Friday, January 21, 2011

Indigenous Peoples as Builders of Bridges by Emily VanLaeys

Photograph by Noah Jackson

For many centuries the indigenous peoples of the world have been persecuted and oppressed by “civilized” expansionists who observed how the natives of various cultures lived close to nature and dismissed them as “primitive.” Those who are more technologically advanced have had the technology to back up their aggressive goals; and equating technology with wisdom, have assumed that the natives had nothing to teach them. 

Now that environmentalists are bemoaning the destruction humanity has wreaked on the earth, intelligent people recognize the ancient wisdom of indigenous peoples who, in many ways, were more spiritually advanced than the Christians who conquered them with state-of-the-art weapons hundreds of years ago. 

Dana Gluckstein reveals the gift that indigenous peoples have to offer the world in her book of photographs: Dignity, which was published to support the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to celebrate Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary. The following is an excerpt from an essay by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, found in Gluckstein’s book:

“Indigenous Peoples remind us . . . that the first law of our being is that we are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and with the rest of creation. In Africa recognition of our interdependence is called ubuntu. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong to the whole, to the community, to the tribe, to the nation, to the earth. Ubuntu is about wholeness, about compassion for life.
Ubuntu has to do with the very essence of that it means to be human, to know that you are bound up with others in the bundle of life. In our fragile and crowded world we can survive only together. We can be truly free, ultimately, only together. We can be human only together. To care about the rights of Indigenous Peoples is to care about the relatives in one’s own human family.
The Indigenous Peoples of the world have a gift to give that the world needs desperately, this reminder that we are made for harmony, for interdependence. If we are ever truly to prosper, it will be only together.
And this also includes what used to be called ‘inanimate nature,’ but what the elders have always known were relatives in the family of earth. When Africans said, ‘Oh, don’t treat that tree like that, it feels pain,’ others used to say, ‘Ah, they’re pre-scientific, they’re primitive.’ It is wonderful now how we are beginning to discover that it is true—that that tree does hurt, and if you hurt the tree, in an extraordinary way you hurt yourself. Every place you stand is holy ground; every shrub has the ability to be the burning bush, if we have eyes to see.”

As a thoughtful Christian, Archbishop Desmond Tutu does not see a conflict between his Christian beliefs and the spirituality of Indigenous Peoples. Any Christian who considers it heresy to accept their gift might benefit from reading “The Canticle of the Creatures,” written by Saint Francis of Assisi 800 years ago. The following is an excerpt from this magnificent hymn of praise:

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through all you have made,
and first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day;
and through whom you give us light.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor;
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
All Praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars; in the heavens you have made them,
bright, and precious, and fair.
All praise be yours, my Lord,
through Brothers wind and air, and fair and stormy,
all the weather's moods,
by which you cherish all that you have made.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten up the night.
How beautiful is he, how cheerful!
Full of power and strength.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through our Sister
Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers
and herbs.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lessons from the Sea by Emily VanLaeys

The Sea by Peter van Laeys
I have seen the ocean in all of its moods: angry and tumultuous, happy and playful, calm and serene. When I was a child, I hated the huge, haughty waves that caught me unaware and tumbled me over and over in the sand until I could fight my way out' coughing and trembling with relief that I had escaped the powerful grip of my enemy. Still, I was lured back to the ocean beach again and again. After all, the sea was my friends when frisky wavelets darted in and out, splashing my legs with tingling salt while I leaped among them.

When I was growing up, my family lived on the Great South Bay, just a ferry boat ride from the Fire Island shore. I could go as often as I could pay the three dollar fare, or beg a ride over one of the bay bridges. In later years, I moved away, and a trip to the ocean became a rare treat. When I visit the shore with my husband and children, the exhilaration of the fresh, damp wind sends me sprinting and twirling over the crunchy sand, like the child who once feared and loved the ocean with equal passion.

I crash through the breakers until I reach calm water, where I lie on my back, rising and dipping with the rhythm of creation. The sea is my grandmother when her ancient waves roll majestically, holding me afloat as I gaze up at cloud-embrodiered skies.

After a day at the beach, I lie in bed with my eyes closed and feel the whole room undulate around me, gently rocking me to sleep. Or I might feel that I am still stnading on the shore, where the great waves finally end in a thin film of water that ripples under my feet. The sand shifts beneath my toes as the ocean sucks in the foam. Another frothy breath replaces the first as it recedes. Ebb and flow. The ocean never takes back without returning its life-giving breath.

The year after I graduated from college I worked in a dead-end job where the bnoss made me shorten my name for the convenience of our clients, and my first love stopped answering my letters. Feeling lost, I drifted with the flow of life to Yellowstone Park where I worked for a summer and met my future husband. The sands shifted and I was happily married, following my mate to a city I didn't want to live in. There I found a satisfying job, good friends, new knowledge.

The waters of life carried us to another state where we bought our first house and planned to start a family. Our spirits ebbed when years of infertility and miscarriage shattered our dream. Gradually we picked up the pieces and found hope in the adoption process. Again the shifting sands, the flow of spirit-filled life, brought a successful pregnancy; a healthy daughter.

And so life has continued. Intervals of frustration or disappointment are followed by periods of fulfillment and joy. During those joy-filled times I'm a child again, finding a channeled whelk or a bit of polished glass that a wave brought to me. When I stand at the water's edge, the sea is my teacher.