In this moment, is it still possible to face the gathering darkness, and say to the physical Earth, and to all its creatures, including ourselves, fiercely and without embarrassment, I love you, and to embrace fearlessly the burning world?
~ Barry Lopez ~
My youngest nephew is standing at the gates of adulthood appalled by what he finds beyond them. He has a lot of company, of all ages. But I feel particular sympathy for the youngest and tenderest among us. It is one thing, at my age, to acknowledge that I will not see the promised land in the span I have left. But for our young, too many are wondering if they will have land at all.
Ira wants to be doing things but feels the tasks are overwhelming, as, indeed, they are. Coming to grips with the multiplicity of things, too often disastrous, that we have no control over staggers the imagination and drains the soul. Yet he, also like so many, is not standing still. He is willing to step into the fray. At 26 he was one of dozens of people running in the primary for New York City mayor, on an anti-corruption platform.
Let’s begin with the assumption that creativity engulfs the whole universe and each of us. It’s not a question of becoming creative, it’s a question of enabling the creativity that’s already suffusing us to proceed more effectively.
~ Brian Swimme ~
Though it was almost fifty years ago I vividly remember the existential crisis of my twenties. Then it was the Vietnam War. The ongoing battles for civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights. Watergate. Corruption. The environment. Crises that only have new names now, if that. Some are more urgent than ever. Although I can still be visited by echoes of that time, it was long ago replaced by a life full of experiences that showed me why living is both challenging and gorgeous.
When Ira and I talk about the state of the world, I do very Aunt Betsey kinds of things. Urge him to help get his cohort to vote. Try to convince him that his clever, curious, playful self would have a good time taking his engineering degree into the new field of biomimicry. But what stayed with me after a recent visit was his asking where I find comfort in the face of our challenges.
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
~ Rachel Carson ~
I go out into nature, I said. For at least an hour every day, I am grounded, enmeshed in the earth I rose from. Reminded of the deep love I feel for the growing, rustling, blooming, singing life around me. Reminded that there are mysteries my being both flows out of and into. That we carry joy with us, no matter what our other burdens. Its readiness to leap out at the slightest provocation — a beam of light making its way through the forest canopy, a rustle of crisp, golden leaves, raindrops on a petal — assures us that joy is a state of being. A gift of the earth that created creatures to feel joy. The photos accompanying this essay are from moments that suddenly filled me with joy, paired with quotes that buoy courage and commitment.
It isn’t only the beauty and peace of the natural world that I find sustaining, though both are enormous. I also find myself inside a cosmos that formed everything that surrounds me, including my own walking, conscious, visual self. The powers governing and endlessly creating the universe and the tiny piece of it I am traversing are the same energies flowing through me, through all of us, continually creative. And continually healing.
I try to remember that it’s not me, John Seed, trying to protect the rainforest. Rather, I am part of the rainforest protecting itself. I am that part of the rainforest recently emerged into human thinking.
~ John Seed ~
This is very important. Being with the growing green world assures me that Earth is not only capable of healing herself, but determined to do so. This may mean she will ultimately shrug our clever but unwise species off her beautiful shoulders and go on without us. But it also may mean that she will rise up in us as agents of healing and evolution. This is the most mysterious and wonderful vision — that we embody the very energies that create the cosmos minute by minute.
The problem, from our very limited point of view, is that Earth’s evolutionary time frame is long, full of fits and starts, trending backward as well as forward. Given the arc of history, there are no assurances that we will be born into a peaceful time or place. Very discomforting for the human race at this precarious point, especially for those starting in life, afraid their generation may see us out.
The dying down of the zest for life is the greatest danger to the whole human venture and to the whole venture of the planet.
~ Thomas Berry ~
My vote for the best advice ever given goes to theologian Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” The answers to the question of what enlivens us, however varied, will all have one thing in common: what makes us come alive is something we love.
One of the things that my personal grief of the past two years has taught me is that love is a very powerful organizing force in our psyches. This is easiest to see when we lose a life partner, or face an empty nest after children are grown, or lose a deeply meaningful role of any kind. The love continues as strong as ever, but without its animating focus our energies float free of their moorings. In a world that seems to be falling apart, the loss of personal significance, of confidence in a future that looks familiar, of hope that we can surmount our difficulties unhooks a lot of energy from its various anchors.
Love is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mysterious of the cosmic forces.
~ Teilhard de Chardin ~
The response, over time, is to turn to another passion, sometimes to find a new one altogether. But, as we see from the bitter rancor governing our culture today, the loss of meaning and predictability in our lives can easily lend itself to choosing difficult passions like rage and hatred to fill the void. Even when we don’t choose darker directions, and most of us don’t, it can be hard to find our way to the energies that will foster transformation.
But passionate love is definitely one of those crucial energies. A friend once shared the Buddhist tenet that love and fear cannot exist at the same time. I, mothering through the wilds of adolescence at the time, could easily see how fear and love can coexist. And now I hold both fear and love for our planet and all its dazzling and formidable manifestations. But I apprehend the underlying wisdom. If we look out at the landscape and see only what is going wrong instead of what we can love back to life we won’t have the energy to do the work it will take. Anger and fear can be strong motivators, but they are exhausting places to operate from. Love is inexhaustible.
If we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper, we will respond to its endangerment with passion.
~ Hildegard of Bingen ~
On the other hand, burying our anger and fear, or feeling them and holding onto them, immobilizes us in a tangle of fury and despair. Another Buddhist tenet is to allow everything to rise, to be felt, to be released. Eco philosopher Joanna Macy’s Work that Reconnects helps people do this through a spiral of grief, gratitude, and renewal. These difficult emotions arise, she points out, from our greatest gift as humans: compassion. Honoring them allows us to recommit to our work, to the things that make us come alive. To live out the love we feel for our cause.
Don’t apologize for the sorrow, grief, and rage you feel. It is a measure of your humanity and your maturity. It is a measure of your open heart, and as your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal.
~ Joanna Macy ~
There are environmental activists and organizations who have made profound contributions for decades. There are others still in their teens who yet have lit sparks that resonate around the world. There are millions and millions of people working tirelessly to save rivers, forests, mountains, salmon, birds, bees, insects, habitats. There are people working on redesigning our built environment, solving the problems of poverty and hunger, inventing new economies. In the midst of what looks like endless turmoil, rivers are getting rights to thrive, vast biodiversity corridors are being created, there is real progress on renewable energy.
Will it be enough in the face of the difficulties we face? Will we summon the courage to transform? There are no guarantees. That’s the hardest thing to say to the young. Our efforts may not bear the fruit we long for. And yet, for the sake of those to come, it is up to us to come alive, to bring passionate love to what we want to heal, to weave our strand into the fabric of our planet. Trusting that through such love it is Earth herself who is handing us our thread.
Between the scientists and engineers, philosophers and poets, Indigenous leaders, climate activists and engaged youth, we know what to do and how to do it. We have a multiplicity of tools, we have a kaleidoscopic vision where each of us can offer up the gifts that are ours, and most importantly, we have the spiritual will to change the course of our destiny on fire.
~ Rebecca Solnit and Terry Tempest Williams ~
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16 thoughts on “A wild love for the world”
After reading the comments above, I can see I need to come back to re-read this at a more contemplative time. I.E., less fretful than three days before the mid-term elections! Meanwhile, I can update that “Hurricane Ira,” as we call him for his ever-whirlwind of activity, has moved on from his many weeks in Israel, which he ended with picking dates at 6 AM on a kibbutz. He is now in Greece, where he reports he spends “down” time playing online chess. He’ll be ending his trip helping to renovate a chateau in France.
Betsy – You know I wait for the right time and space to savor your entries and what I know will be your thought-provoking words. And this time, I’m gonna tuck this entry in with my “keepers” to reread again and again when I, too, like your nephew, feel a need to be comforted in the face of so many challenges. There is so much good in our world – so many talented, caring, compassionate people … and I am feeling heartened. So with renewed energy, I thank you, as always, for sharing.
Thank you so much, Sue, as ever. I’m saving it for myself!
Foarte interesante prezentari!
A month ago, I was at retreat with Robin Wall Kimmerer. someone asked her about hope. she said she doesn’t use the word hope anymore. She asked us what we do when our grandmother is dying? Love her more is the answer. /robin teared up- we all dis (all 200 of us!). I’m human and I’m from the white settler colonial line- and although I repudiate most of that, I still have hope. I have not lived through devastation and destruction of my culture and way of life- loving it to the end. by some mysterious miracle some Indigenous folk survived and are teaching us. Yes- love more, love Earth more, love each other more- full out. Thank you for this exquisite example.
Thank you so much, Amy. I missed this earlier and am sorry to be so slow answering. I, too, am in awe at the ability to love of people who have suffered so much.
Wow! I can ruminate on this for days, if not weeks. Amazing and illuminating.
Thank you, Peggy! Please let me know if you have any thoughts to share.
Betsey – You are such an aficianado (sp?) of exquistiness. In words and photos, both. I am so grateful for your view into life. It feels so whole to me. Makes me sense my wholeness, our wholeness, Earth’s wholeness, especially. And here’s what blows me away – that Hildegard of Bingen – how many centuries ago? – was writing about the endangerment of creation!!
Thanks so much. The idea that I add to your sense of wholeness is so rewarding! And yes, I almost added the date to Hildegard’s name but didn’t in the end. It’s a long term issue, for sure.
Oh dear Betsey how beautiful and soul-filled is this piece. Thank you for your dedication to beauty and to life.
Thank you so much, Jeanne. What a lovely comment!
This piece is so filled with goodness, beauty and truth it left me in joyful tears! Thanks so much!
Thanks, Lin! I got teary reading your comment.
So beautiful and powerful! 💚
Thank you, Annie!