance. There is at work in the soil a mystery by which the death of one seed is reborn a thousandfold in newness of life. The magic of wind, sun and rain creates a climate that nourishes every living thing. It is law, and more than law; it is order, and more than order—there is a brooding tenderness out of which it all comes. In the contemplation of the earth, I know that I am surrounded by the love of God."
You may want to read some of Thich Nhat Hanh's love letters to the Earth at this website: https://emergencemagazine.org/essay/ten-love-letters-to-the-earth/