The Web of Life

This essay is modified from one written for my Ecofeminism class at Ocean Seminary College.

Carol Christ’s understanding of “profound connection of all beings in the web of life,” (p. 58) is integral to my own understanding of the world, ethics, feminism, and spirituality. I very often return to the idea from Naomi Wolf of the “great invisible web of incarnation of which we are all a part,” indeed it forms the very foundation of my personal thealogy. My introduction to Goddess spirituality as a viable spiritual path distinct from Wicca came from my involvement with the UU Church, which holds an awareness of the web of life as one of its six core principles: “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” UU’s also draw from “seven sources,” one of which is: “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life” and another of which is: “Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.” (http://www.uua.org/beliefs/principles/)  I find that direct experience for me comes most clearly and cleanly through nature and thus identified with Starhawk’s explanation in Reweaving the World that, “we must preserve the wilderness that’s left because that’s the place we go for renewal, where we can most strongly feel the immanence of the Goddess” (p. 82). This is dramatically true for me and in August I explored my relationship with the Goddess in the woods in a guest post on the Feminism and Religion blog about Theapoetics, based on earlier work I did with OSC.

As I just used in my prior post, I again thought of this quote: “When you grow, care for, cook, and eat a vegetable, you become emotionally attached to that vegetable for life. You eat with your heart, not with your mind.” –Liz Snyder (quoted in “Home Grown: Helping Your Child Develop a Love of Gardening” in Natural Life Magazine, May/June 2011). While this is about vegetables, I think we could say the same about animals and also about people. The direct relationship and connection is the key. I really do feel like the relational context of our lives is the fundamental core of the human experience. We cannot not be in relationship to the things around us, not just in terms of other humans, but plants, trees and animals. We are even in relationship with the sun, the wind, and the rain. And, the net that holds the whole, is what I name as Goddess/Divinity. Everything is interconnected and does not exist without connection/relationship. Connection is strength, not weakness, and it is central.  Goddess ethics are “discovered within the web of life” rather than imposed from without.  If we acted with our hearts and with love rather than with “logic” and if a corresponding ethic of care underlaid our beliefs, actions, and social structures, the overall functioning of society would change for the better.

As I read these final chapters in Reweaving the World, particularly Christ’s quote from Alice Walker about being a part of everything, “not separate at all,” I also thought about one of my long ago observations from my Ecology and the Sacred class:

My reflection was about how quickly the woods close in around human-made structures. When we built our house, it felt like we had scarred the land—we cleared some trees and had to dig for the septic tank and so forth. The ground looked stripped, some trees were damaged (or cut down), and our house was kind of plopped down there in the middle of the scar. We moved in to our house four years ago and you can no longer see these environmental scars—indeed, it feels at times like we have to hold the woods back from taking the area back over and reclaiming the land. A variety of grasses and wildflowers grow in the cleared areas and trees stretch out all around our house. I reflect upon how if we no longer lived here, our house would be swallowed up by the forest within only a handful of years. This is reassuring to me in a strange way. No matter how we have altered the landscape by our human presence and “meddling” with our ecosystem, Nature is waiting to reclaim and transform what we have attempted to mold and make our own.I also reflected about how we, as human inhabitants of this patch of ground, are part of the woods and the forest ecosystem. I guess in some ways I feel like we have “invaded” here, carving out a large footprint. But, while standing on our back deck, and looking all around me at the trees, grasses, and flowers, closing in…pressing in almost…on our house, I felt a sudden sense that we and our home were a part of these woods. We live here in our—albeit excessively large–“nest,” much like any other animal inhabits its nest or burrow within the forest. And, we are within it too, not on top of or apart from it.

This idea that I was a legitimate part of nature and the woods as well was an important epiphany for me. Likewise, as I read Christ’s essay and I had another epiphany about interconnectedness and “all being one.” I’ve always struggled somewhat with the phrase, “we are all one,” but as I read her words, I had this new sense of clarity about it—we are all one weaving. A favorite example from earlier in this course is in Brian Swimme’s description of the Great Birth (Big Bang) in his essay in Reweaving the World: “From a single fireball the galaxies and stars were all woven. Out of a single molten planet the hummingbirds and pterodactyls and gray whales were all woven. What could be more obvious than this all-pervasive fact of cosmic and terrestrial weaving? Out of a single group of microorganisms, the Krebs cycle was woven, the convoluted human brain was woven, the Pali Canon was woven, all part of the radiant tapestry of being. Show us this weaving? Why, it is impossible to point to anything that does not show it, for this creative, interlacing energy envelops us entirely. Our lives in truth are nothing less than a further unfurling of this primordial ordering activity…Women are beings who know from the inside out what it is like to weave the Earth into a new human being” (Reweaving the World, p. 21. Emphasis mine).

I also greatly enjoyed Starhawk’s essay in Reweaving the World. As I read it and her passionate exploration of the earth-based tradition of paganism, I thought of a question I recently saw touched upon by a pagan blogger I enjoy, Bishop in the Grove, of whether or not pagans are still earth-based?  Explaining based on other posts and conversations Bishop asks:

“Lastly, are we “earth-based” anymore? It came up in response to Gus’s later statements about the political landscape that there are a wide-variety of Pagans, many of whom no longer identify as “earth-based.” This struck a chord with some people, and I’ve already received some feedback on Facebook which voiced appreciation for pointing out that some Pagans are more centered around deity.I think this one is worthy of a little unpacking. Do a little research, and you’ll see that the roots of the Neopagan movement were very much in the dirt, if you will. Earth-centered, or at the very least earth-aware spirituality has, up until fairly recently, been synonymous with Paganism. How exactly did we get to a place where someone could consider themselves a Pagan and not be “earth-based?” www.bishopinthegrove.com/archives/huffpost-live-paganism-roundtable-followup/

What would Starhawk make of this question I wonder, since her paganism is clearly deeply earth-based, indeed the earth is the foundation of her work, life, activism, teaching, and spirituality?! Starhawk reminds us that environmental issues are women’s issues, “for women sicken, starve, and die from toxins, droughts, and famines, their capacity to bear new life is threatened by pollution and they bear the brunt of care for the sick and the dying as well as for the next generation…unless we understand all the interconnections we are vulnerable to manipulation” (p. 83)

Starhawk passionately explains that earth-based principles call us to action: “earth-based spirituality makes certain demands. That is, when we start to understand that the Earth is alive, she calls us to act to preserve her life. When we understand that everything is interconnected, we are called to a politics and set of actions that come from compassion, from the ability to literally feel with all living beings on the Earth. That feeling is the ground upon which we can build community and come together and take action and find direction” (p. 74).

Categories: feminist thealogy, Goddess, nature, spirituality, thealogy, writing | 1 Comment

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One thought on “The Web of Life

  1. Pingback: Thursday Thealogy: Interconnection | Theapoetics

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