Sunday, March 9, 2008

Musings: Remembering Our Place

I worshipped at the altars of mauka and makai this morning, and what a service it was!

The clouds that rolled in yesterday afternoon rolled back out late last night, leaving the sky clear and the temperature chill. Venus and Jupiter were the only reminders of darkness when Koko and I went walking, and even they were quickly lost in a wash of lavender-pink.

Waialeale, Makaleha and Nounou – the Sleeping Giant — were free of any adornment but dawn color, and sunlit-infused mist drifted over the pastures, looking like floating specks of gold.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, who was walking with only one dog, Momi, and even as I asked, “Where’s Kila?” I knew his longtime friend had passed, and yesterday afternoon he had. We talked about our ideas of the afterlife — either nothing, and the bliss of that, or another level of consciousness, with whatever it might bring. The only bad prospect, we agreed, was hell, and neither of us believes in that.

Got home and it was too nice to go in, so Koko and I headed makai, picking up a friend along the way, marveling at the abundance of flowers — the most even some old timers have ever seen — that covered every mango tree.

“Crisis blooming,” pronounced my friend, a horticulturist, in reference to what plants do when they feel the future is uncertain and so they’d best reproduce while they can.

This warm, calm weather has caused a black fungus to destroy many mango blossoms, and brisk winds could always return, so it’s still too early to tell if we’ll get a bumper crop this year. But if they hold, both the people and the wild pigs will be very, very happy.

When we got there, the ocean was all a-sparkle beneath the sun, which continued to rise as the tide fell, exposing great swaths of limu-carpeted reef above the blue and turquoise water — water that is impossible for me to resist. Black rocks near the receding shoreline were cloaked in velvety green, and the floating dark lumps that were turtles fed in the glassy stillness beyond the reef. Whales spouted and splashed to reveal their presence near the horizon.

My friend had brought an old, dog-eared book, “Wisdomkeepers,” that recounts teachings shared by Native American elders, some of them gone now, and read an excerpt from an interview with Onondaga Clan Mother Audrey Shenandoah that seemed fitting amid all that splendor:

Nature, the land, must not mean money. It must designate life. Nature is the storehouse of potential life for future generations and is sacred.

How did we get so far from that concept? I wondered, as the words of Thomas Banyacya, a Hopi, echoed in my head:

The Great Spirit made us caretakers of this land. We take care of it with our prayers and our ceremony. Now you poison it and rape it and destroy it with your strip mines and uranium tailings and power plants — all on sacred lands!

I know, from what a number of Native Hawaiians have told me, that their ancestors practiced a similar type of caretaking, as did indigenous people all around the globe, who participated in rituals later deemed pagan or primitive by those who don’t know.

Through drumming, chants, offerings and other acts, all conducted with attention and intention, they tended something much different than just the physical, something crucial that exists at a vibrational level. And they carefully and deliberately chose the places in which to perform these rituals.

As Leon Shenandoah, an Iroquois, said:

Our religion is all about thanking the Creator. That’s what we do when we pray. We don’t ask Him for things. We thank him. We pray for the harmony of the whole world. It’s our ceremonies that hold the world together. Some people may not believe that, they may laugh at it, but it’s true. The Creator wants to be thanked.

So what happens when the places where these rituals were carried out are degraded, or neglected? What happens people are no longer actively caretaking the land, have forgotten the prayers, ceremonies and offerings used to maintain balance, thank the Creator?

What happens when the dominant culture dismisses such things out of hand, ridicules the practitioners, proceeds headlong on a path of defilement and destruction, worshiping money more than life, money more than nature?

As Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons said:

We forget and we consider ourselves superior. But we are after all a mere part of the Creation. And we must consider to understand where we are.

And we stand somewhere between the mountain and the Ant. Somewhere and only there as part and parcel of the Creation.

Will the greater forces of nature correct the imbalance? Or is it possible for us now, by remembering, to effect that shift?

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