Hope, Love, and the Web of Life

“I don’t know about hope, but I know about love…. Our job is to learn to love.”
—Robin Wall Kimmerer

In this time of heartbreaking political tumult and ecological grief, where do we turn for wisdom or comfort? For a reason to continue, in spite of how the world looks? This past weekend, I had the great honor and blessing of attending a program with Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass. She is a botanist, professor, member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and beyond all else, a wise and caring soul. Repeatedly, during those three days, she asked the question: What does Mother Earth ask of us? Not what can we get, but what can we give? We are living in a time of shifting focus: from taking to giving, from self to community. Earth herself teaches reciprocity and connection. This is our heritage and our guidepost, if we pay attention, if we drop the cloak of self-centeredness and don the cloth of humility.

We are One, we Earth beings. All of us, plant, animal, human, bird, insect, stone, soil. Our lives and our destiny are interconnected. The web of life that holds us can be torn, but it can also be mended. Mother Earth is a gentle and forgiving presence in our lives; she is also a fierce protector of all of life. We cannot continue to destroy the environment and our living connections to one another. So many of our hearts are filled with grief now, for the visible and invisible ways the planet appears to be falling apart. “Grief is the measure of our love,” Robin said. “We can be the rain on one another’s grief and dryness.”

Her words carried such poignancy and power because she has dedicated her life to Earth wisdom, and she is also a descendant of those who walked the Trail of Tears, which forced native nations to leave their homelands and walk endless miles to reservations (in her family’s case, from Wisconsin to Kansas to Oklahoma). All ties to their specific sacred place on Mother Earth were broken. The grief of that severance continues to this day as indigenous peoples work to regain their ancestral lands. Earth herself was violated by similar cruelty as colonists took what they wanted from the land. We inherit that terrible history and are living with the consequences, that lack of reciprocity between human and human, between humans and Earth.

Reciprocity arises from love, and in spite of the violence that has torn, and continues to tear, the world asunder, love persists. When all hope is lost, love persists. When grief breaks our hearts, love persists. Love and grief together can heal the brokenness. Whether or not we believe that healing is possible, our job is to love. We came here at this specific time, on this specific planet, to be the love that persists, in spite of everything. Injustice and inhumanity exist, but so do compassion and kindness.

We are at a choice point in our tattered past, unsettling present, and uncertain future. We can choose despair, or we can choose love. Ask yourself, “What does Mother Earth ask of me?” As I stood on a wooded hillside at dusk in Western Massachusetts this weekend, listening to the sweet song of the wood thrush, I heard the answer in my heart: Remember your place in the web of life; choose love.

Where Is Your Home?

Photograph © 2020 Peggy Kornegger
The coronavirus mandate to “stay at home” has meant different things to different people. For some, it has meant freedom from external-world busyness and distractions and a return to inner peace and quiet. To others, it has felt like unwanted confinement and loss of in-person social contact. Some have lost their jobs and incomes; others, like healthcare workers, have had no choice but to leave the “safety” of home to provide critical services, despite the risks. All of us are suddenly facing issues of life and death. Our entire world, inside and out, has changed radically and continues to do so. In the midst of these huge ongoing changes, what does home mean?

Is home a place, or is it other people? Is it simply “shelter” or something much deeper, within you? Many of us have found ourselves considering such questions. When death appears at your doorstep, it is hard to ignore. Losing a loved one or facing the possibility of your own death is traumatic. You long desperately for solace and comfort, something that “home” has traditionally provided. But what if you are homeless, or you live in fear of losing your rented apartment because you no longer can pay for it? What if, even inside your seemingly secure home, you feel insecure and lost? How do we handle such painful, often isolating experiences?

Perhaps it’s possible, going forward, to feel at home within ourselves, whatever the situation, through the power of connection. Connection to other people, near or distant, gives us shared experiences and shared support, both individual and community. Connection to Nature takes us out of our own worries and fears and opens our hearts to the living world around us that we may have ignored or taken for granted. A peaceful walk in a park seems like a tremendous blessing right now. As does time spent with family, friends, and neighbors. These two are inseparable connections, and they can assist us in finding a sense of “home” and inner peace in the midst of uncertainty. As we navigate the future, we will be sustained by the ways we work together to make the world more livable for everyone as well as by the way we honor Mother Earth.

Equally important is a connection to something greater, beyond this lifetime, beyond all lifetimes. Whether you call it God or Goddess, Source or Mystery (or have no name at all for it), there is a loving Presence that permeates our material world and holds us all in its awareness. We carry that Presence within us; it is in our hearts and souls. It is in the love we share with others and the appreciation we feel for the Earth’s beauty. This is the Home that is infinite and eternal. It is who we are, we human spirits in physical form. During times of great crisis, people often begin to explore this aspect of themselves, the part that can never die or be lost. Here is the comfort we seek when everything else seems so tenuous and uncertain.

We can find courage and sustenance in connecting to our souls. We can also be more at peace with the unknown if we feel that connection. Yes, we have been facing fear and aloneness. Yet something else has been awakening: a soulful energy that emerges when we live our fullest, most loving expression in the world. When we sing in the night to our neighbors or care for the sick and helpless or share our deepest thoughts about life with a friend, the heart of the world is healed. Each of the ways we live love moment to moment is a unique, unrepeatable contribution. This global crisis could be a catalyst to help us remember the home of Spirit within ourselves, which connects us to all of life.