Greetings Earth Lovers
I am excited to share the completed “Lauds: Prayer for the Birds” from the “Where I Stand is Holy” series with you. If you have been following along, you know this has been quite a journey. The original vision emerged after my return from an Animas Institute quest last summer. I connected deeply to that landscape and was reminded of this commandment to Moses from the Torah: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5). When we are standing on Mother Earth, we are standing on holy ground. On our last evening together, I walked out in front of our group, removed my sandals, and chanted a song that we often sing during our community sweat lodge (changing sit to stand).
Where I stand is holy, holy is this ground.
Forest, mountain, river, listen to the sound.
Great Spirit circles all around me.
(Repeat several times)
This mantra guided the creation of this piece inspired by illuminated manuscripts that included ornate borders with flowers, bugs, and creatures of all sizes and imagined monks in ancient times as I painted each tiny leaf. The 11 varieties of birds that I chose through my research are just a small sample of the 314 North American birds threatened by climate change. According to the Audubon Society, 314 of the 588 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080. (Learn more here). With temperature changes, acidification of our oceans, and loss of habitat and food sources, their survival is precarious.
American Three-toed Woodpecker
How do we be with this beauty and our sorrow? As I learned from my own transformative journey through grief 25 years ago, it is important and necessary to allow the feelings and to allow our hearts to break open, as painful as it can be. It is natural to grieve what we love(d) and who among us doesn’t love our birds? “Beauty is what opens our eyes to love. Love ignites passion and passion is what propels us toward the future wrought with risk and uncertainty.” -Terry Tempest Williams
With the Pope’s recent encyclical on the environment and urgent call for creation care, my work (and many others) over the past decade feels affirming and am grateful for his vision and leadership on the most critical issue of our time.
In the Catholic tradition, Lauds is the morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, so I chose morning glories and songbirds to symbolize this time of the day as the sun rises in the background. Three other panels for Sext (noon), Vespers (evening), and Compline (night) are all part of this vision and will also give expression to our endangered species. Follow along on Facebook and Twitter, too.
For love of the birds.
Summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest. While the rest of the country has been living under crushing heat waves, here in Oregon our rainy season lasted well into June. Given the level of drought not only in the U.S. but around the world, I bow with gratitude for the life-giving rain. But today, on this gorgeous Sunday morning, I’m thrilled to be sitting in my garden, sipping coffee and listening to the birdsong as I write this note to you. Jays, juncos, and spotted towhees make haste to the freshly-filled feeder while others splash about in the bath hanging from a Ponderosa Pine, waiting their turn.
In last months newsletter (see previous post), I shared how “art saves lives,” and indeed saved my life twenty years ago. I also believe like many of us that the natural world can also heal our hearts and bring us peace during these challenging times–personally and collectively. All too often though with the advent of technology, demands of family, and the fast pace of our modern world, we don’t take enough time to nurture our souls by communing with the earth. There is a common belief that one need be “out in nature,” camping or hiking, etc. However, if we can remember that we are always “in the Creation” at any given moment even in the city, we have the opportunity throughout each day to connect to the beauty that is around us. We need only stop what we are doing and be present to that which is before us. To the air we’re breathing. The trees we pass on the road. The food we eat. The water we drink. The bird in that tree…right over there.
From naturalist Terry Tempest Williams: “How to create time, how to create buffers around us so that we are doing nothing. I think that may be our biggest disease right now–the disease of busyness. With all these modern conveniences that are supposed to be time-savers, I think we’ve never had less time. So I think creating open space, time to do nothing, time to love, time to be, time to dream, to think, to walk, is its own act of civil disobedience.”
For me, at this time of year, I take my contemplative practices outside. For example, I practice what I call “bird meditation.” Here I use the word meditation loosely. Like one of my spiritual teachers, Adyashanti, I consider this practice a form of silent sitting. Most often the notion of meditation is tied to a rigorous practice utilizing breath and body with a desired outcome in mind. Typically “enlightenment” or freedom from some sort of emotional or mental anguish, or suffering, etc. For Adya this is another form of striving much like anything we undertake in our lives which only adds to our suffering. Here, the ego strives for control which ultimately leads to more feelings of failure and self-criticism. Instead, this silent sitting, or bird meditation in my example, allows for simply letting everything be as it is with no striving. You cannot “fail” with this practice. You are simply present to all that is around you, within and without including the Creation, the earth, which is holy and worthy of our reverence.
In the morning, I spend forty-five minutes to an hour silently sitting which often begins with reading a sacred text such as poetry. In silence and stillness, being with what is in this present moment, grounds me before I begin my work day. You may not have an hour, but even fifteen minutes a day before you turn on your computer or phone, can make a difference and bring some inner peace into your world. Try it and let me know what you discover.
For love of the EARTH!
A Beauty Blessing
As stillness in stone to silence is wed
May your heart be somewhere a God might dwell.
As a river flows in ideal sequence
May your soul discover time in presence.
As the moon absolves the dark of resistance
May thought-light console your mind with brightness.
As the breath of light awakens colour
May the dawn anoint your eyes with wonder.
As spring rain softens the earth with surprise
May your winter places be kissed by light.
As the ocean dreams to the joy of dance
May the grace of change bring you elegance.
As clay anchors a tree in light and wind
May your outer life grow from peace within.
As twilight fills night with bright horizons
May beauty await you at home beyond.