From Your Minister

BY MEG RILEY, SENIOR MINISTER, CHURCH OF THE LARGER FELLOWSHIP

meg-riley-questThomas King, in his book, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative  writes,

What if the creation story in Genesis had featured a flawed deity who was understanding and sympathetic rather than autocratic and rigid? Someone who, in the process of creation, found herself lost from time to time and in need of advice, someone who was willing to accept a little help with the more difficult decisions? What if the animals had decided on their own names? …What kind of world might we have created with that kind of story?

Thomas King poses those questions after sharing a completely different kind of creation story than Genesis, a Native American story involving mud and rain and animals and humans and deities, all engaged in the messy process of co-creating a world of balance and connection and ongoing, meaningful relationships which are fraught with conflict.  Not a perfect place, not a paradise created by a perfect God, which is then forever forbidden territory to humans, shamefully imperfect and disobedient as we are. Weirdly, though, as bad as we are, we’re still better than anyone else in the garden, still masters over all other beings on earth.

A sentence repeated in each chapter of Thomas King’s book is “The truth about stories is that’s all we are.” The poet Muriel Rukeyser said, similarly: “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” The Anishinabe writer Gerald Vizenor says, “There isn’t any center to the world but a story.”

Creation stories, then, are mirrors for how we see ourselves and all of creation. I will never know what it could have meant to grow up in a world centered on a creation story which is about balance and co-creation, imperfection and connection. Where no one was banished, no one sent out from paradise; everyone bickering and working it out together in community.

Like it or not, while I live on the land that once held those stories, the dominant creation story I live with comes from far away, on another landscape, where an old man with a beard is given credit for creating the heavens and the earth. Dominant forces of culture, including capitalism and militarism, took over the telling of this creation story and deepened it in particular ways. The need for hierarchy and control, rigidity and denied entry, chosen people and damned people, the earth as something that is owned, have shaped our collective psyche when we try to imagine what it means to be part of creation.

So, when we know these stories aren’t helping us anymore, that in fact they are pushing our planet to the brink of destruction, how do we key into another story instead? Not by trying to be someone we’re not. Not by joining the “Wannabe” Indian tribe, for those of us who are not First Nations people.

For me, loving the earth has provided the way forward. The Buddhist teacher and monk Thich Nhat Hahn says, “The true miracle is not walking on water or walking in air, but simply walking on this earth.”  My own love for the earth is most deeply realized in my relationship with my garden, simply because I spend the most time, put the most love and care, there. But really, any place we connect with the earth, with our feet or even with our minds, can offer us a path.

My garden has become my teacher about trust and co-creation. I used to fear gardening, afraid that it would be one more thing I would fail at. Now I see that what people mean when they say someone has a ”green thumb” is that the person is willing to enter a deep and caring relationship with plants, to notice what they need. As a gardener, concepts of success and failure are irrelevant. It’s all an experiment every day, with thousands of tiny green co-creators helping to tell a new story.

My friend Kay Montgomery looked at my garden once and said that the most amazing thing about it is that I have no idea what I am doing! I was thrilled that she understood so clearly just exactly what I love most about the garden. I have no idea what I am doing and yet—the garden grows! People are now asking me for advice, and sometimes I’m even able to give it.

Now, I know my way of gardening isn’t for everyone, and those of you who are planners would be thoroughly horrified at my process. Many people like to carefully plan out a garden before they put in the plants. And I’ve made some serious mistakes. Horseradish, just for starters. What a terrible idea that was!

plant2But for me, gardening has been profoundly transformative. It has taught me more than I’ve ever known about co-creation, trust and the joy of playful experimentation.  I am more awake in my garden, more in the community of Buddha in my garden, than anywhere else. I am struggling to move from plants to animals—starting with dogs, moving towards humans!

My transformation from living in the stress of maintaining the fiction of isolation to relaxing into the depth of connectedness, in the garden and in the rest of my life, has been messy, gradual, complex, and imperfect. I’m clumsy. My steps often feel small, too small to matter. But it is my way of participating in the process of creation, my way of telling the story of how we are bound together into one crazy, unpredictably beautiful whole.

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