World Water Day was March 22. I admit that I didn’t do anything special, but it got me thinking about water, life’s most essential ingredient. In California today, 99.8% of the state is in moderate to extreme drought. How do we live with decreasing amounts of water? What do we do about global warming, which is melting our snowpack and increasing evaporation from our extremely low reservoirs?
I, for one, aim to get more informed. I challenge myself to:
- * Savor water, especially now that it is less plentiful.
- * Save and reuse water. Here’s how:
- Install water-efficient showerheads.
- Take shorter showers and turn off the shower while lathering.
- Use a cup instead of leaving the tap running while brushing teeth.
- Regularly check for leaks.
- Reuse water from rinsing or boiling by letting it cool and then watering plants with it.
- Use a pail of water to wash your car rather than a hose.
- Rinse dishes in a sinkpan rather than under running water.
- Use a pan of hot water to defrost frozen food rather than running hot water.
Of course, these are just a few ideas to get us started! Joining activities to protect our sources for clean water is another action item. Water is our most precious resources, so let’ s outdo ourselves in keeping it renewable and available for all.
I pray for the earth’s healing, just as I also thank her— for pines, poppies, sparrows, and cottontails. In observing their beauty, I am restoring my own vitality, taking into my being their light and energy and balance. A cottontail knows how to be a cottontail. Hearing me, it dives into the underbrush. A cypress shares energy drawn from the sun. I lean my back against its trunk in wistful gratitude.
The afternoon passes. Before long the blush from the setting sun deepens the lake’s hues. Like pepper scattered in the sky, the starlings have taken to swirling. How do they swoop of one accord, a body of many? They must be attuned at a different level, synced in, like voices harmonizing and riffing and pulling together again.
Thank you, Gaia, for these daily miracles that offer their grace to me. Strengthen my desire to serve the whole—to cultivate an awareness of not just my collusion in destruction but also my participation in reawakening the truth that we are part of you, Gaia, one planet, Earth. In loving you and braving the consequences of defiance, we can we shift the consciousness of humanity, person by person. That is my prayer. That is my task.
“I drum for Mother Earth,” says Dionne, one of the women interviewed in Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine. Of Yurok-Karuk descent, Dionne has been a drummer since she was ten and has felt the pulse of the earth in her blood.
We all can be drumming for Mother Earth – in the drum circles that Dionne leads at herchurch*, but also in our lives, by attuning ourselves to others and by listening and responding to the rhythm of this planet. We begin by celebrating the rhythm of our own bodies as part of planet earth’s mega-rhythm. The beating of our heart. The rush of our lungs. The swish of our gait. Listen. Tune in. Awareness is the first step. And prayer is the second. “I pray for mother earth with my drumming,” says Dionne. I echo her sentiment: I pray for mother earth with my breathing. May each inhalation, each exhalation be a “thank you” borne of awareness and a desire to live attuned to those around me, all throbbing in harmony and the will to do good.
*Women’s drumming at herchurch (678 Portola, SF) is on every third Wednesday from 5:45 – 6:45 p.m. Feel free to drop by! Drumming every first and third Sunday during 10:30 a.m. Sunday service also.
Thirty-three years ago today, four U.S. church women were martyred in El Salvador. They had been working with the Salvadoran poor, Ita Ford and Maura Clarke in Chalatenango, and Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan in La Libertad. They were returning from a retreat when their vehicle was stopped by the Salvadoran National Guard at a road block. Their desecrated bodies were discovered in a mass grave a few kilometers away. Today we commemorate Ita, Maura, Dorothy, and Jean, and what better way to celebrate their lives then to continue their legacy of working with the Salvadoran poor.
In honor of the U.S. church women martyred this day in 1980, I am excerpting from Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine my interview with Sister Teresa, who continues their pastoral work in Chalatenango.
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Dressed in light cotton and sandals, Sister Teresa motions for me to take a seat in the tiny adobe-style house she shares with four other women religious in San Jose Las Flores, El Salvador. For nearly four decades, she tells me, she has lived and worked among Latin American’s impoverished communities. “For me, vocation has been very much defined as living my life among the poor.”
Still it was a big shock for Teresa—“un choque grande”—to arrive at the nearly destroyed community of San Jose Las Flores in the midst of El Salvador’s civil war. For Teresa, “the shock was to realize how far I was from the great suffering that so many people were living.” Yet one day, during her contemplation time, she heard God speaking to her inwardly. “It was a crisis but also a great revelation. God told me clearly in the words spoken to Moisés: ‘Take off your sandals, because this place, the place you are entering, is holy ground.’” At another time, Teresa recounts, “In a state of prayer, I felt Jesús come and take hold of my shoulder. ‘This is your place,’ he said. ‘I want you right here.’”
God was telling her in no uncertain terms that this community she was serving in the midst of extreme poverty, isolation, and war was holy, the dwelling place of the Almighty. “After that experience, each day I felt more dedicated, with greater commitment—entrega—because to me it was clear that the people were the face of the suffering, crucified Christ, with their willingness to give their lives for the good of all, and at the same time, they also exemplified the resurrected Christ with their vitality, solidarity, and courage.”
Sister Teresa describes the constant shelling in the surrounding hills, the periodic military incursions and occupations of their small village, the strafing of helicopters flying overhead, and the fear that these acts generated. “During the war,” Teresa says, “the Armed Forces High Command required that I and the other sisters with me report to them every two weeks. When we left the community to go report ourselves, the people entered into a state of fear. When we returned, they shouted, ‘Ay! The sisters have returned!’” Teresa laughs. “We didn’t feel that it was really about us, but rather that the people felt this presence of God that for them was tangible with our reappearance.” The people also perceived God’s accompaniment, Teresa says, in the miracles they witnessed as they survived attack after attack on their community.
She stretches out her hand and places it on the flower-dappled tablecloth. “This is my experience of God, in the people who are an expression of the incarnate Christ. In the midst of the war, the people here showed joy, solidarity, and compassion. They were available to one another. When terrible things happened, they were afraid; they wept and trembled, but nothing stopped them from having faith and moving forward. It was an experience that changed my way of being.”
Teresa ducks her gray head slightly before revealing her affluent background. “See, I am from the bourgeoisie in my country, and I was able to study. But my greatest education has been the poor, to see their living conditions, to feel how everything is denied them, to feel how much they are underestimated, how much they are despised. I feel their condition in my being”—her hand moves to her chest—“and their reality changed me, converted me. Encountering the poor, you encounter yourself with God in a totally different way.”
Excerpted from “Teresa: God Among Us” in Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine .
I learned from these dear friends that we receive so many gifts daily that some we take for granted, like the moment we are free of pain or the moment we inhale another breath.
But if we awake to the wonder of each day, we see that every moment is replete with grace and possibility. Gratitude flows, a wellspring of joy.
* * * *
Pictured here is Viviana of Cuzco, Peru, whose story of wonder and gratitude appears in my book, Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine
Today is All Saints Day, when all my beloved departeds dance and swirl at the back of my mind, emerging whole from memories.
They remind me to cherish each moment and live fully engaged. A friend who is a cancer survivor once embraced me with an awareness like that. Many times he had been within striking distance of death, but none so close as his battle with colon cancer. I had not seen him for over a decade, but when he saw me, he hugged me tightly and said that he cherished me. His words were not romantic or trite. They felt pressed down into an essence wrung from illness and the certainty of death—an awareness that allowed him to freely express affection and gratitude every remaining day of his life.
This message is similar to the one my longtime mentor and pastor, Reverend Gustav Schulz, gave me the night before his funeral. I dreamt that I was in his church and he urged me to join in singing the song, “Pass it on.” During his adult life, Gus had participated in the civil rights movement, the Sanctuary movement, anti-war movements, homeless advocacy, and the movement to reunite North and South Korea. His was a hard act to follow. But here in my dream, Gus was encouraging me to take up the torch and to pass it on.
So I sang “Pass it On,” for Gus in my dream, and in my waking life, I renewed my commitment to struggle for social and environmental justice. On days like today, I feel the presence of Gus and many other peace makers, and I remember to pass on their legacy of struggle and hope.