What I Believe

Written By: Charles

The Great Wheel positions us in this64b24c625ec00277fb107f0826f84764 world and affirms our part in an ongoing and ever renewing cycle of life.  This cycle allows us to see that our efforts are not futile or meaningless, but additive and communal.  In both the additive and communal senses our life work can (should?) enrich our own lives and the lives of others.  An important, even central, aspect of this work right now involves creation of a sustainable human footprint on planet Earth.

Added April 2, 2014

Tucson.  The Horse Latitudes.

The second of the three workshops, this one focusing on depth work, finished this afternoon.  Again, because of the nature of the workshops, they’re hard to summarize and it’s difficult to convey their spirit except to say it’s most like a contemplative secular retreat.  Which is, come to think of it, just what it is.

I can convey the spirit of this workshop by transcribing here the results of the next to last exercise. This one was to create a spontaneous statement, a testament, of what we believe to be true right now.  This was written following a long meditation, with no forethought.

Here are the things I know to be true:

Love forms the cross on which we all live.  The soil is the foundation of life. Our ancestors hold us up, have our backs.

The sun is a god who gives of himself wholly.  The light of the sun is holy and blesses what it touches.

The soil embraces the sun, marries the sun, goes into throes of ecstasy with the sun producing, producing, producing.

As the earth turns the soil’s embrace of the sun weakens and strengthens, weakens and strengthens and from these rhythms we get life eternal, abundant, gracious and undeserved.

We celebrate each other as moving, loving sons and daughters borne of the sun and the soil’s embrace-nothing more and nothing less.  We owe fealty to these two, our parents, our true god and our true goddess without whom we are nothing-brittle, cold, frozen, shattered.

We need no other religion, no other philosophy, no other politics than fealty to sun and soil.  They have given us what we need, they will give us what we need-unless we change their marriage to one which can no longer include the human family.  If we do, it will be the final anathema, the true apocalypse and the end of a long love affair.



A Later, fuller reflection over several posts:

fides quaerens intellectum

written by: charles FEB• 24•15

Imbolc                         Black Mountain Moon

12th-century_painters_-_Meditations_of_St_Anselm_-_WGA15732Reimagining faith surfaces, then falls back, behind other projects. Latin, books, art. This surprises me somewhat. I spent 20 years, 5 in seminary and 15 in the full-time ministry, focused on matters of faith. After I retired at 44, there was always some engagement, at times strong, then smaller and smaller though in the liberal religious tradition, not Christianity. All that investment of time suggests a deep commitment to the mystery of faith, one that you would think would keep me engaged.

And it has, if I read the trajectory of my life correctly, (A difficult task to do from inside the life, I grant you.)  but in unusual or atypical ways.

Faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum) was the motto of St. Anselm of Canterbury the 12th century Catholic who attempted to move beyond scripture and the holy fathers in “proving” Christianity. Anselm, like many in the scholastic tradition, took as certainty that the search proceeded from faith to understanding. That is, faith came first, then human reason sought to understand it.

Reason seeking understanding prior to faith defines the period of the Enlightenment and its deconstruction of the Christian scaffolding built up in the 1600 years that had followed the death of Jesus. As Anselm and others inside the church feared, a search for understanding that does not proceed first from faith can-and did-lead to knowing without need of religion.

There is a third route, one which proceeds from intuition or from inner light. It does not proceed from faith, nor does it rely on reason first, rather the heart leads from inside the human experience.

This is, perhaps, Emerson’s “revelation to us” in his well-known introduction to his essay nature. It means starting with the deeply felt, the unreasoned, perhaps the irrational, pushing aside books and dogmas, theorems and the laws.

Here’s one such thread in my own life. In Madison County, Indiana we had two main economic sectors: farming and manufacturing. We had the remnants of the great pioneer push west, now growing beans (soybeans) and corn, raising cattle and pigs, and producing milk. We also had the American equivalent of England’s “satanic mills”, huge automotive factories that employed thousands working three shifts a day.

So from young childhood the dialectic between agriculture and technology grew within me, not as an intellectual argument, certainly not as a matter involved with religious faith, but as a felt and experienced reality.

Pipe Creek ran through Alexandria. It was the creek (pronounced “crick”) that took a dogleg turn through town. In the rains that came in late summer it often flooded, putting the high school’s football field underwater. Some locals could be counted on to take their fishing boats out and putter along the 50-yard line.

It was, in that sense, wild, literally untamed. Yet its name called up not wilderness, but the factories and their waste. That it may have been named for an Algonquian speaking chief of the Delaware nation, Hopocan, who was also known as Captain Pipe, is a late learning and does not negate the long association I have between factories and the running water near my home.

Pipe Creek runs through my life, carrying in its compromised waters the tension between natural and artifice, a fruitful tension that has spilled out now in my third phase as a deep lake. In that deep lake artifice lies submerged, Atlantis like, civilization that triumphed for a time, then disappeared beneath.

Faith positions us in the world, however widely this term might be applied. Many faiths, including Christianity, posit a world beyond this one, one to which we more properly belong and to which we can retire after the last mystery has visited us. My reimagining of faith is in this regard simple. It positions us as in and of this world, the one in which we participate daily.

Pipe Creek in this reimagined faith fills the lake. Its waters rise over all human endeavor, taking them in as it takes in trees and rocks and sand and skeletons. This is neither an apocalyptic view nor a judgmental one, rather it is descriptive.



Living in the Long Now

written by: charles FEB• 25•15

Imbolc                                                 Black Mountain Moon

Conjectured illustration of the scorched Earth after the Sun has entered the red giant phase, 7 billion years from now.

Between now and the time when Pipe Creek fills the lake that will cover all of human artifice here on earth there is a long interim. It may well be that humanity will fan out from this planet, seeking a home somewhere in space, perhaps on Mars or a moon of one of its sister planets, perhaps even out beyond the Oort belt, the furthest reach of Sol’s solar wind. I cannot see that far and, though I hope it turns out to be our destiny, I do not rely on such exploration in considering how far I can see.

We know from astrophysics that in about 7.5 billion years the sun will expand in its red giant phase, its bulk then extending past our orbit. That is a sure and certain end to the planet. Before that, though, several other extinction events loom. This brief Wikipedia article outlines several of them.

These future disasters (from a human perspective) limit the time of human habitation on earth, not by theological fiat, but by the laws of physics. In that they represent the working out of fundamental laws of this universe they are neither apocalyptic nor commentary on human failing. There are future disasters, perhaps of an extinction event level, that might have the human fingerprint, yes, but even these only advance the end of human life on earth, a certainty in any case.

Considering this certainty without placing an exact time frame upon it, we can then work backwards toTime_Clock-620x587 consider faith, positioning ourselves in the world, however broadly you may define that term. We live in the long now between the emergence of life on earth and its end. Humanity is an extension of that true miracle, that enduring mystery, life’s creation ex nihilo from chemicals inert, as far as we know now, since the very birth of the universe.

Over our evolution, lengthy from the perspective of our species, but a wink in the time since earth’s creation we have developed into an animal capable of reflecting on its fate. That’s what I’m engaged in here. Does our fate really matter? Yes and no.

No because our duration as a species on earth has limits, ones we can define and foresee, even if we can not predict those limits exactly. Yes because our need to know ourselves as part of the universe, as part of life on this planet seems to be a human universal, most likely triggered by meditation on our own, individual limit: death.

If we accept (and you may not), that this world is wonder enough, miracle enough and, further, that any next world, no matter what its shape and character might or might not be, is hidden behind the pale of death and the inescapable veil created by our senses, then we must consider how we fit into that long now currently underway, the one between the creation of the earth and then life upon it and our emergence, and that certain end to this planet and its life which physics demonstrates.

That consideration will be the content of the next post in this series.

Becoming (again) Native To This Place

written by: charles FEB• 26•15

Imbolc                            Black Mountain Moon

perennial VS annualwheat

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 earthcity_urban_1200 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 DSCF1691within, 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.

Second Naivete

written by: charles FEB• 28•15

Imbolc                                       Black Mountain Moon

You may think, if you plowed through my three posts on becoming native to this place, that I’m some sort of latter day hippie, wanting everyone to move on to their own plot of land, get a few goats and some chickens. Not at all.

I love cities, their density, their bubbling creativity, their opportunity, their mashing together of various arts institutions, their unique cuisines and architecture. Cities have a distinct sense of place, they’re the baltimore oriole nests of our species, baggy, unusual, idiosyncratic.

When I argue that we all must once again become native to this place, this earth, I mean we must go through what Paul Ricoeur called a “second naivete.” That is, we must bracket the electric light, the central heating, the walls and streetlights, the grocery stores and the sidewalks. We must bracket the car, the bus, the train, the plane, the subway and the streetcar or light rail.

We need to see once again the night sky filled with stars. We need to smell once again clover growing in a meadow. Stand in the shade of great trees. Imagine the soil beneath our feet and remember that it produces our food. Wander in the wilderness and recall that once this was all there was. We must become of the planet, native terrans. We need to become vulnerable again to the changes of the seasons, to the fall of night as a time of darkness.

We must reinsert ourselves into the ecosystems of this planet, but this time in a healthy way, not as a pathogen intent on destroying all so that only we might live.

How do we go about this? How do we once again become native to this place? I’m not sure, not right now, but it’s something I think about every day. I’ll keep at it. Maybe you will, too. And maybe you’ll have some ideas about it, too.

Strut and Fret. Die Anyway.

written by: charles FEB• 28•15

Imbolc                      Black Mountain Moon

Like many of us at our age I have labs out right now, ordered by Dr. Gidday. Something comes for us, that we cannot escape and its first tracks will often show up in rows of numbers from, say, a metabolic panel. I have no reason to think that those tracks will appear on these lab results, but labs are like those little blue folded documents most of us got in elementary school. Report cards. The grades often came as a surprise, or the written comments.

Like the snow that comes down again as I write, we come onto the stage, strut and fret a bit, then melt away, as if winter and we had never been. Some find this idea terrifying, but I find it soothing. We’re not such a big deal, no matter what we might think and that’s good news. Oh, I believe in making the sort of contribution you can, I do. I just don’t believe that it will matter much. Not in the long haul. Certainly not in the future when the world comes to an end, either with a bang or a whimper.

This is neither cynicism nor depression, it is, in my opinion, a source of great joy, a clarion of freedom. Relax. Life will go on. Then it won’t.

And Then Is Heard No More

written by: charles MAR• 01•15

Imbolc                               Black Mountain Moon

Let’s paint the same message as below, but with a different brush and color. Gray fading to black dominated the last post. Let’s use blue fading to dark, dark blue here.

Life is the time between the first rays of dawn and the last, bruised hours of twilight. At its brightening life comes with expansiveness, light revealing first this and then that, all new. These are the hours of Heidegger’s being thrown into the world. We see first a soon-to-be familiar face, then faces. Realize at some point a home, then the home in a particular place. That place is in a larger frame which sometimes takes a while to come into focus. At some point we know that the 1950’s, this time of childhood is neither, say, the the 1930’s of our parent’s time nor is it the middle ages with knights and castles and it is not, either, the future. Not 2000. Not 1984.

Over the next few years we learn that our unique self will have its hour upon the stage over a certain span of time, not any we wish, but this one and this one alone. Who we are to become, what we are to do must fit into these years, years that have their own shape, their own special challenges, their own significant opportunities. We choose this path, that person, those places. They fit or they don’t. If they don’t, we choose again.

As the years accumulate and our hour ticks down, the choices become fewer, narrower. Our own history now shapes our future. This is a time of reaping, of being the person you have chosen to be, the unique mixture of your Self and the times into which you have been thrown. When the reaping is finished, our hour is up.


  1. Matilda says:

    I really like your blog and your exploration of life and Nature- some really nice things in here!

  2. Scott says:

    I chose to read from your blog this morning as my “spiritual” reading. My habit in the morning is to make a cup of green tea, read something spiritual, and then meditate for 20 minutes – this doesn’t happen every morning, but is an intention. So, I read about 4 days of your most current blog for starters. I enjoyed very much what you wrote about your trip to Idaho in the “hippo”. It could make a good beginning script for a short movie. You had me picturing what it would be like to nearly roll off the side of a mountain with family and all from a high mountain road with just a small miss of the steering wheel, and the frustration and then fascination of taking a wrong turn, the confrontation with police when “parked illegally” overnight in a K Mart lot, and the wonder and beauty of nature especially in the rocky mountain high peaks. I especially enjoyed the description of the solar eclipse and the deeper thoughts about the mystery of life, death, and the rhythms and patterns of life.

    Then I clicked onto the “What I Believe” section and read it. I so appreciate this mornings journey you have taken me on here – with the skill of your words and with what you have written here. It gives me the food for thought that my mind and spirit is seeking now.

    I also find a kinship with your beliefs and share much of your values and thoughts about nature, civilization, the wonder of the natural world and its creation and its eventual demise. Lately, I have been asking people close to me, “Do you realize that you are the very best product of 14 and a half billion years of history here in our universe and you are also the best thing that has come along since earth was created 4 and a half billion years ago – so enjoy your day today, because it took all of that time just to create you”.

    Since retiring, I am starting to have a greater need for reflection about what next and what might seem important to do with the very precious time that remains on my short stint left on planet earth.

    Your writing has fed my mind, heart, and soul this morning. I thank you for it!

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