For The Magic of the Earth Rev. Leslie Kee
Some of you may be wondering why I chose a song about dying, especially today when the number of deaths from the Covid 19 Pandemic is more than alarming and almost incomprehensible to fathom.
Many of us are only able to take in the news a piece at a time because it is so overwhelming – and this, actually, is something we need to do, limit our time with the daily news so we can focus on what each of us needs to concentrate on: doing our respective parts to help flatten the curves of the graphs which are the in-your-face tracking of the rates of infection, hospitalizations, and deaths.
I know each of us who has gathered this morning seeking the comfort of seeing each other’s faces, reading messages in our chat boxes, of witnessing hearts crying out for comfort and hope – I know deep in my being that each of us is doing the best we can in these difficult, frightening, and unprecedented circumstances.
And because I have such deep faith in all of us, and in all our fellow human beings who are responding responsibly, intelligently, and with hearts and minds wide open — I do have real hope that, as we’ve seen in past crises, our better angels – our best selves, will prevail; and when we eventually get the ‘all clear’ our world-wide human community will learn from the shortcomings, the mistakes, and the blind spots this terrible pandemic has illuminated. And because I believe in evolution in a very broad sense, I know in the long run, humanity will have, yet again, shed much of that which does not cause life to flourish – it’s not a bad thing, it’s just the way it has been from the moment life began on this earth.
Because April is synonymous with spring, it’s a tradition in many Unitarian Universalist communities to highlight our 7th principle: celebration and honoring the interdependent web of creation of which we are all apart. For me, honoring the web of creation is a holistic endeavor because my imagery begins with the memory of a beaver dam.
Ideally, healthy beaver dams have been constructed in a way that achieves a perfect balance: the holding back of the flow of water so a pond-home for the beaver family is created; while at the same time, the dam structure itself allows just the right amount of water to flow through the woven branches so the pond does not stagnate and die. But make no mistake, even though a healthy beaver dam serves life in that it is a home for the safe procreation and raising of baby beavers, the creation of a dam includes at the same time, death.
Trees are killed in order to construct the dam; the nooks and crannies lining the flowing stream lose their flow of aliveness and so the various fresh water inhabitants, like some fish, must relocate or die; and some vegetation which gets permanently submerged does not thrive without the flow of water bringing oxygen and nutrients – you get the picture – in nature, death is part of life. This symbiotic relationship was beautifully captured in the theme song from the Lion King movie, The Circle of Life.
For me the circle of life is not like a hoop which just spins around and around, destined to be an endless, purposeless, spinning object stuck in one place. For me, the image varies, so one time it may be the rings within a tree trunk which form each year and mark the growth of the tree. Sometimes I like to envision a spiral, like a stretched out slinky, or a spiral shaped galaxy – poets and artists are so much better than I am at describing this circular nature of life, and since I’m neither, I’ll leave it up to you and your imagination!
Many of us who like think about these kinds of things, also have leveled criticism at the corruption of the circle of life, in particular, the intrusion of capitalism and its exploitation of death. Before death and dying became a source of significant profit-making, the end of your life was just that – your own, a very personal ending to, hopefully, a life well-lived.
As a minister, I can tell you one of the comforts I get when helping a family prepare for a memorial service when a loved one has died, is to be able to talk about how their loved one was ready to cross over because they had lived a life filled with successes, failures, happiness, sadness, opportunities to create beauty in all its inspiring forms, and most of all they had a life where love flowed freely and abundantly.
For me, there is such a thing as a good death, it’s what I want mine to be and I’m trying to do what Ysaye Barnwell sang about – put those plans in place so when the time comes, my loved ones will know where to scatter my ashes or plant my bones!
Because we are living in a moment in time when this horrendous pandemic is causing so much unplanned death, I believe the earth can be an ultimate source of comfort. The earth is home to the bones and spirits of all our ancestors, and so all of the earth is sacred. For those who believe in God, it is where God can be found. For those who believe in no-God, it is where the source of ultimate meaning and inspiration can be found.
We began our time together this morning calling the eternal energies and forces inherent within nature which have been acknowledged, interacted with, and respected by humans since the beginning.
Today, especially, it is important to remember that, even in times of great suffering and death, the earth is our home – it is the place for our birth, it is the place for our living, it is the place for our death.
The earth and all its inhabitants are made of star dust; and through some still unknown occurrence within that primordial mix of earth, air, fire and water – there was a spark of life which began moving and transforming itself into an endless spiral — circles of life luminating endless arrays of sparkles and glowing streams of magical light.
In human kinships, life’s spirals are infused with elements like curiosity, imagination, ingenuity, and courageous love – all the while we are instinctually responding to that eternal song of transformation which beckons and invites us to dance while we speak the ancient words once again:
Spirits of the East: we celebrate and honor the power of air, and the turning of another circle as cold winter air yields to the warm air of spring.
Spirits of the West: we celebrate and honor the power of fire as we have gathered once again to travel together for a short while as we journey toward enlightenment.
Spirits of the West: we celebrate and honor the power of water as we seek the forgiveness which comes through the cleansing and regenerative power of water.
Spirits of the North: we celebrate and honor the power of earth as we have gathered together to strengthen our resolve to sow, plant, and nurture the seeds which will become the food which sustains the flourishing of all life.
Spirits of the Center, the power of all creation and life: we give thanks for the beloved community we recreate each time we gather together to affirm those shared values which guide and fortify us – from the day of our birth until the day of our death – on this beautiful earth we call home.
So May It Be, Amyn