The image that I want you to let hang out there in the back of your mind as I preach from the Scripture is “the one who prostrates himself at Jesus.” So the image of down, of down, all the way down. Step on my coat. The image of all the way down. Then get up, go, your faith has made you well. “True self when violated will always resist us, sometimes at great cost, holding our lives in check until we honor its truth.” That’s a quote from Parker Palmer. “True self when violated will always resist us sometimes at great cost, holding our lives in check until we honor its truth.”
I went to see a movie, a unique movie recently. Aquarela. Has anybody heard of this? It was at the Amherst Cinema, so like a small art movie. Aquarela. The main character in the movie is Water. She is the hero. Sheets of water, walls of water where there had been ice miles deep. We hear it cracking off. It has cracked off. You can hear that tearing of the ice-land. Then the massive sheets of ice bob up and down in the new water like a giant tub toy. Giant, giant, giant. Ice turned to water in quantities that are overwhelming. There’s a sailboat in the film, and it’s just whacked, whacked, whacked all night. There is no rest.
This film is about an hour and a half, mostly absent of human noise, except an occasional voice, an occasional boat motor, the clinking of masts and sails, the pacing of a human distraught in shock, his moans, occasionally the sound of humans trying to chip away the ice under which their friend has drowned because the ice melted three weeks earlier than usual, swallowing their car and with it one of them as they drove across it as they have done and do for years and years and years, but the ice is cracking and melted, and there is massive quantities of water. This film is all water. Immense, immense. It’s the immensity of the change that is climate collapse. Literally collapsing, the sheets of ice, familiar territories to the native peoples of Greenland home for so long, collapsing.
All the water. There is so much water. As I watched the film, as I sort of like… my partner after, like what did we get from it, it’s just like the thing that kept coming up was, for me, was “Humble yourself.” Because there’s literally these quantities of… like it’s excellent filming, and it’s also the reality. The quantities of water against which we are nothing, and the force of the water, you can’t put your hands up and stop it. It’s an aliveness, and I said, “Humble yourself.” That’s just the feeling of, “Humble yourself, Lindsey. Humble yourself.” It’s the sum of it. (singing).
“You’ve got to humble yourself to Creator. You’ve gotta bend down low. You gotta humble yourself to Creator. We can raise each other up higher and higher. We can raise each other.
“You’ve got to humble yourself to the Water. You’ve gotta bend down low. You gotta humble yourself to the Water. We can raise each other up higher and higher. We can raise each other.”
I learned that song at Healing the Wounds of Turtle Island. It’s a healing ceremony led by indigenous Wabanaki people, people of the first Dawn, people on whose land is current day Maine. A woman, a Wabanaki woman taught me that song. That’s the song I kept hearing as the water kept arising. It’s the image of the one who has been healed on the ground prostrating himself to Jesus. You got to bend down low. You got to humble yourself to Creator.
An appropriate response to climate collapse is deep humility, face-in-dirt, body-on-earth humility, because not as like a temper tantrum like, “Why is this happening?” not like, “Gosh, darn it. I wish things were just the same,” on the ground, but I mean falling to the ground because that is the true place that we can rest and stand, the ground of our being to humble ourselves because we don’t know exactly what the best next move is, or some people know what the best next move is, but we have to humble ourselves enough to let them teach us what that is because we, we here… we might not know. We hear the ways that we’ve been working don’t work anymore necessarily.
Sometimes they do, but sometimes they don’t. An appropriate and deep and sort of emotionally-needed response to climate collapse is a deep humbling so we can receive our teachers. “True self when violated will always resist us sometimes at great cost, holding our lives in check until we honor its truth.” True self for Parker Palmer is that self unified with the ground of our being. It is the soul-self. It is the self that knows that still-small voice. It is that that God in us. There have been signs, markings on the water, soil, air to read if we knew or had thought to look, if we had known the language, if we had listened like it mattered to those who know the language of the dirt and the water and the air and the body, our body, our bodies, the earth body.
I’m going to talk a little bit about, a little more, we’re going to hang out with Parker Palmer for a little bit more here. Are you familiar with him? I assume he’s sort of made his way around, but so after having made it through, so this is after he’s made it through, that’s very important. Okay. It’s not during, but after he had made it through two bouts of clinical depression, once he was out of that heaviness, Parker Palmer looking back describes his experience with depression like this.
He describes it as – – there having been a friend some distance back. Like maybe where the wall is, probably in the parking lot up there, but friend some distance back for a long time. Just, Parker’s walking along and the friend has been like back there saying, “Hey, Parker. Parker. Parker!” Mostly, Parker’s just been walking along and that his experience of depression was finally the friend demanded his attention. The friend came right up to him and with some tough love-force said, “Pay attention to me now. Listen to me. Gosh darn it, Parker.”
That’s how Parker found…. so he described it that it was ‘a friend had been there all along’ that he had ignored mostly. He had some consciousness of it, but the path forward is the path forward, and you know how hard it is to keep on the path forward. It’s so hard. We think it just has to be hard and stick on that path forward the way we’ve done it, the way we know to do it, so we don’t have time to listen to the friend that’s calling our name back there. You have to turn around, stop, “What?” We don’t do that unless we ha1ve to do that.
This image came for Palmer after he had been with a therapist in the midst of depression who invited Palmer to shift how he was thinking about his depression. Now, again, it’s important to say that all of this narrative that Palmer was able to put on it happened after the fact. You can’t put a narrative like this on in the midst of depression, so just that is important. But he’s offering this description as a gift to us here and who might be in the midst or out of it to make sense of it.
The therapist said “Instead of imagining it… ” he said the Parker, “It seems like you imagined depression as an enemy, like out to get you,” which makes total sense to think about whatever caused you to be in a state of depression, deep depression as something you hate. Makes sense. This therapist said, “Instead I invite you to,” and you can imagine someone inside of depression being like, “No way,” but saying, “Imagine your depression as the hand of a friend pressing you down to the ground on which it is safe to stand. Imagine your depression as a friend pressing you down on the ground on which it is safe to stand, the ground of our being.”
I bring up Palmer’s depression, experience, and narratives for at least two reasons in the context of this sermon. First, I think it describes some of where we are collectively right now. We are in a stretch of depression. I didn’t highlight this enough, but Parker Palmer is clear to say his depression was deep and clinical and situationally initiated, that he acknowledges there are some for whom their depression is biological-chemical almost entirely. They’re always connected, but I just want to say that for some people the situational response doesn’t suffice.
But I think that, collectively, we are in this space of situational depression in some way, and we are needing to listen to the would-be caring voice, the voice of a friend, a tough love, maybe, friend who has been trying to get our attention for a while, all of us, asking us to put ourselves on ground on which we can stand. It is a natural thing to think of this stretch of our collective time as an enemy or some version of enemy. The chaos is undesirable to say the least, but it could be… we could shift it and think of it as a friend inviting us to stop a moment, turn around, say, “What? What do you need of us? Where am I off here? Where have I gone? Help me back.”
Relatedly, the second reason I bring it up, so collectively, I think we’re in this space, and then I think individually a lot of us find ourselves in and out of spaces called or feel like depression because we are of one another. Our being together as part of our individual being and vice versa. I think it’s really critical that we allow this kind of teaching to find its way in because the alternative is to just get really angry, and that’s one of the alternatives, to get really angry or merely urgent and not grounded. If we imagine this time of climate chaos as an invitation to humble ourselves, to let the earth hold us, to sink deeper in to the ground of our being in whom we live and move and have our being, humble yourself, fall into the wild creature’s soul, the ground of being the dirt, the humus.
Greta Thunberg, are you all aware of Greta? Greta? I see lots of heads nodding. That makes me happy because I’ve preached about Greta in a lot of churches, and I am astonished that very few people know of Greta. Astonishing. Greta, 16-year-old from Sweden who has sparked-ignited a movement to act, to stop climate collapse. She’s not alone, but she’s become sort of a figure that has catalyzed things. There’s many other young people leading. Young indigenous people are leading. There are many other young people leading.
Greta ignites in me also this sense of urgency, like act now. Her line, “The house is on fire. It’s panic time. The house is on fire. It’s panic time,” that is absolutely true. But we have to be wise in our panic. We have to be grounded in our urgency. Where I live in Belchertown, there was a proposal to clear-cut some 40-plus acres of forested land to put solar panels in. It’s an oxymoron, like solar panels. Good. Do it. Now. Urgent. Panic. Yes. Good. Keep the trees. Keep the trees.
We have to ground ourselves in the truth that we know, but it’ll get away from us if we’re only in urgent mode or we will, I mean, the market is still urgent. We have to bring a wisdom to the urgency with which we respond. I think we have practices in the church. I mean, this is really an Ash Wednesday sermon in a way, but we have practices of ashes to ashes, dust to dust, humble yourselves, keep your death in mind.
Even the prayer of the anthem, God Disturb Me. I mean, that is a beautiful and counter-cultural prayer that we need to pray all the more, even though it’s chaos, like we’re already disturbed. No, but God disturb me. Lord disturb me. Let me fall on the ground and see how you activate, like disturb me, the ground of our being. That wisdom needs to be paired/twinned with our urgency. The action and reflection are twinned.
Greta… I just want to leave you with this. There it is. Because we’re leaning into Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Used to be Columbus Day. We humbled ourselves, and we’re practicing what it means to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Greta has been in the United States since the 20th of September, or just before that, and she just put an Instagram post up saying the last few days she’s been with a friend of hers, an indigenous friend, leader, “And I visited Takini School, Standing Rock Community School, and the beautiful Standing Rock Reservation. Thank you everyone for your leadership, your resistance, and your incredible hospitality.”
Indigenous peoples are at the front line. They are often the ones who are affected the most by the climate and ecological crisis, yet they are not the ones responsible for it. They’re also the ones who are leading the fight against it. We are now so desperate for their voices and knowledge of how to live in balance with nature. What is after that? May we humble ourselves to Creator. May we bend down low. From such a posture, we can be raised up one with another and do this differently. Amen.
Recorded October 13, 2019
Location: Second Unitarian Universalist Church, Greenfield, MA