MYSTICISM AND EARTH SPIRITUALITY
Facilitated by: Marcia Huber
The following thoughts are those told through the lens of a seventy-year old Amer-European woman who presently treasures the gift of the mystical tradition and who at the same is being catapulted into chaos theory, cosmic consciousness and the new cosmology while Mother Earth continues to reveal herself in wondrous and new ways and at the same time yearns for healing.
In this brief article let’s first look at my feeble attempt to describe mysticism with the help of a few of my friends and authors. Then let’s listen to some of my story as rendered within the context of the Big Story and then locate your own religious, spiritual or mystical experiences within a larger story. From there, let us reflectively consider some questions in preparation for our prayer and conversation during our October 12th gathering.
MYSTICISM – At the deepest core of all reality is ONENESS. At the deepest center of the human experience is ONENESS with self and all of creation. “…we need to understand that the universe is the primary revelation of the divine, the primary scripture, the primary locus of divine-human communion.”1 Our identity and destiny as a species is totally connected with the pathway to and the arrival at this communion with the Holy Mystery that lies at the heart of our Being and at the core of the universe. The journey toward and residing within this “communion” is also a passage to wisdom and the dwelling place of wisdom. For many mystics this dwelling is also the home of love, a fiery, passionate love. “The fire which is in the sun, the fire which is in the earth, that fire is in my own heart.” 2
The journey of the mystic too is one that passes through darkness, emptiness, nothingness, grief and even despair to wisdom and love. As Aeschylus wrote
The mystic surrenders to the darkness as does the seed placed in the dark, damp soil. Darkness – although often experienced as emptiness or replete with pain – is filled with potentiality and fullness. Befriending mystery in its darkness can be not only uncomfortable but frightening. However, all mystics point to the fruits of this movement. I do not claim to understand dark matter, dark energy or black holes. But my intuition brings me to have a hunch that these have much to show us about our own lives, especially those of us who are on this spiritual search to heal the earth and not allow the trivialities of life to capture our attention and our energy.
The mystical passage does not end with sitting in isolation. Genuine mysticism moves one beyond self. Authentic mysticism answers the call/invitation to love oneself and to love all beings, all nations, all aliens, all enemies, all strangers, and at this time in our evolving history to love and heal Mother Earth. So, it is not unusual to find mystics resisting the status quo, mystics humbly serving in shelters, mystics imprisoned because of civil disobedience, mystics who explore space and reveal to others the magnificence of scientific discoveries, mystics caught up in the ordinariness of life in one’s backyard as they marvel at the mysterious bursting forth of encapsulated seed. There are mystics in the nursery where they are being totally trusted by the child they are caring for. Mystics are in the bedroom opening in vulnerability with a lover. Mystics, too, are there walking the seashore being enamored by the tiniest of shells. Truly, the Sacred is found in the ordinariness of life.
As one opens self to be in a reciprocal relationship with the other, one is changed. This transformational process is found in all of creation. The mystic knows she can enter into this dynamic by being open, receiving humbly and becoming aware that her mere moment of mysticism is part of a much larger reality.
As noted by Elaine Prevallet3 the language of mysticism could possibly inflate or frighten us. She presents – and I agree – that using words, such as communion, knowing the connection, and opening to this communion by “getting out of the way” might be more helpful than the esoteric words that are found in most spiritual practices. William Johnston4 states simply
Traditionally, therefore, mysticism is both gift and practice leading to that dwelling cloaked in mystery…a transformative, evolutionary and unfolding process, a place/dimension that is both transcendent and immanent, both replete with abundance and no-thing-ness, both wisdom and not-knowing. Perhaps the language of paradox, poetry, prophecy, art, music and dance might begin to articulate the reality that brings us deeply to the core of our being, to our true identity and destiny, and to the truth that our mere mystical experience is part of a bigger story.
There’s nothing magical about mysticism. Practices such as meditation, contemplative and centering prayer, sitting in quiet, moving with awareness of each gesture, allowing the Essential Self to emerge can clear the passageways to being transformed by all one encounters.
I am gradually becoming aware and beginning to believe in the mysticism of the earth and the universe. Indeed “we are the universe becoming conscious of its capacity to be in communion with the Holy Mystery that lies at the Source of our being,”5 but also the universe itself “is an interacting community throughout its full extent in space and its development in time…This is especially true as regards the planet Earth. The harm or benefit of any part is experienced throughout the entire planet.”6 As we are intimate with the earth, we will be intimate with one another. I’d like to add, as we are intimate with one another7 we will be intimate with the earth and find ways to heal her. Let’s join in the dance of life as we allow the secrets of sister spider and brother ant, the mysteries of mother mesa and father mountain, the wonders of black holes and abundant galaxies lead us to contemplation, reverence, and awe at the “numinous presence beyond human understanding.”8
— Indeed all of creation has intentionality. All of creation teaches. Allow me to share but a few of my own experiences that may lend light to the interconnections of mysticism and earth spirituality. I was about four years old (perhaps younger). It was a hot summer’s day. My family, who at that time were my safety zone, and were all gathered at the edge of a North Jersey lake. For some reason I needed to go to the house where we were staying with my grandfather. My mother gave me permission to walk up the long path by myself. As I recall, this might have been the first time I was venturing forth alone: no parent, no sibling, no friend. As I walked up the road leading to my grandfather’s house, I was caught up in feelings of fear, fascination and a sense of freedom. I looked around taking in the sights, sounds and smells surrounding me. Surprisingly, I felt like I was being swept into something much larger than this immediate environment. I had a feeling of being one with the honeysuckle, the sun, the stones, the bushes, trees and so on. It might have been a fleeting moment, but there was a sense of being at one with all that is. I believe from that moment on I kept searching for similar situations where I felt at one with all.
About 13 years ago, during a visit to New Mexico, a friend and I were in Chaco Canyon on Good Friday. We made the intention to sit in kiva from noon to three pm, the traditional time that we Christians recall Jesus on the cross. While sitting there, I had the experience of being one with the sacred earth, one with the Cosmic Christ not only on the cross but buried deep within the earth and bursting forth, his holiness united with the sacredness of the earth. This mysterious yet very real experience was so invitational that once I returned to the East Coast, I could not shake it. I attribute that “mystical” experience to my responding to the call to move from the East Coast concrete cities to the earthen places of New Mexico. The experience also made the connections of my traditional spiritual life and that of the ancient sacred story imbedded in the sacred canyons and kivas. Years later, I read a pastoral essay by Karl Rahner, SJ, theologian, who gave a theological rendition of my experience.9 This resonated so deeply that it brought tears and a deep sense of gratitude for ongoing revelation through both creation and scripture.
That experience eventually led me to Laguna and Acoma Pueblos where I lived for seven years. There, I had the wonderful privilege of being transformed by the land and the people whose stories and myths are inextricably tied to the land. Our pastoral attempts to combine both the Christian and Indian ways often missed the mark. However, the baptismal bowl made by one of the Laguna women clearly brought both Catholic and Indian ritual together. The very large baptismal bowl was made from the special clay that is found in the foothills of the Laguna mesas. The paint used to inscribe images on the bowl come from the indigenous plants. The images themselves were made with a yucca frond. When the person – most often a child - is immersed in the bowl, she is both immersed in Mother Earth and in the baptismal waters. I share this image as one that has meant so much to me and indicates the mysticism inherent in the sacredness of traditional story, waters of baptism and honoring Mother Earth’s gift.
Recall for yourself a time in your youth where you unmistakably knew you were part of something much bigger than yourself. What feelings did this evoke? How has your life’s journey pointed you to return to that place of knowing, being, belonging, becoming and surprise? Be prepared to share briefly your story.
How does the earth reveal to you the mysteries of life? How does the cosmos reveal Divinity to you?
Consider a time in which you had a black hole experience in your own life, a time when darkness seemed on the verge of doing you in. Was this a darkness of your own making, or was it thrust upon you? What was your response? When did light begin to break through for you again? Name the Wisdom that emerged from that dark time.10
What in creation speaks to you of the mystical path? How?
There are a number of mystics who have helped me along the way: Jesus (as found in the Gospel of John), Francis and Clare of Assisi, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Merton, Author of the Cloud of the Unknowing, Karl Rahner, William Blake, Ettie Hillesum, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, William Johnston, SJ, Mary Oliver, Pattiann Rogers. Come to our October 12th conversation ready to share at least one mystic who has helped you along the way to bring healing to the earth.
For an extensive exposition of Christian mystics and their connections to the healing of Mother Earth, see Belden C. Lane The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).