Honouring the Animals

The Makuna people are an indigenous people living within the borders of Columbia.  The Makuna maintain that humans, animals, plants, all of nature, are part of a great Oneness.  Our ancestors long ago, they say, were magical fish who came ashore along the rivers and became two-legged.  As these first land beings began to sing and conduct their lives, everything in the world began to be created: hills and forest; animal and bird people; insect and fish people.  But – here’s the twist – this creation process is still going on.

The world is still being created, right here, right now: our words and actions still determine the nature of the hills and forests, still help create, sustain – or destroy – the animal and bird people, the insect and fish people.

We share a spiritual essence, the Makuna say, with the swimming, flying, four-legged people and all the rest.  They also live in communities, have chiefs and shamans, dance houses and birth houses, songs and rites, even material possessions, as we do.  Think of ants, a bull cariboo, or a black raven, think of bird nests and whale songs, think of territories and prey.

According to the Makuna, our essential oneness with other species is a source of an enormous obligation.  We depend on insect, fish, animal and bird people to eat and live.  In return, the insect, fish, animal and bird people depend on us to spiritually enact, daily, the hidden oneness of all life.  Anytime humans eat, anytime humans gather, anytime we celebrate, we have an obligation to offer “spirit food” to all the other creatures, so that they may celebrate in their worlds.  And if we fail to make such offerings – if we do not spiritually share with other species – they die.  So say the Makuna.

Salmon NationHow do we offer “spirit food” to other creatures?  The native people on the west coast, who depended on the salmon for  so much, used to offer elaborate gifts, dances and feasts to honour the coming of the salmon.  On a rational level it  sounds rather foolish and unnecessary. Yet our industrial selves offered the salmon dams and destruction of most of their habitat.  Wild salmon are in danger. Perhaps we do need a change in attitude. Gifting and feasting and the awareness of our need for other species may keep us human people grounded and connected and careful.

We forget how spiritually alive and capable we are.  Reverence for life, for all the swimming, flying, and four legged people, is a good thing. We should be proud to honour the diversity of life that surrounds us, we should be bold in our appreciation of their great gifts.

What is a modern day spirit offering? Perhaps it is giving our money  to causes like endangered animals or the humane society or reducing meat consumption because of the suffering of factory animals, or the time we take to play with, and care for, our animal companions.  A spirit offering is giving something that we value  – our energy, our focus, our time – to another being or group of beings.

What can we do to recognize and honour the oneness of the world?  How can we turn towards creating a world that sustains and celebrates insect and fish people, animal and bird people?  How do we make spirit offerings part of our lives once more?

from a sermon first preached in 2006.


Where the pot’s not

Daoism, with its emphasis on following the Way, fully aware of the complexity of trying to live in harmony with natural forces, is my favourite of the ancient religious traditions.  The Tao Te Ching, in particular the version developed by Ursula Le Guin, my favourite author, is dear to my heart.  The wisdom of this religion is a source of great spiritual nourishment for me.

I am off to the Canadian Unitarian Council‘s Spiritual Leadership Symposium in Ottawa, so today I only have time to post a piece from the Tao Te Ching that speaks to the value of being empty.  This is the chapter that inspired me to consider the empty chalice;  emptiness is so often considered a negative, yet it is that empty space – the openness waiting to be filled – that is so essential to living.

Chapter 11    The uses of not

Thirty spokes
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
is where it’s useful.

Hollowed out,
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot is not
is where it’s useful.

Cut doors and windows
to make a room.
Where the room isn’t
there’s room for you.

So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t.

Dirty Theology

Without dirt, without soil, without all that life in the soil, there would be no food, there would be no us. There would be no life as we know it if soil had not begun forming billions of years ago on our planet earth. We are utterly dependent on it, as are all living things.

Creation stories from many cultures tell of humans being carved from wood or shaped from seeds or being moulded out of cornmeal.  In some, people climb out of the depths of the earth. The first man in the bible was named Adam, which comes from the ancient Hebrew word adama, meaning “earth” or “soil”. Whatever the image, these stories all share a common truth: we are formed from earth.

We come from earth, and in the end, we return to it. Dirt is the ultimate matrix of life, so much so, that farmer Wes Jackson suggests that humans are really just a stopover between dirt and more dirt. Continue reading