Becoming (again) Native To This Place

Imbolc                            Black Mountain Moon

Becoming native to this place is a phrase I’ve borrowed from Wes Jackson of the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. Wes and his researchers are trying to develop perennial food crops so plowing will become unnecessary. No till agriculture.

As I’ve thought further about reimagining faith and proceeding from the heart or from the Self’s vast interior rather than reason or sacred deposit (holy books, dogma, pronouncements of religious leaders), it has occurred to me that the reimagining process might be described as becoming native to this place.

Here’s what I mean. Until very recently, maybe the last 150 years or so, most of earth’s inhabitants lived much closer to the means of food production, but by 1900 both England and the U.S. had become predominantly urban nations. Since that the time the pace of urbanization has rapidly increased and half of the entire population of the planet lives in cities.

Urbanization added to the mechanization of farming has removed more and more people from the land, distancing far more than the half who now live in cities further and further from the earth as a productive and vital center of life. It’s no accident that the same processes have seen automobiles and roads, trucks and trains, airplanes and ships become both, as the Old Testament said, a blessing and a curse.

Compounding the psychological distancing and the actual physical distancing from the earth is the pernicious effect of the carbon fuel cycle that has been central to global climate change. In this reimagining of faith we can see the carbon loading of the atmosphere and the warming effect it is already having (along with a whole cascade of other negative effects like ocean acidification) as the externalizing, the reification of our estrangement from our home. We are so far removed from the day to day life of other living things that we can harm them-and ourselves-without even noticing.

Thus, to reimagine faith, that is to reimagine how we might discover our true position in the world (again, defined as broadly as you want), must include becoming (again) native to this place, this planet that is our only home. We must experience atonement for our estrangement from the planet. We must become at-one with her again.

Within the urbanized, mechanized, carbon releasing zeitgeist we need not an intellectual assent to the needs of mother earth gathered from books and prophets like Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry or Wes Jackson, for this kind of assent is no different from the scholastic defense of Christianity mounted by St. Anselm or Thomas Aquinas.

No, we must atone, become at-one with her in our own way, in a way that proceeds from within, that follows our heart and not our head alone. We must (again) become native to her rhythms and her cycles, to the way she breathes, the way she distributes water, the way her soil replenishes its own nutrients, the way winter differs from fall and spring from summer. Only in this way will we able to take the necessary actions, not the necessary actions that will save mother earth, she will survive our worst insults, but the necessary actions that will allow human kind to flourish here, to flourish here at least until other, natural forces wipe her clean of all life.

Only in this way can we have the possibility, the hope that our species might perform the miracle of leaving this planet for good, for other places, other planets or moons. But note, even there, wherever there might be, we will, again, have to become native to that place.

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