Walking

Today, I walked from my home in East Vancouver, to Mass at a beautiful Ukrainian Catholic Church off of Cambie Street. I zig zagged northwest until I arrived at a large dome with three crucifixes, each harboring either a seagull or a crow. It was a beautiful, crisp day with much of the New Years snow still holding onto sidewalks and front gardens. The city is a beautiful mix of new and old, wild and manicured, beautiful and ugly. Here are a few pictures from my walk.

img_6387img_6388img_6372

Advertisements

Sacred Groves

img_6302In the beginning, the tree of life emerged as a tiny seedling. Soon, it branched out into everything we call living: microbes, fungi, plants, animals, and humans.

We evolved with trees.

Perhaps they lowered our primate ancestors down from their bows and nudged us toward the savanna.

But trees never left us; they continued to provide us with food, fodder, shelter, tools, medicine, and stories.

They began to appear in our dreams.

They began to populate our stories.

It was here, in a forest, that Yahweh planted a garden of trees, pleasing to the eye and good for food (Genesis 2:8–9).

It was here that Zoroaster in Persia saw the Saena Tree in a vision emerging from the primeval sea, a tree from whose seeds all other plants grew.

It was here that Inanna, goddess of Babylon, nourished the Huluppu tree on the banks of the Euphrates River.

It was here that Kaang, creator god of the Batswana Bushmen, created the first mighty tree; which led the first animals and people out from the underworld through its roots and branches.

It was here that the Sacred Tree gave light to the Iroquois’s island in the sky—before the sun was made, and before the earth was formed on the back of a great turtle.

It was here that the Mayan Tree of Life lifted the sky out from the primordial sea, surrounded by four more trees that held the sky in place and marked the cardinal directions.

FIRST VISIONS

It was here, in a forest, that the first whispers of the divine spoke to the human consciousness.

It was here that Abraham wrestled with angels and beheld visions of Yahweh.

It was here that Hindu seekers learned the wisdom of gurus.

It was here that Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha, seated beneath the Bodhi tree.

It was here that Moses fasted, prayed, and received God’s Law.

It was here that Muhammad sought refuge in mountain caves and spoke the words of the holy Koran.

It was here that the Sikh Guru Nanak experienced the One True God.

It was here that Nephi of the Book of Mormon communed with angels and beheld the glorious fruit of the Tree of Life.

It was also here, in the presence of the divine feminine, that the boy Joseph Smith saw in vision the Father and the Son.

And it was here that John Muir rambled in ecstasy for days.

FIRST TEMPLES

It was here, in the forest, that we built our first temples and worshipped God without priesthoods or recommends.

It was here that Asherah, Canaanite goddess of all living things, was first worshipped.

It was here that Isis of Egypt was worshipped as the mighty Sycamore on the banks of the Nile.

It was here that the Druids passed on their knowledge, worshipped the gods, and sacrificed human flesh.

It was also here, in the forest, that, after civilization blossomed, we looked for inspiration. Temples of stone with their pillars, columns, and cathedral arches all resembled the trunks of trees, carrying the eye upward to God. But these temples of stone limited God to one place, one people, one faith. It was here that we fell from universal grace.

FALL

It was here that Adam and Eve fell.

It was here that civilization expanded.

It was here that we logged, burned, mined, clear-cut, developed.

It was here that the old stories were forgotten and new ones were written; stories in which creation was no longer sacred, enchanted, animate, or subjective.

RETURN

In an age of climate change, extinction, and corporate tyranny, it is here, to the forest that we must return.

Not only as skiers, hikers, campers, birders, hunters, and foresters, but as devotees.

Because it is here that we see the universe in microcosm; where we get our bearings.

It is here that creation awes.

It is here that we experience the divine.

It is here that we can bring our questions.

It is here that we can experience mystical solitude.

It is here that we are now.

To return to the forest, we must become familiar with it. Go to a mountain grove and take off your shoes. Once you are comfortable and alone, close your eyes. Begin by focusing on feeling—as a tree might—the sun, the wind, the earth beneath your toes.

If you wish, stretch your arms up and out like branches seeking the light.

Imagine drinking the sun in as food.

Focus on your breath by letting the clean air pass through your nostrils and fill your lungs.

Feel your lungs slowly empty as your body expels carbon dioxide.

Feel your lungs slowly fill with oxygen.

Focus on the entire process of breathing and how each moment changes.

In and out.

Imagine that oxygen, produced in the leaves of these very trees gently being pushed from the leaf’s stomata, wafting through this space, and entering our lungs.

As you breathe out, imagine the CO2 wafting in the air and entering the stomata of the leaves, powering the cycle of photosynthesis.

In and out.

The air becomes us, becomes them.

It is a sacrament; we take it upon us, into us, and they upon themselves.

As the trees breathe out, we breathe in.

We are their lungs and they are ours.

In and out.

This is not a supernatural idea; it is an ecological reality.

May we dwell in this reality!

Thomas Merton once said:

We are already one.

But we imagine that we are not.

And what we have to recover is our original unity.

What we have to be is what we are.

I offer you this prayer: Forest! May we sustain you as you sustain us!

Think of this prayer, whisper this prayer, or shout this prayer when you are grateful for what a place has given you: a forest, a body of water, a desert, a garden.

img_6306

I remember the first time I realized that God not only created the world, but was immanent to it as well.

It was like staring at one of those paintings where an image of a tree or something is hiding, and it suddenly coming into view.

I was searching for God my whole life, but had been staring her in the face all along.

img_6302

Theodicy in “The 100”

logo_of_the_100

Source: Wikipedia

Vancouver has recently seen a very unusual arctic front that has not only dropped several inches of snow, but has plunged temperatures below freezing, turning streets and sidewalks into slick ice skating rinks. and leaving city officials totally unprepared for even a basic response.

In this winter weather, before the holidays, I spent a lot of time inside binge watching a TV series on Netflix called “The 100.” Though the post-apocalyptic sci-fi is set in Northeastern United States, it was filmed right here in Vancouver and our surrounding forestlands. It was strange to watch the characters navigate both real and virtual reality terrain in my own city and the places where I frequently hike.

For those who have not seen it, the show opens in space, where several hundred survivors of an earthly nuclear war are living in an international space station, that is running out of oxygen 97 years after the bombs go off. The martial law of survival means that any serious crime is a capital crime and thus one hundred young prisoners are selected for a secret experiment. They are sent to earth to see if it is survivable. The meat of the show unfolds in what and who they find when they get to the surface. The characters are a bit shallow, and the dialogue is sometimes thin, but the highlights several strong women characters and had some very interesting commentary on religion.

The culminating conflict, which is led up to by the many subplot conflicts between warring “Skycrew,” “Grounders,” “Reapers,” and the radiation sensitive residents of a bunker in Mount Weather, takes place between the central ‘Savior’ figure and the artificial intelligence program named Alie, who set of the initial nuclear holocaust 97 years earlier. The program, which was designed to make life better for human beings, used an ice cold logic to deduce that the way to solve overpopulation was to lower earth’s population. Equally calculating, the program designed a software which is implanted in humans by swallowing a communion-wafer shaped chip and transports human consciousness to a virtual world called “The City of Lights” with no suffering, pain or war. Devotees of the City of Lights are easily controlled by the AI, and they are in the process of “chipping” everyone, when a small group led by the main character, Clarke Griffin, played by Eliza Taylor, conspire to defeat the AI and liberate the people who are chipped. To do so however, Clarke must find the virtual kill switch located in the City of Lights. To do this she must implant in her brain a single copy of the second version of the software which was passed down by the original designer of the AI, and also take the wafer so she can get into the City of Lights.

Confused yet? To get all the details, I would recommend watching, but I wanted to point out what I perceive to be a misrepresentation of religion. The City of Lights, and the genocidal AI, are clearly a swipe at organized religion, which seeks to force a kind of conformity on all of humanity, regardless of the consequences. This fundamentalist focus on the ends over the means, is certainly evident in some strands of militant terror. But on the whole, it confuses what religion is actually “designed” to do in the first place.

Under the influence of the AI, “Chipped” people do not feel pain. In addition, they soon forget all of their traumatic and painful memories. No pain, no suffering. At one point, Abbey (not yet chipped), who is a doctor, asks her “chipped” assistant if he remembers his mother’s name. He can’t remember, because she died in his arms, and that was the reason he became a doctor. In a clear teaching moment, the writers are communicating the importance of at least some suffering, pain and grief in making us who we are.

But what I do not like is that the writers seem to be saying that we have a choice between the myths of religion, and the pain of reality, and that we should chose the, though darker, harsher, at least reality of a world of suffering. Religion peddles in fantasy, and though we may be all alone in the cosmos, at least we are facing this reality head on without some kind of “opiate” to numb the pain. In the final showdown between Clarke and the AI, Clarke is tempted to allow the AI to survive. This “last temptation” moment, seems to pit the almost hopeless situation her people face in the harsh world outside, with the virtual salvation presented by Alie.

Watching the post-apocalyptic cast of The 100 run around the forests where I often hike; being in Vancouver for a historical election upset in the US, and the strange arctic weather, I can’t help thinking of dramatic changes coming to the world. Certainly religion could be seen as an escape from this uncertainty.

But in my view, the makers of The 100 get religion wrong. We do not face a choice between the opiate of religion, or the sting of a harsh reality. Religion is not just that which promises us a life after life itself. Religion, with its root meaning ‘to bind together,’ is precisely that which allows us to be most awake to and most resilient in the face of immediate circumstances that seem insurmountable. As Clarke wisely discerns as she decides whether to throw the kill switch, pain is not something we seek to ease, it is something we endure for our good. In Christianity, the central figure, a man nailed to a cross, writhing in pain, suffering is precisely that which allows us to change.

So while I would certainly recommend The 100 to the Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi crowd, it doesn’t make for very good commentary if it insists that religion is only an escape from reality rather than a tool for engaging it.