Today marks the third Sunday in Advent and the 6th night of Hanukkah. We awoke to birds at the feeder, evidence of light snow overnight, and just a hint of the sun behind cloud near the southern horizon. The temperature is 2 F and smoke from neighbors’ chimneys slants gently towards the north, suggesting a slight southerly breeze.
Christmas and the Solstice are solar celebrations while Hanukkah is lunar. Traditional cultures in the northern hemisphere paid close attention to both rhythms, knowing beyond doubt that the fecundity of the Earth is intimately intertwined with each. Christianity took the blazing intensity of the solar year to heart, perhaps borrowing from the Romans.
In the process we lost the Moon as sacred, as goddess. I remember being in college during the first moon walk. My roommates and I lived in an apartment over a bar. An immense red neon sign flashed into my bedroom window, announcing the bar to the world. Having no TV, we watched that momentous first lunar outing from the bar, then trudged up the stairs, a bit tipsy with excitement, to homework and bed.
I lost count of how many times the commentators used the phrase “lifeless world.” I also noticed that the adventurers left quite a bit of litter on the moon. I guess the idea of lifelessness and permission to trash the landscape were connected in the general zeitgeist, and apparently still are. There is this notion abroad that anything we can own is without soul. In some great leap of imagination we have equated physicality with soullessness, neatly removing agency, awareness, and spirit from landscapes, slaves, and all too often, women. There seems to be something innate in us humans that creates the other, a category very often lacking compassion and fraught with danger.
I’m looking out the office window, watching the birds flock to our neighbor’s feeder. They gather in a tree a few feet from the feeder, fly down, grab a seed or two, then hastily retreat to the relative safety of their perch. The other day a bird flew to our living room window and pecked to get our attention. We decided it was time to put out the wintertime feeder that resides on our front porch. End of disturbance. We were reminded that while birds are other, they are not that much other.
Perhaps, given our growing separation from the living world, it is more difficult for most of us to extend kinship to the birds, let alone the landscape, moon, and sun. Yet our bodies are exquisitely entwined with the phases of the moon and sun, and our very lives depend on the intricate web of life sustained by the landscape.
There is abroad in the world a growing concern that artificial intelligence may produce machines that no longer need living systems or us, self-sustaining and reproducing entities that might well decide we are superfluous, or even dangerous, and destroy us. I suspect we should be concerned. Yet, on another level, those fears are simply a description of our own collective behavior toward the Earth that gives us our lives. We, having decided that our Mother Earth is Other, have made her, and ultimately ourselves, expendable. Yet we are not as powerful as we would believe, and unlike our species, She will endure.
This morning, as we northerners settle into winter’s increasingly fragile cold, celebrating holidays filled with ancient stories of awe, we notice the world is alive and that we are graced by the presence of Others, beings who, although different, remind us of the Great Mystery of our brief, miraculous lives. May that always be so.
And may you and yours be blessed!