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Kinship - Jim Strathdee - reflection on the prayers of Bruce Sanguin

Published in “Insight ~ connecting leaders in the emerging Christian Way"
Click on “insight on prayers, 28 September, 2011”

We turn aside to see
the beauty of each other,
the goodness of this life,
and the truth of sacred wisdom that knows:
Earth to be holy;
all creatures to be kin;
the universe to be One;
and Spirit to be a flaring presence,
for all who turn aside to see.

Excerpt from “Turning Aside to See,” If Darwin Prayed, Bruce Sanguin, page 148

I live near a beautiful river that runs through a large thirty-mile-long protected parkway that is home to nature’s wild abundance – native trees and plants, deer, wild turkeys, coyotes, and thousands of water birds. Most every day I take a “prayer walk,” a trek that is part spiritual practice and part aerobics. I find “prayer stations” along the way, a beautiful lookout where I give thanks for the beauty of Earth, some rocky rapids where I stand and let the sound and the spray wash through my soul, a quiet pond for prayers of intercession, etc. Then there is always a moment where I pick the berry-like flowers of the anise plant, rub them between my fingers and smell the strong, thick aroma of licorice. I can’t tell you exactly why I do this, it just seems intuitively the right thing to do.

However, a few days ago I had an epiphany. I had been reading a prayer by Bruce Sanguin and was moved by the power of his image of “kinship” with all of creation. In my mind I know that Earth was born of fire 13.7 billion years ago, and after the land cooled and the waters came, encoded in the first bacterium, and the first creature that crawled out onto the shore, was all the material necessary to form us humans. All things on Earth are made from the same stuff. We are not visitors here. We are all kin. On my walk that day, at the moment of my little communion with the anise berries, it hit me. “We are all kin.” I went bounding around the area, proclaiming out loud to rocks, bushes and water. “We are kin.” “We are kin.” This is a good thing. Bruce Sanguin entreats us to become “re-enchanted” with Earth. We do need to fall in love with Earth again to fuel our passion to care for her.

But for me, there is a great sadness in this. All summer long I’ve had two books in my backpack, one by Bruce Sanguin, the other by Bill McKibben, the environmental scientist and founder of the “350 project,” an international effort to keep the carbon in Earth’s atmosphere to 350 parts per million. Now we are well beyond this “tipping point” and global warming is well underway. The old Earth that has sustained human life for the last 200,000 years is now gone. Devastating storms, floods, droughts, wildfires, melting of glaciers, snow packs, and tundra, and the disappearance of low-lying island nations are now the new normal. This new Earth (which McKibben calls “Eaarth” – the title of his new book) will become a harsher place. Without enumerating the social, political and economic ramifications, it is safe to say that our human journey will become an increasingly uphill struggle.

In the midst of all this change, it is vital to me that we hang on to the evolutionary spirituality and mysticism that Bruce Sanguin is expressing. He invites us to read the Earth as a “sacred text.” We can learn from the creative process of evolution that always keeps what is essential from the past in order to survive and flourish in the future. I am counting on the Holy Presence of the universe to engage our courage, creative imagination, and energy as we hunker down, simplify, find durable economies within smaller communities of care – looking after the well-being of all our neighbors and our other-than-human kin. And, along the way, may we always be open to those sacred moments of celebration and delight when we see, in each other, and in all creation, God’s blessed kinship. May Earth always be experienced as a blessing even in these challenging times.