E S S A Y S , A R T I C L E S A N D R E V I E W S
Accepting the Commission of Our Time
An Editorial by K. Lauren Deboer
EarthLight #41 -- Spring 2001
If we surrendered
to Earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
Making peace with time, the theme of this issue of EarthLight, is making peace with planet Earth. It’s easy for us, because of the nature of the human imagination, to live in the future, to anticipate, to fear. But concern for future generations is addressed in no better way than to attend to the call of the present moment. It’s all we have, truly.
We can live in our memories, as well. But preoccupation with the past can also pull us away from the present, keep us mired in pain and nostalgia for some memory trace no longer relevant to the present. The most profound inner peace we can find is in our acceptance of the present moment. Our joy lives in the work of the moment, hour to hour, day to day. We are commissioned constantly to new work, because each moment is new.
Thus, a constant question in my mind is "what am I being commissioned to do at this moment in time?" It’s a question which comes from the heart of the mystery that is the Universe, and from the intelligence of the Earth. The human is just one manifestation of that intelligence.
Our conscious self-awareness, the amazing fact that we not only know, but that we know that we know, is to me, the greatest gift of our species. Take a moment, now, and reflect on this: We are the planet aware of herself, of her beauty and pain and wonder. We are Earth’s eyes as she looks at herself from space, Earth’s ears as she takes joy at the sound of the cricket in the summer twilight. What could possibly give us more delight than to know that this is our role in the story–to be the joy of the planet?
In my high school biology class and freshman college courses on ecology and evolution, the topic of what "sets the human apart" from other animals inevitably came up for discussion. My teachers possessed a strange fervor to present this as some kind of qualifying litany to a pill hard to swallow. It was as if acknowledging ourselves as animals among many in the story of evolution was too much for the human ego to accept. No longer in the hierarchy just below angels, we had to hold onto some straw of uniqueness. For a thinking, aware species, I think this answers to a healthy impulse to truly know and celebrate the treasures we are. But it also asks the wrong question–instead of "what sets us apart?" the question needs to be "what brings us into communion?"
The reasons set forth for human uniqueness, among them language, tool-making abilities, and morality were, for me, unconvincing. It wasn’t just that we found language abilities in chimps, gorillas, whales, and dolphins. Or that we discovered that tool-making isn’t limited to the realm of human ingenuity. Or that the continuing horrors of this century have cast our capacity to collectively discern right from wrong under a dim light. For me, they just weren’t compelling enough. They missed the mark. There had to be something more.
No mention was ever made of what is to me the most fascinating gift we possess as a species–the gift of conscious self-awareness. As far as we know, it is unique to the human on this planet, although we can’t know that for certain. We know so little about the other beings with whom we co-habitate Earth. Conscious self-awareness is both a gift to our species from the unfolding Universe and the gift we have to give to the community of life on Earth.
The way we enact this gift of conscious self-awareness is through choice. How do we make wise, informed choices? One way, perhaps the primary way, is to take the counsel of the late Dana Meadows: "Slow. . . d o w n," she wrote (see essay, page 12), "Do that first. Then, quietly, carefully, think about what else might need to be done."
Another way to make wise, informed choices is to accept the commission we are given in a spirit of service and joyful surrender. Then we can "rise up rooted, like trees." Notice the groundedness in that image. Notice that trees don’t rush off, but are fully present in space and time. And that they make use of what’s at hand–sunlight, soil nutrients, carbon dioxide, water–to do their work. But we are Human, not Tree. Because we are so aware of what we do, we must ultimately surrender to the grace of Earth process. We must trust that what we bring to expression through wisdom and the intention to enhance life will be acted upon by the powers of the Universe in ways we cannot even begin to imagine. At some point, we must pull back from the work we do and surrender its outcome to the Divine.
I am part of a group organized around the insights of the new cosmology. We call ourselves "Celebrating Our Cosmic Origins" (COCO). This past year, we held what we call a "commissioning ceremony." Each of us reflected on what we were being called to do at this moment and then we attempted to put a name to that commission. We spoke our names to the group and were honored for that commission by each person present. We were each presented with a "certificate" which read: "The Universe commissions [our personal name] to uphold and fulfill the title of [commission name] to enhance the unfolding creativity of Earth." Everyone present signed the certificate.
My commission was "Earth Weaver," related to my work as a writer and editor, and to the fact that I had a powerful waking dream of being ingested by a spider, then passing through her abdomen into a web of a thousand stars in the night sky. Spider is known in many cultures as the weaver of language, and of the world.
Now, when we support each other in our work, we are supporting each other in our commission. What this does is to take our work out beyond our skin-encapsulated egos. The work required of us, experienced in all its joys and frustrations, can now be affirmed by each other not only on our own personal terms, but in the context of the larger Earth community and Universe.
But we live, too, in a moment when we are collectively commissioned to create a new core culture. David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World and Post-Corporate World, speaks to the need for moving beyond fragmentation and isolation: "Our task is no longer one of creating, engaging in political protest, and pursuing economic alternatives. To create a just, sustainable, and compassionate post-corporate world we must face up to the need to create a new core culture, a new political center, and a new economic mainstream. Such a bold agenda requires many kinds of expertise working at many levels of society–personal and household, community, national, and global. It requires breaking the bonds of individual isolation that leave us feeling marginalized when in fact we may already be part of a new majority."
With this issue, EarthLight is reponding to that particular commission by accepting the invitation to be the clearinghouse and voice for a young but growing movement of Earth Literacy. It is a movement springing from the vision of the new cosmology and the legacy of Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, and others. (Please see the special insert, "Earth Literacy Web," in the centerfold.)
This is a self-organizing movement, not coordinated or initiated out of any single center or organization. It involves diverse people, all dedicated to the Great Work of creating a mutually-enhancing human-Earth relationship. EarthLight’s role is simply as a conduit of communication for this emergent movement.
It’s up to all of us to create the world we want based on the work already accomplished, on knowledge of the sacred Universe Story, and our own evolving collective vision of a sustainable future. Accepting our commission is accepting the challenge of our time.
In kindred spirit,
K. Lauren de Boer
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