The Liturgy of Home

Terry Tempest Williams

Aerial view of Bears Ears and Raplee Monocline

Flying across the southern border of Bears Ears Monument, above the Raplee Monocline. Photograph by Fazal Sheikh.

 

O most honored Greening Force,
You who roots in the Sun;
You who lights up, in shining serenity, within a wheel
that earthly excellence fails to comprehend.
You are enfolded
in the weaving of divine mysteries.
You redden like the dawn
and you burn: flame of the Sun.

—Hildegard von Bingen, Causae et Curae1

Home. The Liturgy of Home. It is the seedbed of our Immortality. The bedrock of our theologies. The Sea of Galilee. The Bodhi Tree. The Sacred Grove. Mecca. We bow. We kneel. We pray. Our bodies. The body of the Earth. There is no separation.

Have we forgotten what is essential? Hands on the Earth, we remember where the source of our power lies. We are made of dirt and stardust.

This past year, on the North American continent, we experienced a Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017. Our family gathered in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in the Tetons.

From my journal:

Sunrise. I put on my eclipse glasses to witness the full circle of Sun. The eclipse begins at nine – Totality will be reached at 11:33 a.m. lasting approximately two minutes. Now, we wait and watch in ceremony.

Birdcalls – Clark’s nutcrackers, chickadees, and ravens – the prehistoric trumpeting of sandhill cranes.

Sage, buckwheat, aster – goldenrod, paintbrush, and harebells

Cirrus clouds looking like horsetails – still a lingering haze from the fires – the sound of mountain water – Yesterday, in anticipation, I gathered a bouquet of owl feathers found beneath their nest after a short, but brutal windstorm.

9:15 a.m. No change. The sun through the lenses of my glasses is an orange burning in a sky of blue.

Remembering Emerson’s words on circles:The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second. Augustine described the nature of God as a circle whose center is everywhere and its circumference nowhere. Consider the circular character of every human action. Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn, that there is no end in nature.

Brooke is facing the Tetons. We are listening to summer warblers, white-crowned sparrows, song sparrows, and the relentless trills of ruby-crowned kinglets in the lodgepole pines even as we sit in a clearing.

“The universe is fluid and volatile.”

I feel this force this morning. Unsettled. Disoriented. Disruptive.

The Sun and Moon are crossing paths – the depth and breadth of their shadows cast – and here we are on Earth – watching, witnessing, waiting.

10:27 a.m. The Sun and Moon are dancing. We are leaving our foundations.

The New York Times reported today that because of the Eclipse, the United States will lose 700 million dollars $$ of productivity? What kind of mind equates the two? What is work in the face of awe?

10:35 a.m. Bite by bite the Moon is eclipsing the Sun. The temperature is cooling. A pair of Sandhill Cranes fly over us, so close, wingbeats register as wind.

11:00 a.m. The Sun is approaching crescent shape. My hand is fully shadowing this page as I write. The sounds of insects are intensifying, grasshopper wings become cards close-pinned to bicycle spokes, the humming of bees, dragonflies, crickets singing as though it is late afternoon. Gnats have brought out the violet-green swallows criss-crossing the sky. Warblers are disappearing in the willows; chickadees and robins are roosting in the cottonwoods.

11:20 a.m. A chill is now noticeable, the light is changing, approaching twilight. Less birdsong. Less insects. The Sun in my glasses is a Cosmic Smile – Now, only the sound of water – A stillness has arrived.

11:25 a.m. The Moon is closing the light of the Sun – A flurry of juncos take refuge in sage.

11:27 a.m. A halo of light strikes the land like an electrical current igniting the horizon now a circle.

11:32 a.m. The Sun, now a cradle.

11:35 a.m. The Sun: A burning bone and ember. The temperature drops. TOTALITY strikes. Red-tail Hawk cries out. A twilight of periwinkle blue overtakes us. A collective sigh from all the humans watching, hidden by brush on the flanks of the Tetons. We rise. We look up, each of us worshipping the Cosmic Eye – the dilated pupil black staring down at us. Totality – Total awe – Total joy – Corona: Spikes of light are dancing around the darkened face of the Sun. Nothing I could have imagined. I turn to see the mountains’ response, stars appear above their silhouetted peaks. Venus throbs with a luminary pulse of wonder. Time is ticking through the silences. Deep indigo blue. How long will this last – Please let it last. Light bursts forth, totality is over.

I want more.

The return of light makes me no longer fear death.

This blink of a moment: I could not imagine this in my life. I cannot imagine what will be my death, nor the inexplicable beauty that continues.

We return to our folding chairs in the opening of sage and watch the wholeness of the Sun return.

It is this kind of cosmic beauty, in relationship to Earth, from which we evolve and exist.

♦♦♦
 

Pinecone in a frozen stream

Yosemite National Park. Photo by Jeff Foott.

 

In the beginning was the word – The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature. . . . and manifestation of the Universe.

It is common place. It is common prayer. Are we watching? Are we listening? Hands on the Earth with our eyes raised upward? Are we creating the kind of open space where revelation can occur in the midst of our planetary education, especially here at Harvard Divinity School?

Are we as concerned with Being in the World – as much as we are concerned with Doing in the World? Are we as focused on who we are becoming as what we will become? Are we allowing ourselves to be undone by Beauty?

It was Janet Gyatso who asked me, “What is the morality of Beauty?”

I am still pondering that – She gave me a Buddhist koan.

And as I learned a few weeks ago, what kind of imbalance do I embody when I fall, fracture my nose and suffer a concussion and while laying on a stretcher in the back of the ambulance, alone, the overriding emotion I feel is relief over what I can cancel.

Have you been there?

Thomas Merton reminds us,

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist . . . .most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. . . . It destroys [our] own inner capacity for peace.2

This is our pathology as “doing” people – Which we are – If we are serious about changing the world, how might we change ourselves?

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people.” Sarah Kantrowitz shared this David Orr passage with our class “Apocalyptic Grief and Radical Joy” a few weeks ago. “But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind.” Orr goes on to write:

It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.3

What are the qualities most needed in this epoch of the Anthropocene, where the press of our species registers as a geologic force?

One of the first qualities we might seek to cultivate is our capacity to listen.

Sue Beatty, a lead biologist at Yosemite National Park offers an example4

To remember why she does her job, two or three times a week Sue walks through the Mariposa Grove, where there are Giant Sequoias 3,000 years old. Imagine what they have lived through and with. But one time when walking through, her normal pattern of thought was disrupted.

What she heard in her heart’s mind was “We are suffering. We are dying. Can you hear us?” She thought, “Am I going mad?” and she started picking up her pace. Again she heard, “We are suffering. We are dying. Can you hear us?” At that point she looked up at the big trees and she heard again, “We are suffering. We are dying. Can you hear us?”

Sue went back to her office, did her work, put it out of her mind, went through the weekend, but when she came back to her office on Monday, she gathered her team together and said, “I want a full analysis, a biological reading of the health of the Mariposa Grove.” Her staff said, “Well, we know they’re under stress. We know that we’re in drought.” And she said, “No, I think it’s deeper than that. I want a full rendering. Core samples, soil samples, hydrology, everything.”

So that’s what they did, and what they found after a year or so of work was that the trees were in fact suffering. They were dying. She did hear them.

What was wrong? A hundred years of millions of people’s feet tamping down their roots.

They could not breathe. The xylem and phloem was not happening. What did they recommend? To move all of the pavement in that grove. That this would no longer be a place of entertainment and recreation, but a place of reverence and restoration. No more trolleys, no more vans, no more cars, no more tourists, but, rather, seekers.

She took her recommendations, scientific and otherwise, to the director of the National Park Service, the superintendent of Yosemite, and it was approved. And for five years, the pavements were removed, the trolleys stopped, the parking lot removed. It is now a place of reverence and restoration, with a sign when you walk into that sacred grove of ancient beings that says, “Can you hear the trees?”

This is a liturgy of home.

Are we listening?

Do we have the strength within ourselves to slow down, reflect, and make the necessary changes personally, structurally, and institutionally to create a reverence of place where the life within us and the life that surrounds us can flourish?

To embrace and embody a “Thunder Perfect Mind.”

Restoration.

This is my prayer for each of us – It is also my prayer for Harvard Divinity School – Here, now, in this building moment – How serious are we?

Can we return to a Liturgy of Home - where the heart has a legitimate place alongside the mind – where time to reflect is as valued and expected as time to read and write – knowledge and wisdom require both. Creativity cannot exist without open space and quietude.

Open space opens minds – open minds open hearts.

We can construct together another way of being.

“There is a real world that is really dying, and we had better think about that,” Marilynne Robinson writes in Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State and Nuclear Pollution.“My greatest hope, which is a very slender one, is that we will at last find the courage to make ourselves rational and morally autonomous adults, secure enough in the faith that life is good and to be preserved, to recognize the grosser forms of evil and name them and confront them. Who will do it for us?” (236).

We must do it for ourselves.

This is my unceasing prayer.

It begins here.

This is the Liturgy of Home.

♦♦♦
 

My home is in Utah – and it is complicated – Home always is. But it is also my taproot. Where my family lives, where my beliefs were born, where my words are rooted. It is the source of joy and the site of my pain. That is another definition of home. Especially now.

What is beauty if not stillness?
What is stillness if not sight?
What is sight if not an awakening?
What is an awakening if not now?

Like many, I have compartmentalized my state of mind in order to survive. Like most, I have also compartmentalized my state of Utah. It is a violence hidden that we all share. This is the fallout that has entered our bodies; nuclear bombs tested in the desert—Boom! These are uranium tailings left on the edges of our towns where children play—Boom! The war games played and nerve gas stored in the West Desert—Boom! These are the oil and gas lines, frack lines from Vernal to Bonanza in the Uintah Basin—Boom! This is Aneth and Montezuma Creek—the oil patches on Indian lands—Boom! Gut Bears Ears—Boom! Cut Grand Staircase-Escalante in half—Boom! And every other wild place that is easier for me to defend than my own people and species—Boom! The coal and copper mines I watched expand as a child—Huntington and Kennecott—Boom! The oil refineries that foul the air and blacken our lungs in Salt Lake City—Boom! And the latest scar on the landscape, the tar sands mine in the Book Cliffs, closed, now hidden simply by its remoteness—Boom! Add the Cisco Desert where trains stop to settle the radioactive waste they carry on to Blanding—Boom! Move the uranium tailings from Moab to Crescent Junction, then bury it still hot in the alkaline desert, out of sight, out of mind—Boom! See the traces of human indignities on the sands near Topaz Mountain left by the Japanese Internment Camps—Boom!

President Donald J. Trump will try to eviscerate Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante Monuments with his pen and poisonous policies. He just did—Boom! He will stand tall with other white men who for generations have exhumed, looted, and profited from the graves of Ancient Ones. They will tell you, Bears Ears belongs to them—Boom!

Consider Senator Orrin Hatch’s words regarding the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition’s support of the Bears Ears National Monument: “The Indians, they don’t fully understand that a lot of the things that they currently take for granted on those lands, they won’t be able to do if it’s made clearly into a monument or a wilderness.” And when he was asked to give examples, the Senator said, “Just take my word for it.” This is a story, a patronizing story, a condescending story. I see politicians and my Mormon people discounting the Tribes once again, calling them “Lamanites,” the rebellious ones against God, dark-skinned, and cursed. That is their story. Racism is a story. The Book of Mormon is a story—Boom!

Environmental racism is the outcome of bad stories. A by-product of poverty. In Utah, yellow cake has dusted the lips of Navajo uranium workers for decades who are now sick or dead—Boom! There is no running water in Westwater, a reservation town adjacent to Blanding. But we are not prejudiced—Boom! If you speak of these oversights, call them cruelties, we as Mormons are seen as having betrayed our roots and our people. These are my people. Boom! This is who I am—Boom! A white woman of privilege born of the Covenant—I am not on the outside but inside. Boom! It is time to look in the mirror and reflect on the histories that are mine, that are ours.

We are being told a treacherous story that says it is an individual’s right, our hallowed state’s right to destroy what is common to us all: the land beneath our feet, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. Our bodies and the body of the state of Utah are being violated. Our eyes are closed. Our mouths are sealed. We refuse to see or say what we know to be true: Utah is a beautiful violence.

The climate is changing. We have a right and responsibility to protect each other. Awareness is our prayer. Beauty will prevail. It is time to heal these lands and each other by calling them what they are—Sacred.

May wing beats of Ravens cross over us in ceremony. May we recognize our need of a collective blessing by Earth. May we ask forgiveness for our wounding of land and spirit. And may our right relationship to life be restored as we work together toward a survival shared. A story is awakening. We are part of something much larger than ourselves, an interconnected whole that stretches upward to the stars.

These are my people. This is my home.

Coyote in the desert is howling in the darkness, calling forth the pack, lifting up the Moon.5

We cannot afford to avert our gaze.

We can choose not to look away – to “stay with the troubles” as Donna Haraway states – We can bear witness to what is being destroyed and sanctify these sites of devastation by our willingness to stand our ground in the places we call home.

We can bear witness not only on behalf of the health and well-being of our species, but all species from plants to animals to rocks and rivers and a sacred grove of trees called Mariposa.

If I am standing on the edge of a uranium tailings pile with dust devils whipping up the waste as though it were merely sediments of sand – how might we ritualize this space and honor its power, dark as it is, numinous as it is, and match the energy it holds with our own as we mark and caretake the sites for future generations, who in turn, will hold it for the future generations beyond theirs.Our protection as a species lies in the stories we choose to pass on.

On those days, when I wonder if I can get out of bed, I am aware of the limits of my imagination. But imaginations shared create collaboration. In collaboration we create community and in community, all things are possible.

♦♦♦
 

Inventory (1945)
Günter Eich

This is my cap,
this is my overcoat,
here is my shave kit
in its linen pouch.

Some field rations:
my dish, my tumbler,
here in the tin-plate
I’ve scratched my name.

Scratched it here with this
precious nail
I keep concealed
from coveting eyes.

In the bread bag I have
a pair of wool socks
and a few things that I
discuss with no one,

and these form a pillow
for my head at night.
Some cardboard lies
between me and the ground.

The pencil’s the thing
I love the most:
By day it writes verses
I make up at night.

This is my notebook,
this my rain gear,
this is my towel,
this is my twine.6

Not long ago, I made a pilgrimage to the Fogg Museum of Art. I found the exhibit, “Inventur—Art in Germany 1943–1955.” I listened to the poet Günter Eich’s voice recite his own Inventory in his own language during the Nazi Regime in World World II.

It created a pause in me, demanding I consider my own inventory from my own place in the Colorado Plateau, now under siege, a war of a different making:

This is my home.
This is my place.
Here is my valley.
An embrace of stone.

Some clouds to follow.
My feet, my boots.
Here I tend shadows.
I’ve traced the dark.

Traced it here with this
Precious water
Kept hidden
From parched minds

In the leather pouch I carry
A glass that magnifies
Things I find and
Discuss with no one.

Disappearing things
That I take to my dreams
Where no one can hurt them

When my eyes are closed.

The pencil’s the thing
I love the most:
By day it writes verses
I make up at night.

This is my knife.
This is my blood.
This is my body.
This is my stand.

Each of us has a home we naturally intuit and comprehend – We may not live in that home, that home may be taken from us, occupied, but it still resides in our memory and imagination, complete with our own inventory that becomes the bedrock of our consciousness.

Environmental issues are economic issues are issues of social justice.

I am haunted by Jorie Graham’s phrase, “the deleted world.”A quick, thoughtless act; a slow intentional act over time. Delete. Gone. Both human and wild.

These three lines from her poem “Fast”:

Each epoch dreams the one to follow.
To dwell is to leave a trace.
I am not what I asked for.7

What might a different kind of power look like, feel like – and can we extend this notion of power beyond our own species?

Not a power over others – but a power with others –

Not a competitive power – but a regenerative and restorative one.

We can both reimagine and reawaken “The Liturgy of Home” –

March 18, Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos Archipelago

Has anyone been face to face with evolution? The other day I was eye to eye with a Galápagos tortoise that had spent three months walking from the top of the volcano down to the sea to lay her eggs at night on the island of Isabela. In the slow, deliberate nature of her world, she upholds 12 million years of perfection. Beauty is the origin of wonder. What enables her to live 18 months without food or water? Does a fast predicated by drought or famine become spiritual? What can we do for the tortoise? Step to the side. Give her the right-of-way. Kneel.8

Even as our hearts break over what we have lost – the last Northern White Rhino – the last Rabbs fringed-limb tree frog – the diminishing herds of elephants, the Everglade Kites soaring over saw grass – and all we stand to lose if we choose to do nothing: Bears Ears – a night sky of stars – quietude – a stand of Ancient Trees in the MacKenzie River Valley in Oregon.

We can do something, each in our own way with the gifts that are ours.

I have a friend named Sandy Lopez, and for decades, Sandy lived in the MacKenzie River Valley outside Finrock, Oregon. They learned that land in their valley was going to be sold, it was private land, and that hundreds of acres were going to be clear-cut.

The community tried to purchase that land in a landtrust – No. The community tried to have the land traded to public, federal lands – No. It was a viewshed. It was a homestead. Hundreds of acres clear-cut.

The only thing Sandy Lopez knew to do was to go up there and witness every tree that was being cut, over months.

Sandy is a book artist, and she came home after this experience and wanted to create something – a document for her community, for her neighbors, for the landowner, and for those who cut the trees – not in a shaming way, but in a loving way to translate what she felt in her own heart.

She knew that the psalm of David, Psalm 23, mattered to her community. She made this psalm of David as a broadside letter press – for each of her neighbors, the landowners, those who did the clear-cut. And then she clear-cut the psalm – to show what that meant to her on the ground – in the world. Translation. She cut out words so that it would read:

“I shall not want . . . down in green pastures . . . waters . . . of righteousness . . .”

And so on. She took the cut out words, put them in a jar – hundreds of words, thousands of words – and took them up into the clear-cut area, and lit them on fire. That was her ceremony. That was her ritual. That was her offering.

What is the essential gesture – gestures – for each of us?

Wildness is the taproot of our consciousness. It is the place where our theologies are born, where we find not only our sense of place, but where an ethic of place evolves.

I belong to a landscape of erosion. What is removed and carried away is as powerful as what remains.

Wind. Water. Time. Deep Time.

The world we have known – the world we know now is eroding before our eyes.

Where is our grief?

Aerial view of graded coal and oil wells

Graded coal and oil wells at the Huntington Power Plant, Utah. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency imposed a reduction of 10,000 tons per annum of the haze-forming nitrogen oxide emissions that threaten the wilderness and national parks. In response, the state and the company sued the EPA to block the plan, winning a stay from the court. Photograph: Fazal Sheikh, from Exposure.

 

Where is our love?

If we bring these two hands together in prayer – I believe the world can change. It is already happening. I am not talking about “a cheap hope” as Cornel West calls it. But a hope reimagined and restored.

What are the essential gestures that can lead us to the sacred actions that can make change into a change of consciousness and consequence?

In the beginning was the word – spoken, sang, ecstatic, sorrowful, our blessed questions and longings held as an unceasing prayer –

This is my living faith, an active faith, a faith of verbs: to question, explore, experiment, experience, walk, run, dance, play, eat, love, learn, dare, taste, touch, smell, listen, speak, write, read, draw, provoke, emote, scream, sin, repent, cry, kneel, pray, bow, rise, stand, look, laugh, cajole, create, confront, confound, walk back, walk forward, circle, hide, and seek.

Can we recommit ourselves to not only falling in love with our world again – but continuing to fall in love with this beautiful, broken world, even as our hearts break.

Climate change is upon us, perhaps the gravest danger our species has yet faced, yet many, certainly in this country, continue to view it as a fiction, a conspiracy, something removed from us, outside, not inside. Our survival and the survival of all life on the planet depends on our response. Here. Now. Together.

What are the spiritual implications of climate change? I am so hungry for this conversation. I hold these questions in the name of community – not with answers – but with a plea, and a prayer that we might explore them together, here, now, at Harvard Divinity School, not just with our minds, but our full presence – and the urgency it demands from us with our hearts broken and our collective consciousness awakened to the Beauty and Terror of this moment in time –

This commitment and consciousness to the health of our planet is the moral bedrock from which everything else can be understood with greater understanding in its complexity, multiplicity, and exactitude.

Uncertainty is a given. So is the spiritual imperative of this Great Work. Thomas Berry writes in The Dream of the Earth:

Our challenge is to create a new language, even a new sense of what it is to be human. It is to transcend not only national limitations, but even our species isolation, to enter into the larger community of living species. This brings about a completely new sense of reality and value. (42)

He goes on to say,

The most difficult transition to make is from an anthropocentric to a biocentric norm of progress. If there is to be any true progress, then the entire life community must progress. Any progress of the human at the expense of the larger life community must ultimately lead to a diminishment of human life itself. (165)

How do we bridge a human-centered world with a biocentric one? The essential point is that we know in our bodies something is afoul.

If one species is at risk, all species are at risk. If one species vanishes, a part of ourselves disappears alongside it. We are all made of stardust.

Body – Earth – No separation.

Finding beauty in our broken world is creating beauty in the world we find – each in our own way, each in our own time, with the gifts that are ours together.

How do we create a language that opens hearts rather than closes them? And how do we interweave the revelations of science with the emotional truths of the arts and humanities into a cross-disciplinary conversation that elevates both? Call it “The Constellation Project.”

Can we rise to this moment together – Especially, here at the Divinity School – and create this Liturgy of Home called a Reverence for Earth as the bedrock of our curriculum and concern. This is not just an ecological issue or a political issue, but a spiritual one. We, here, now – can take this lead.

Can we cultivate a different kind of intelligence nimble enough to be able to listen to a language beyond human and fully embrace a litany and liturgy of home. And expand our inventory of care and ministry to include the Earth.

If we don’t – then, everything else we do is simply addressing a symptom, not the source of our pain – The pain of our separation of Nature, even our own, Divine Nature. We are talking about Creation. We are not just addressing the extinction of species – but the birth of species – the evolving miracle and marvel of life emerging.

These are not easy times – What are we to do?

There are clues in the desert – Desert strategies are helpful: In times of drought, pull your resources inward; when water is scarce, find moisture in seeds; to stay strong and supple, find a taproot down deep; run when required; hide when necessary; when hot go underground; do not fear darkness, it’s where one comes alive.

Last fall, I had the privilege of taking Stephanie Paulsell’s class on Contemplative Prayer. One of the images from that class that has stayed with me is the gesture of a human being with arms outstretched overhead – Stephanie explored with us the text “The Way of the Pilgrim” and we learned that this, too, is a gesture of prayer and supplication.

In the grove at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences behind the Center for the Study of World Religions, there is a tree in this gesture – with two large branches rising upward from the central trunk. I visit this tree often for guidance, joy, and companionship. It is also the site of my prayers. This tree is a Maple. I sought this Tree’s counsel today.

I took offerings and laid them at the Tree’s roots. I listened. What I heard in my heart was so simple:

“Our roots are your roots.” These five words.

Our drive for immortality as a species is a creation story – All cultures have them. It’s what makes us human. But, if we are evolving to a different story, one of interdependence rather than independence, do we have the courage to see our supremacy as a species for what it is – a lack of generosity and empathy on behalf of Other – as a failure of faith in the majesty of Creation, itself.

Is Earth not enough?

Can we come to see eternal life as a covenant of care for all life on this self-correcting, self-sustaining planet we call home – and offer up our shared humanity – animality with all species – plants and animals, fungi and rot, all manner of wonders who inhabit forests, rivers, oceans, mountains, deserts, and cities, by our side?

Not man apart from nature – writes Robinson Jeffers – but a part of nature. Seeing the world whole, even holy.

A few weeks ago, Judith Butler spoke of an antidote to violence that supports “the pacifists drive” – an antidote that may be found in what she termed “the organic world.”

There is a peace that resides in the beauty and harmony of Earth – interconnected and interrelated. For me, this is more than immortality, this is the throbbing, pulsating truth of life. We can see it, touch it, taste it, hear it, smell it – all around us, every day, everywhere.

This does not require belief, it requires engagement.

May Earth be our common place, our common prayer in all its diversity, complexity, and uncertainty.

If there is to be such a thing as immortality, let it be in the record of the life that has preceded us, the life that sustains us now, and the life that will survive us.

The resilience of prairies plowed under to rise again; the vantage point of mountains though removed for coal; the memory of dragonflies in times of drought; the fluid horizon of the seas, the Ancient Ones singing in the desert long after they are gone – the Earth rises again and again with the plethora of cultures rooted in the soil and soul of our geographies. This is our history. This is our future.

There is only one moment in time
When it is essential to awaken
That moment is now.
– Buddha

Our roots are your roots – Our voices are your voices – Can you hear us? In stillness and in reverence, may we now contemplate a Liturgy of Home – here, now, together.

Coyotes are howling in the desert sage of red rocks and ravens.

[Soundscape from Canyonlands National Park]9

 

Notes:

  1. Thank you to Jiaying Ding, who began the Ingersoll Lecture with this exquisite song by Hildegard von Bingen heralding Spring – the turning, the greening – evoked, invoked – finally. Hildegard believed that “viriditas” was the vitality and vigor inherent in Creation.
  2. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Image, 1968), 73.
  3. David W. Orr, “What Is Education For?” in Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Project, 2nd ed., rev. (Island Press, 2004), 11.
  4. Sue Beatty told Brooke and me this story when we were at Yosemite on the bicentennial of the National Park Service in 2016.
  5. Taken from “Boom!” in Exposure, a forthcoming collaboration between the artist Fazal Sheikh and Terry Tempest Williams.
  6. Günter Eich, “Inventory,” trans. Joshua Mehigan, Poetry (April 2009), www.poetryfoundation.org.
  7. Jorie Graham, “Fast,” in From the New World: Poems 1976–2014 (Ecco, 2015), 352.
  8. Terry Tempest Williams, “Galapagos Journal: Tracing Darwin’s Footsteps,” Audubon (November-December 2014).
  9. Thanks to the curation of Tim Gallati and the gifts of Gordon Hempton, we ended the lecture with a soundscape from Canyonlands National Park that persists – insists – that life is strong – even in the midst of oil and gas development. The Canyonlands soundscape carried us home to Satigata – through the generosity of HDS’s own Chris Berlin – which served as the benediction of the Ingersoll Lecture.
 

Terry Tempest Williams is the 2017–19 writer-in-residence at Harvard Divinity School. A conservationist and fierce advocate for freedom of speech, she is the author of over 17 books. Among them are the environmental literature classic, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (Pantheon Books, 1991), The Open Space of Democracy (Orion, 2004), When Women Were Birds (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012), and The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks (Sarah Crichton Books, 2016). This is an edited version of the Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality that she delivered at HDS on April 12, 2018. Watch the video online at bulletin.hds.harvard.edu.

Please follow our Commentary Guidelines when engaging in discussion on this site.