I don’t celebrate the day when a lost person accidentally stumbled upon a land that was inhabited by others.
I don’t celebrate the genocide that this misguided person began.
I will stand in solidarity with those whose land and lives were stolen.
Everyone likes a good story. We grow up with Aesop and Little Red Riding Hood. Stories that contain some kind of moral. There are the stories of Christmas with that old elf in Red. Stories of wonder. Tales of ancient heroes and travelers. Stories of adventure. All good stories capture our imaginations. They carry us to distant lands and worlds. They, in a way, form connections between us and the characters, our past, our lives. Stories can evince within us an emotional, even spiritual, identity with our world and ourselves.
Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “it is affirmation that story is true and takes us beyond the facts into something more real.” More real than our empirical Western minds can describe. For story unveils the true world that facts and figures cannot possibly discern. Things that reveal the deep longing for that which is truly “real”. The Germans gave us a word to describe this: sehnsucht. This may be defined as “Spiritual yearning; a longing after a higher, unbroken and eternal world in which something that is adumbrated in the images of stories – and in life itself truly perceived – will be real, and a conviction that that world is one’s true “home.”
So, what is story? Why is it important? Do we have one?
I think that many of us, in the U.S. particularly, don’t appreciate the power of story. Or, at the very least, we don’t recognize it in our lives and culture. In most parts of the world there is an ancient culture that has nurtured it’s own indigenous story for many thousands of years. We can look at the indigenous nations of North America and find a rich heritage of story passed from one generation to the next for over 10,000 years. These stories were born out of intimate relationships with Creation, especially the Land. Deep roots grew into the rich earth where indigenous Nations dwelt. This is spirituality that flourishes in gratitude and relationship to each other and every part of the Cosmos. Creator God was busy building God’s own relationship with these people. In a very true sense, Indigenous people understand the mandate to steward the land and its resources.
But, what about us? What is our connection to this land, the beings who live here; the People who live here? I don’t think that we who came across the ocean have a story. Well, we do. It’s a story of conquest and murder. We hail from people who, like the Borg of Star Trek, came to assimilate anything and anyone. “Resistance is futile.” Our fathers uprooted themselves and left their stories behind. In fact, I think that many of our ancient stories were lost as we assimilated another one. We took and owned the story of Israel and her Messiah. That story became ours. We even changed the Jewish Messiah, a Semitic man from the late Temple period, into a white savior with long brown locks and a Roman nose. By taking Israel’s story, her connection with her land, and making it our own we were cast adrift from any true moorings to our own land and history. And, without those deep roots to original cultures, we cast about for any other story that could fill the void of our loss. Yeah, Israel’s story helped. But, it wasn’t quite ours.
As we came to this land, new to us, we brought our assimilated story. This story formed our thinking and our way of life. The grafted connections to an ancient Near Eastern people had mutated and became a story of conquest. We overwhelmed the original inhabitants of this land through force and deceit. We stole their land and their lives in the name of our story. We then worked to assimilate these people. In the words of Steppenwolf, ‘the whole world’s got to be just like us.’
In the process of assimilation we attempted to graft onto ourselves the stories of the Original inhabitants. We appropriate what is rightfully theirs and made a cheap mockery of them and their story.
What would happen, though, if we honored their story as THEIRS and learned from them? If we let them tell their story and, if they were willing, to share in their wisdom and understanding of this land? Maybe we could be equal partners in the care and stewardship of this land. I’ve often thought about the Europeans’ so-called divine mandate to colonize these lands. What if there truly was a divine mandate to sail to these shores so that WE COULD LEARN FROM THE PEOPLE WHO LIVED HERE. Instead, we came as rude intruders who burned and destroyed. Our Christian lust and greed decimated the people and laid waste to their land.
The real sad part of this story is that we are the same as our ancestors. Nothing has changed.
We have no story of our own. We have no roots. As the French say, we have no raison d’etre. When will we humble ourselves and seek the forbearance of our Original hosts? I believe that our very survival rests in the wisdom and knowledge of these people. They have the true story of how to live here.
Can we set aside our murderous arrogance long enough to listen?
Sitting in my backyard on a warm, summer evening. A good book in my hands and my favorite potent potable on a table next to me. The sun was warm, but not too hot. There were clouds building to the West, harbingers of storms moving in from the western Great Lakes. At this moment, however, all seemed good and right with the world.
As I read, I kept one eye on the bird feeder in the yard. It’s not much. An iron post with two hooks. On one is an Oriole feeder filled with home-made nectar. These beautiful orange and black birds are like so many people, they have an insatiable sweet tooth. One cup of white granulated sugar in six cups of water. Put it out and watch the fun!
On the other hook hangs our seed feeder. A not quite cylindrical glass container with a ‘roof’ and a seed tray into which the seeds flow from three openings under the glass. We get many visitors. Besides the ‘regulars,’ the Sparrows and Grackles, (I can’t get these folks to stay away. They show up and throw the seeds all over the ground), there are Cardinals and Blue Jays. Occasionally, I’ve seen Flickers and Red-Headed Woodpeckers. And, of course, there are the Finches. The two varieties that frequent or buffet are the Goldfinch and the House Finch.
Of these two, the House Finch is the most regular visitor. They usually show up in small groups, a male or two and two to three females. The males have red-hued feathers on their heads and necks. Many times they arrive and bless us with a song before they jump onto the seed tray and collect their wage. Having been a practicing musician, I know how that works. You show up, play and collect your money. These pipers, however, work ‘cheep.’ The coloring of the females is rather non-descript. Browns and grays with some darker streaks. They don’t seem as vocal as the males. But, I’m no ornithologist. My observations are somewhat limited.
On this particular evening, I looked over the top of my book and pulled my readers down on my nose, the better to see the feeder fifteen feet away. A female was sitting in the seed tray looking rather comfortable. This struck me as unusual. Birds commonly land on the feeder and stand on the edge of the seed tray, grab a snack and fly off to enjoy it. Sometimes, they stand in the tray. But, always, they stand. All of these birds are a bit on the skittish side. Standing, they can quickly escape any threat. This female was sitting! Well, at least as near as birds can sit. She quietly nestled herself into the tray and leisurely picked away at the shelled bounty around her. For no less than five minutes we enjoyed the evening together. I, in my lounge chair, she lounging in the feeder. We were like two old acquaintances gathered in a living room. No words were spoken, but communication took place. She told me that she was grateful for the snacks. “This café provides some of the best black sunflower seeds in the neighborhood. Oh, and the millet is to die for!” I told her that she was more than welcome. “I am delighted,” I said, “to offer you the hospitalitie du maison, my dear Ladyfinch.” My still, quiet presence soothed her apprehension and fear. Her presence and posture told me that she felt secure. Even with a human in the room!
In those few moments I experienced a small taste of Creator’s blessing. I imagined a time before time when the Native People roamed this Turtle Island, a world where all of Creator’s children lived in harmony. Ours, however, has become a world of dysfunction and destruction. Fear has leeched into every cell; every molecule. We even fear and war against the sun, moon and stars. The small creatures of the world fear humans and each other. We humans fear the small creatures…and each other. We are afraid that the economy will falter, or worse. Some are paralyzed by a fear of stepping out of their homes.
Has it always been this way? Some say no. They say that there was a paradisiacal garden very long ago. However, humanity, attempting to grasp at the Divine, brought ruin and destruction. Others say that the cosmos has always been a dangerous place. The fears and phobias that we strive with are deeply ingrained in our very DNA from tens of thousands of years of trying to survive. I’m not sure. One thing I am sure of, for about five minutes on a warm, summer evening Ladyfinch and I shared peace and contentment.
What experiences have you had interacting with God’s good creation? What kinds of things cause you to fear? Feel free to comment without fear.