By Rev. Anna Blaedel
In the 1987 film Le Moine et la Sorciére, a Dominican friar enters a village in search of heretics. He meets a woman—midwife/herbalist/healer—who cares for the bodies of the villagers. Intrigued and suspicious, he seeks her out. She asks him to teach her to read, maybe even to write. What, he wonders, could she possibly want to write about?
“Plants and rocks,” she proclaims. “I’d tell how the flowers turn toward the sun which they love.”
“One writes about God’s truths, not about plants,” the friar insists, missing the holy connection, entirely.
Systems of domination, and those individuals with the institutional power to uphold them, are constantly trying to regulate and police what we believe, what we know to be true, and what we do with the truths we carry in flesh and story and bone.
“This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors, to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns,” writes Audre Lorde.
Liberation is a practice of, instead, courageously, persistently, turning toward that which we love. To turn is to begin the work of repair.
Meister Eckhart, who was first condemned by the Church as a heretic before being claimed by the Church as a wise mystic, writes, “Is this not a holy trinity: the firmament, the earth, our bodies. And is it not an act of worship to hold a child, and till the soil, and lift a cup. And Communion, first seek that from your lover’s soul before anything offered from a priest.”
Heretics and mystics and healers and queers and prophets and freedom dreamers and liberation lovers: we know how to access the Divine when the orthodox practices around us aren’t cutting it.
“…this is what we do,” offers Andrea Gibson. “We gather each other up. We say, the cup is half yours and mine. We say alone is the last place you’ll ever be…”
We turn toward that which we love, knowing our own lives depend upon these bonds of connection and affection and care.
The Gospels overflow with events of such turning. Away from doctrinal debates, toward feeding each other. Away from religious restrictions, toward right relationship. Away from profit and institutional preservation, toward laboring in the mess of life for and with those most vulnerable. Away from power grabs and PR ploys, toward what is real and urgent and ordinary. Away from abstract theological pronouncements, toward the Divine drawing near and sharing in laughter, tears, sweat, screams, aches, and sighs. Away from fear-filled spinning, toward the lilies.
Divine truths turn us toward that which gives life, nourishes life, makes life possible for those bearing the brunt of life’s impossibilities. It is a sacred and holy and courageous practice, turning toward that which we love.
Creativity. Tenderness. Beauty. Longing. Life. Our lovers’ bodies. The body of the Earth.
Seminarians at Union recently held a chapel service, and offered their confessions to plants. “Together,” they write, “we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.” They turned toward life, and the interconnectedness of all life, and the devastation caused by ideologies and theologies of human exceptionalism, careless consumption, and callous disregard.
When doctrines and dogmas orient toward fear, shame, control, separation, or destruction, they are not of God, and do not reflect God’s truths.
This week, all around the planet, people are striking and gathering and protesting and confessing our need for urgent and sustained turning toward this planet’s entangled, endangered aliveness, and turning attention toward the climate crises and catastrophes rapidly destroying our sole, shared home. Young people are urging our collective turning. “People are suffering. People are dying,” Greta Thunberg proclaims. “Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money, and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you.” How dare we, indeed.
Robin Wall Kimmerer writes, “I want to raise a song for all of those beings knit together by the roots of prairie sod. I refuse to write a eulogy for one alone, because the very notion of separability is at the root of the crisis we have created. The life of one is inseparable from the life of another.”
You and me, inseparable. We and they, inseparable. Creator and creation and creature, inseparable. Then and now, here and there, inseparable. Divine truths and plants and rocks and flowers, inseparable. Grief over all being lost and gratitude for all we love, inseparable, too.
May it be so.