Saturday, November 10, 2012

#119. The Church and Earth-spirituality

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Blog entries beginning with #101 are not essays but minimally-edited notes and reviews from the files I've collected over the last few decades. I no longer have the time and energy needed to sort out and put together into decent essay-form the many varied ideas in these files, but I would like to share them with all who are interested.

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Post #119 is about the enormous gap separating Church and Nature.


These notes date from Feb, 97. About a moving book named DANCING BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, Jung and the Native American Soul, Fred R. Gustafson (Paulist Press, 1997)

1. Gustafson is a Jungian analyst and pastoral counselor in the Chicago area. He describes our current cultural situation as one of great fear and sadness: fear of the earth/body/primitive psyche; sadness at its loss. Also characteristic is our alienation from one another and projections on to NAs, Blacks, women, et al.

The Christian church bears much responsibility for separating its God from the earth, as well as for the resulting damage to the earth and the destruction of peoples close to it.

But we need not be discouraged. It's only recently that we've become aware of all this, and things are beginning to turn around.


2. What we need, he says, is to build in our hearts something like the NA Ghost Dance or the Vietnam Memorial in DC, so that we can continually acknowledge our sadness and grief, and to pray for a New Day.

Perhaps his most essential point is that we need to re-imagine the Christian story along indigenous lines: to re-think religious attitudes that separate us from ourselves and the earth. With the help of NAs and of modern science, the goal, he says, is to be able to say "All my relations!"


3. Limiting the idea of incarnation to Jesus blocks the more profound truth of our own divinity. And denying spirit and life to matter puts the human ego at the center of the universe; it makes human consciousness to be "un-consciousness of the consciousness of nature." (And people will forever fight about whose anthropocentric view is more correct.)

This problem is especially seen in the large numbers who can no longer go to church and yet have no wish to give up their faith-views. (They are not apathetic, he says, but frustrated and sad.) If body/ matter/ nature/earth is life-less and spirit-less-- even evil-- the brunt of the resulting projections is borne by NAs, Blacks, women, and our own bodies. The resulting sickness of soul shows itself in drugs, anxiety, battered children, "useless" elders, et al.

There is no spirituality of any worth not connected to the earth. Humanity is part of nature; nature includes the human. Our great need is to re-think , re-claim, re-imagine a living relationship with earth, if we are to feel at home on the earth, to believe matter to be holy, and to be committed to healing the sufferings of the earth.

The source of western religion's lack of sense of God in matter is the negative imbalance of masculine over feminine found in patriarchy.


3. The 1990 movie, Dances With Wolves, is an expression of our culture's slowing making its way back to a relationship with land/earth/nature.
The movie begins where many end: not with the establishment of a hero, but with a movement beyond the hero. Dunbar gives up the hero stance; he has little choice: it is about to be taken away when his foot is to be amputated. American culture since the 60s has begun to move beyond the hero, seeing its heroes injured by their misuse of power.

Dunbar goes to the frontier, the liminal place of confusion but also of transition to new awareness of life and self. A negative reaction to the challenges of the transitional is to fall back to the familiar, predictable and conventional: becoming dogmatic and fundamentalist, a form of inflation where the ego/culture always right.

Neither to move beyond the hero nor to fall back to fundamentalism is to end in the suicidal madness of the commander of the fort Dunbar is sent to (who "shoots himself in the foot, pisses in his pants, and doesn't even know that his soul is gone").
The need is to find the land, its rhythm and harmony, and our relationship to it: to accommodate ourselves to it. The recently widowed woman, "Stands With Fist," is an image of the anima/soul of the land that we need to relate to if we are once again to become human. The land/ nature/ body/ is feared as dark, bloody and dangerous; and is not recognized as source of meaning and value; but it itself can draw us back. The entry place is acknowledgement of our woundedness.

The rest of the movie is the unfolding of the individuation process. Dunbar dances naked, with spear-thrusts into the fire, in a holy dance of acceptance of his primal soul, and "goes native." After that, when taken prisoner to be executed, he has "nothing more to say" to his captors. A new socio-cultural division is emerging: those who love the earth and seek the sacred vs. those who have forgotten the earth and have no regard for it.


4. The task of each today, and the whole culture, is to reclaim the earth as living and soul-filled, and to redeem our inner, primal, indigenous self.

There is no spiritual life of any worth that is disconnected from that primal self and mother earth. For western religions, earth/nature/body has been the enemy, because it is seen as the carrier of death.

The author recounts a dream of being in a church half naked and wearing antlers ("a crown given by the earth itself"), and being told by a priest in full clerical garb that there is no room for that sort of thing in the church.

Gustafson says the church needs to redefine its practice and language to better reflect what its really wants to stand for, which he sees as compassion-- compassion in the fullest sense-- full identification with and an embracing of the earth.

The question is not whether or not, but with what attitudes, we should adopt NA ways. Essentially, he says, we should be silent: avoid talking, especially hyper-verbal explanations of everything, rather than experiencing things in themselves.

He says we need to be especially careful about being overly enthusiastic, and tells of a time when he was preparing a sweat lodge for some group that he especially wanted to show off to and impress. As he was about to enter the sweat lodge he stepped on and broke the stem of the sacred pipe--the second pipe he broke that week.

Also essential is that we take personal responsibility for our spiritual life, something which our culture certainly does not encourage. And we need to know that once we get on the right road, the culture has little tolerance for integrity and authenticity and will try, as it did with Dunbar, to imprison us.

He also makes the point that neither science nor technology is the enemy.


5. What is the enemy is "dimming the stars," taking an anthropocentric view that gives ego more importance than it deserves.

He mentions the dangers involved in letting our little lives become the whole universe. We need to study the psychology of primitives (since it is ours), and to know that we belong to all of creation; we need to know that the universe wants us to exist (and has a unique role for us!).

The chapter also has an important section on suffering, death, and the "give away" as also being part of life.
Gustafson feels that the growing numbers sensitive to the sufferings of the earth are in fact the voice of the earth itself, and that we can contribute to the earth's healing "simply" by connecting with it.

The book ends with a section on beauty and dignity, and a quote from Jung: "The decisive question for a person is: "Are you related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of your life."

Good stuff!


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