This morning, feeling the darkness of the times, I went for a walk. Although Fall is definitely in the air, the sun was bright and warm. Along the path frogs sunned themselves, scattering madly before my every step. (They tend to disappear into the background, and I looked for some time before I found one to photograph.)
Autumn wildflowers were in bloom in the meadows and along the river’s edge.
The path through the woods’ field had become overgrown and unusable, but the river path was fine.
What joy to be outside!
Near the end of my walk I found this tree, partially submerged in the river, it’s branches long since stripped of bark and aged gray. The sun cast deep shadows against the water, which swirled around the branches.
Standing on the bank, watching the water pass in a late summer laze, I began thinking about this moment in my life, and U.S. history. We are all, and each, I realized, like the tree, embedded in the river of time. Our roots sink deep into the Dreaming, from which we come; our branches support our families and communities, and the generations of life to come. Our lives are both imminently real and dreamings, the stuff of stories to be told ages hence.
At this moment in the history of the United States, the forces of greed and hatred are strong. Racism is again on the rise, along with biases against religious groups, especially Muslims and Jews. Politicians actively encourage hatred, fueling the fear and desperation of their constituents, and ignoring the real possibility of a conflagration. It is as though they have learned nothing from Rwanda and Bosnia.
Traditionally, shamans and elders are a conservative lot. They want to preserve social cohesion, good relationships with the spirits and ancestors, and the natural world. They know these to be grave responsibilities, yet feel joy in the acting on those responsibilities.
Shamans and elders also seek compassion, wisdom, and deep insight.They are suspicious of large societal change, wanting to know how innovation will serve the larger community of all beings. Often they speak out for the voiceless and marginalized, repairing and renewing community.
Of course, this is not always, has not always been, true. Shamans and elders are just people like everyone else. We are an imperfect lot. But the urge towards healing is there, the whispered longings of the ancestors, spirits, and those yet to come urging the preservation of the earth and the village.
And, yes, there are spirits who beat the drums of war, hatred, and greed. When I hear those drums I am reminded of the Orks in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Their drumming and chanting become the unconscious film score of our lives. Sometimes, even those who promise to support the people (the politicians and religious leaders) fall under their spell, or give in to the hopelessness implied by those dark songs. At such times, leaders speak with two tongues, warping truth and beauty into falsehood and hatred.
Let us stand together, regardless of our role in the community, against the rising tide of racism and mean-spiritedness. No one of us can halt it; yet each of us can speak against it. We can encourage the people to remember their roots in the Dreaming, and their total dependence upon the natural and human communities of which we are a part. We can promote diversity and complexity in all spheres of our lives, and know that without them, we are all more vulnerable, and greatly impoverished. We can insist on the right to joy, celebration, and creativity for ourselves, our children, and our neighbors, no matter their color, sexual orientation, or creed.
Most of us will of necessity do this quietly, perhaps just encouraging hope and courage among those we know. Others may have the capacity to speak more widely. We will all, most likely, like the Hobit, Frodo, give up on occasion. The task is daunting. Still, insisting on the humanity of all people, the dignity and importance of all beings, and our birthright of joy will take us far. It is also a demanding task, and we can support one another. Let us have courage, be hopeful, and persist.