EarthLight Resources

Editorial from Issue #24

Exploring the relationship of Ecology & Spirituality

Empowering individuals and faith communities
to live and work in touch with the Earth

EarthLight is a magazine published quarterly by the Unity with Nature Committee
of the Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends [Quakers]

Color Line

The Oak and the 500-year Plan

Toward a Culture of Wholeness

by Kurt de Boer [EL #24, Winter 1996-7, p 3]

Two mornings after I returned from an EarthLight sponsored Earth & Spirit kayaking trip on the San Francisco Bay, I was met with a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle which read: "Race to Contain SF Bay Oil Spill." It was accompanied by the picture of a seagull, unrecognizable as such, blackened by the oil.
Here was a central image of our time and an apt metaphor for our larger situation: we are in a race to contain the excesses and destruction of the extractive, industrial culture of the West - a culture which has rendered much of the earth and its peoples unrecognizable in their natural form. Our kayaking trip had been an attempt to connect on a deeper level with the spirit of the Bay and its watershed. Such a contemplative trip in a heavily developed and urbanized area had been a challenge. However, the meditative and spiritual intention of the trip had opened me to the point where I had a sense of what the living system of the Bay had been - and continues to be on a less obvious level - even in the face of utter transformation. That felt sense of the Bay's inner spirit made the headline and the picture of the gull that much more poignant and somber a reality.
One of the commitments we had made for the trip was to read Malcolm Margolin's The Ohlone Way, an excellent history of the peoples who had inhabited the Bay Area for thousands of years before the arrival of the Spanish. Margolin acknowledges that the Ohlone's lives were not ideal in every sense. However, uninvaded for centuries and living off the stupendous richness of the Bay's living systems had provided them with the opportunity to stay put and immerse themselves into the landscape in a way totally alien to our present-day Western sensibilities. Central to their culture was the daily ritual harvesting and preparation for food of the live oak acorn. The oak and the acorn was a central reality of their lives.
Our trip on the Bay was on a full moon weekend. As we hiked out one evening for a ritual honoring of the full moon, a huge live oak stood silhouetted against the backdrop of the night sky, the luminous stone of the moon cradled perfectly in its branches. It was not so hard to imagine what life might have been like for the Ohlone then, because as our trip spiritual guide Kurt Hoelting had pointed out, this oak was one of the very same trees the Ohlone harvested acorns from - we are not so far removed from them in time. That tree seems like a symbol to me now of what endures, both in the spirit of the land and its people. It is a reminder that we are kin, interconnected both in time and space - the Ohlone, the oak, the gull, the modern day Bay area human.
Over the course of the weekend, we had discussions of what we envision as a 500-year plan for the Bay. Suggestions ranged from the restoration of much of the wetland areas to elimination of cars and (non-native) eucalyptus trees to green cities. In thinking about the oaks, I can't help but wonder what central realities in our lives will endure to be savored - or detested - by our children. What are the "oaks" which will be preserved for their generation - or will oil-blackened gulls, or worse, predominate their world?
This issue of EarthLight addresses healing. I began work on the issue with the theme of "Health" in my head, thinking more in terms of our personal health. But the more I talked with the writers and thinkers you'll find on these pages, the stronger the message came through that the health of the planet is primary and our health extends from that - that our awareness of our origins and ties to the Earth are tantamount to our psychic health. Thus, since this is not a new age magazine, you won't find examples of remarkable "spirit" cures or mind over matter miracles. You will find examples of people thinking and acting from the heart in an effort to bring about healing to our fragmented culture and plundered earth. In the end, they may be the true miracle workers in their hoping and striving for what I call a "culture of wholeness."
Sociologist Paul Ray has found that there is a groundswell of no less than 44 million Americans whose values and vision of the world reflect this culture of wholeness. He has identified this group as "cultural creatives" (EL #24, p. 18). As the magazine's new editor, I want EarthLight to help empower and give voice to this hopeful cultural shift, along with providing a clear-eyed look at the harsher realities and creative challenges facing us as a species. We need to hold both hope and awareness as the two sides of a balanced approach to bringing about change. Building bridges and community are also part of it.
The Ohlone people - as they will tell you - are still here, testimony to what is so fragile in our world and yet what can endure even the most severe onslaughts of history and ideology. Perhaps a first step toward healing might be a public apology from the dominant culture for the ruin of their world.

Color Line


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