I have befriended two humble, mostly overlooked little prepositions this week, and I think they have a lot to teach. May I introduce you to how important the two prepositions of and by can be when they are allowed to strut their teeny-tiny selves?
In a recent article in Sojourners magazine* the author suggested we can make a distinction between a colonialist mindset that leads us to possession of the land and people in contrast to a mindset that emphasizes possession by the land, often expressed from an indigenous perspective and practice. (You may need to read that sentence again!) The Covid pandemic’s shake up of the meaning of our lives has opened up the possibility of a whole new reset of our values, perspective and practice as well, and the tiny prepositions of and by may provide a key to how we can change our thinking and ethics if we are to preserve the planet.
For most of us with European heritage history has included an often biblically inspired, politically driven, incessant quest for domination and possession of - possession of the land, possession even of each other, from the extreme of slavery to the more common but often brutal exploitation of our labor and thus of our entire lifetimes. For most of us aspiring to be middle class at least we have gone about our lives with the myth that accumulating real and credentialed possessions will provide us with status, comfort and security. And we most likely are not aware of how pervasive and destructive this quest to be in "possession of” has been in our personal lives as well as the our political ambitions that also provided for us, often at the expense of others.
We Americans especially internalized the myth of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. And underlying the ability to be self-reliant is the further assumption that we need to be independently in possession of our own cache of savings, our own tools, cars and houses. Cooperation and sharing are too often a default position. The result is we are inclined to idolize those who have accumulated and hoarded the most, while those who don’t have the means to maintain the mythologized model are suddenly understandably angry at having their myth betrayed and resort to defining their "freedom” as the ability to resent and subvert the system that betrayed them - as in the current vaccination and masking madness.
It is not surprising that as an antidote to feeling so bound up by our western tradition of “owning” the world, I and others are often drawn intuitively to indigenous spirituality, a spirituality that is grounded in acknowledging a profound connection with the land, the earth itself, the animals, the sacredness of hills and rivers, the reverence for the air and water. I often think of Chief Stealth’s wonderment about how a human being could even consider “owning” the air, the water, the land. It is and never will be really “ours." We are all possessed by a great web of interconnection and interdependence that we must, in the most profound spiritual sense, reverence, respect, and preserve as the dependent children we are. It is fair, without romanticizing or co-opting indigenous spirituality, to be inspired and directed by the reverence and humility we observe in First Nation and other indigenous spiritual practices.
The humbling experience of dealing with Covid has reminded me how radically co-dependent I am on the earth and on other people. I could not simply take for granted I would be assuredly safe from Covid or all the other political and economic threats it unleashed. I felt vulnerable. And in spite of vaccinations, I continue to feel unassured. The mysterious and pervasive virus may continue to be, in various forms, ultimately in charge of human enterprise on earth for years to come. (And this is also true of climate change and political instability as well, of course.)
I have often felt that what will ultimately rescue us from a climate catastrophe is that we will just fall passionately in love with earth, with life here, with Gaia as our lover. When we are deeply in love sacrifices for the beloved come willingly as we feel united as one. In the mystical and indigenous traditions the unity of life gets ritualized and reverenced, and a sense of unity crates and sustains a covenant of mutual protection and support. When we reverence and love, rather than wanting to control and seek "possession of," we experience the liberating joy of being so fortunate to be conscious and alive to the mystery and wonder of life and love all around us, to being "held by" the awe and wonder of life itself..
You and I may often feel distant from that level of reverence for life. So much around us is so disconcerting and threatening. But a life of fullness and joy is available to us in spite of all we fear. We are able to believe from the bottom of our hearts, and from the ancient traditions, that we are possessed and held by a universe that offers us love, acceptance and assurances even in the most dark and challenging times. May we find the discipline to release ourselves from the demands of being in "possession of" and instead honor being held and "supported by" so much care and kindness we often can't see and know.
The post-Covid world is profoundly open to a whole realm of change. This epochal moment provides us with an opportunity to explore what kind of liberating awareness we want to embrace and follow and to share it as much as we can with others in our personal, social, work and political lives.
*Sacred Attachment” by Liuan Huska, Sojourners, November, 2021
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