“We will not save what we do not love.”
Thomas Berry –
A few weeks ago I received an email from a friend who signed off, “ Miss you and life as we knew it.”, meaning when our lives return to normal. But what is the normal everyone seems to want to go back to?
Down the rabbit hole I went and soon found a book by, Matthew Fox, an Episcopal priest and activist for gender and eco-justice, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom for a Time of Pandemic and Beyond, Julian (1342-1429) lived her entire life during the bubonic plague that killed fifty percent of Europeans. While living more than 40 years in a small room attached to a church she developed a deep wisdom based upon a feminist understanding of God as Mother. She was a celebrated Christian mystic whose Revelations of Divine Love, was the first book written in English by a woman, considered one of the most remarkable accounts of medieval religious experience. Julian deconstructs the entitlements of patriarchy by honoring the divine feminine in nature rather than the profane.
Digging deeper I found the work of the renowned Indian philosopher and eco-feminist, Dr. Vandana Shiva, who has linked the plight of women to those of Nature, stating that both have been victims of male-dominated societies. Shiva’s ideology echoes the groundbreaking book by Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade, which not only documents the shift from a matriarchal society to a patriarchal one, it explains why and how this happened. Eisler tells a revealing story of our cultural origins, illustrating that warfare, the war of the sexes, and the war on the environment, are neither divinely nor biologically ordained.
More research led me to Dr. Gerda Lerner’s, The Creation of Patriarchy. The most disturbing passages detailed the removal of goddesses from mainstream religion, because as religions grew and laws evolved, women’s position in society deteriorated until it was completely subordinated to male dominance. I also read Goddesses and the Divine Feminine , by Rosemary Ruether. She presents a study of goddesses and sacred female imagery in Western culture, from prehistory to contemporary goddess movements. Her book gave me a better appreciation of the complexity of the social forces of culture that have shaped history. At the same time it charts a new direction for finding a truly egalitarian vision of humanity that focuses on the restoration of harmonious relations between humanity and the earth.
My attentional free-fall finally settled on a Love Letter to the Earth, by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. Hanh believes that we need to move beyond the concept of the “environment,” because it leads people to experience themselves and the Earth as two separate entities. He says it’s not enough to return to normal. Life as we knew it brought us climate change, the extinction of myriad species, the loss of habitat, the over-arching exploitation of each other and nature that capitalism and patriarchy have facilitated for centuries.
Recovering our lost relationship with nature necessitates replacing the stories and assumptions that are deeply embedded in our collective psyche. According to ta recent study by the United Nations, biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history. We clear forests and remove habitat, forcing wildlife closer to humans. Along with habitat loss, shifting climates are causing wildlife to migrate to new places, where they interact with other species they haven’t previously encountered, which in turn increases the risk of new diseases. Covid-19 is the latest virus arising from our friction with nature. Despite all our technological brilliance and intellectual aptitude we are starting to recognize that, unless we make peace with Mother Earth, she is going to erase us.
My grandmother bequeathed to me a feminist ideology of how the world actually worked. Born in 1901 she was only 4 when a typhoid fever epidemic broke out in New York City where she grew up. Her 15th birthday marked the beginning of World War I began. Twenty-two million people died. When she was 17, the Spanish Flu pandemic broke out and lasted until her 21st birthday, claiming the lives of fifty million people. She marched for birth control and women’s suffrage. By her 30th birthday the Great Depression set in. She turned 41 at the start of World War II. Seventy-five million people perished. In 1949 the last outbreak of small pox in the U.S. was recorded, but by then it had already killed 300 million people world-wide. From her birth until she was 55 she feared polio epidemics every summer. When she was 50 the Korean War began. Nearly five million people died. At age 60 the Vietnam War began and didn’t end until 14 years later. Over 1 million people died. And one year later she held her breath through the Cuban Missile Crisis, when life on Earth almost ended.
While it may not seem important in the grand scheme of these global crises, one positive step we can all take is to learn from the past. Big changes start with small steps. Dismantling women’s reproductive rights and environmental protections are inextricably linked. The patriarchal system we’ve been living under for the last 5,000 years must end. If we do not talk about over population and its implications, nothing we do to alleviate poverty, hunger, disease or the climate crisis will have any impact. We need to become co-creatorrs of our own evolution, opening the door to a future of partnership between humanity and the earth. How can we create a better future without understanding our history,?
“How wise were the ancients who never lost sight of the religious significance of the earth! They used the land to the full… but their use was not an attack on its nature, nor was the ancient motherhood of earth ever forgotten… What remains is the earth, the mother of life as the ancients personified the mystery, the ancient mother in her robes of green or harvest gold … If we are to live and have something to live for, let us remember, all of us, that we are the servants as well as the masters…”