[photo of Blue Lake near Mt. Audubon by Brent T. Ladd]
Recently I read and rumbled with a book titled, Order of the Sacred Earth by religious scholar and spiritual elder Matthew Fox and friends. The subtitle is “An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action”. Fox has been a ‘book elder’ to me, as he has inspired me and taught me to think and be with spirituality and religion and the Earth in ways that are healing and life expanding. However, I was suspicious of the word “Order” as a way of describing the entire theme of the book. I did not like the ideas that word conjured up in my mind at all. The word “Order” seemed to me to speak of being “like a cult” and perhaps predicated upon a bunch of rigid monastic-like rules coming down through some authoritarian hierarchy. What I’ve learned is that a sacred Order is not a religion at all – and in many cases, throughout history, sacred Orders took the best of what was still alive and beautiful from a religion and nurtured it and tried to build something even more beautiful. This is like thinking about what you would save from your house if it were burning. Especially if we think about our modern religions and our society and democracy that currently is like a house on fire, and asking ourselves – what is worthy of rescuing from the burning building and carrying with us on our backs from which to build a better tomorrow?
So, as I read in the Order of the Sacred Earth what is being proposed has no restrictions or rules, except to consider taking a vow of being the best lover (mystic) and defender (warrior) of the Earth that I can be.” Taking a vow like this first struck me as asking too much. And, I was at the same time leery of taking such a vow, as well as intrigued by it – like, how can I take this vow when I’m not probably living up to this ideal in the first place (the ‘I’m not enough’ voice speaking), AND, at the same time a feeling of wow, this vow is simple, elegant, and really hits the nail on the head. But, can I really live up to it?
I’ve realized that what is being proposed by the authors is to bring oneself to this vow in a personal way that is true to each person and where they are in life right now – always with room to grow. No judgment needed (self-judgment or judgment from others). But, that is the crux of this kind of fear – that ‘others will judge me for not doing enough, not being enough, etc., …so I won’t expose myself to that judgment by not contributing or showing up at all’. Yet, we all know somewhere inside ourselves we are also apt to harshly judge ourselves. The “be the best that I can be” vow asks of us ‘who are you and what are you drawn towards that you might engage in or already are engaged in that makes you a lover of Earth, and a defender of Earth AS YOU DEFINE IT’. Let it be enough, for you are enough. Let it be enough for others as they define it, for they are enough.
The reality is that we do judge ourselves (something we can work on and have full jurisdiction over), and others do judge us as individuals. Every day, all the time. One way we can ‘rumble with this’, as social scientist Brene´Brown demonstrates, is to understand that judgment and criticism from others falls into two basic categories. By putting yourself ‘out there’ – showing up, being vulnerable in order to be your best, and putting yourself “into the arena” means you will at some point seriously get your butt kicked, you will at some point fail and you will receive criticism. Lean in and get curious about the criticism. Is the person sharing this criticism with you also down in the arena, vulnerable and exposed and doing their best? Or is the person chucking insults at you from the cheap seats? Because if they are in the ‘cheap seats’ and are not also hanging it all out and being courageous and down in the arena with you, then their criticism is NOT worthy of you to consider. However, If they are coming from a place of love and courage and vulnerability themselves, and want to actually help you become better at X then lean in and get curious, because the criticism may be of much value for you.
As I contemplate my own life and this vow, I remind myself that I’m enough – and to not judge. Rumi shared that there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground. There is no one right answer to any of this, only thousands of possible questions to get curious about and creative with. Can we be bold enough to start the conversation – difficult as it might be to do so? The Order of the Sacred Earth speaks to a way of walking with this vow that acknowledges:
Every one of us is a mystic
Every one of us is an artist
Every one of us is a prophet
Although I am comfortable with the artist label, I’m not at all with mystic or prophet. Our culture drilled into my personhood from an early age that only people who spoke to God through burning bushes and the like could be a true prophet – and to beware the false prophets in your midst. But, if we all have the capacity to engage our lover/mystical selves, and our warrior/prophet selves where might this take us if we think about it in terms of being in service to humanity and the Earth? What would happen if we start to see others in our community as mystics, artists, and prophets? What might a community of mystics, artists, and prophets achieve together?
If the basic work of God is compassion – we, who are all original blessings and sons and daughters of the Divine, are called to compassion. As Matthew Fox states,
“We are all here as a blessing to one another and to the Earth and it is our responsibility to live out our capacity to return blessing for blessing.”
I remind myself each day to let this be enough and to follow my curiosity. I remind myself that everyone is doing the best they can. Everyone is struggling with something. And, I pray to be mindful to develop the courage to be vulnerable enough to get into the arena, to lean into the difficult questions and get curious. For this can help me get creative, and be open to greater possibilities. As Fox emphasizes,
“It is our creativity that has to explode at this time in history to fashion alternative ways of living on the Earth, ways that do not exploit the Earth or abuse it.”
That is a big challenge. There is no one right way. Yet, Alice Walker reminds us that
“we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
I think this is why the book’s subtitle emphasizes intergenerational action that emanates from a vision of love. You can join the online dialogue at Sacred Earth Discussions.