Wanting the seed to grow
my hand is one with the light
Eating the fruit,
my body is one with the earth
- Wendell Berry
My husband and I have been learning a lot about shepherds lately. Because by this time next year, we will literally be shepherds. To raise the biodiversity of our soil and grasses, we are doing a lot of research. We live on 80 acres of land that is 80 % grassland and as we walk the land and listen, we are beginning to understand what it is asking of us.
So, we are learning about how perennial grasslands thrived in nature, pre-monoculture.
There is no tragedy more alarming to me in our modern world, than the disconnection the majority of us have, from nature. That we see ourselves as alien and separate from the symbiosis of life, alarms me in ways I can hardly put into words. The roots of all the world’s problems come from schisms that often happen in the ideological realm, but cross over into the physical realm in the form of oppression, of other people, of animals and of the land itself.
There is more diversity in a teaspoon of soil than there is in the whole world of people. No wonder we have made choices to destroy soil. Its destruction is by far what puts the world in most jeopardy.
If we believe that this earth is precious, it should be no surprise to us that the angels appear to the shepherds out on the land, standing in the darkness, under moon and star, breathing the same breath as the flock they are tending to. There is something so very “first Adam” about the vocation of “tending to anything”. I wonder if we would be so quick to make the pretence that we grasp how far we’ve gone down the anthropocentric rabbit hole, if we were finally out of fossil fuels. And I mean even the folks who mean well, but unfailingly tend to gentrify indigenous ways in the name of privileged ideas of consciousness.
What I mean to say is: anthropocentrism and inverted anthropocentrism is not the same as stepping into the circle of life and symbiosis as a whole part, of the greater whole.
In our attempt to rid ourselves of anthropocentrism, we’ve often written ourselves out of the story altogether, in a sometimes smug admittance that we’re just a “cancer” and nothing more.
I grew up in an agrarian setting and with unlimited access to wild spaces. I was practically raised by the fields and the woods. But as I learn more about being inside the womb of the land I inhabit now, as an adult, I am being taught new things everyday.
My notions get knocked off their plank of certitude and I am humbled by the symbiosis of life that I now understand, is trying to include me.
I am not an alien to the earth.
When I walk into a forest, believing I am alien, the whole of that ecosystem is attuned to that belief. The repercussions of that stance are innumerably connected to the separateness expressed in how we treat, and extract from, the land.
Now ring in the first axial period and the great religions, that brought us an immense amount of wisdom and beauty, along with the worst growing pains the world of humans has ever known. Something happened there, where the idea that in order to be in an evolved state, we must not have a sexual relationship or take part in earthly endeavours. We have to bring ourselves into a higher state of being through the ascetic path. A very Platonic idea. That higher consciousness has to be separated from nature and physicality. Also, I disclaim here that there has been some understanding of pre-axial symbiosis anywhere in the world religions where we see connectivity in nature as well as spiritually. But mostly, and probably especially in Christianity, we dropped that thread of indigenous consciousness that understood earthly connectivity, and only carried on with a blown out of proportion version of tribalism that was anything but symbiotic.
Also, I've been looking at how mere conservation is only part of the story, but not complete enough in the breadth of a life well lived. I recently watched this great docu-series called Salt, Fat Acid, Heat with Samin Nostrat, where in the episode she visits Italy, she tells this story of an American couple receiving a very expensive bottle of olive oil as a wedding gift. They saved it for 30 years, only using it on special occasions. The Italian chef in the documentary responds with "what a waste!" To her, olive oil should be consumed while fresh, with all the pungent flavours of all the other diversity growing in the region. It reminds me of the bottle of perfume in the gospels.
There is something groundbreaking (or, now that I understand soil more deeply, I should say "ground-covering") in the arrival of Jesus, even though there is a never ending irony to how un-Jesus-like we Christians tend to be.
But here is the other irony. What is groundbreaking is the very decentralization of the whole nativity play. Like last week with Bethlehem being too little, but was the place where the one “from the days of eternity” is born. This week the angels show up where the manure and the soil and grass and animals and human life is teeming together in rich biodiversity.
Where the humble (humus) shepherds watch their flock and are “sore” afraid at the sight of the magnitude of the mystery of God…
and are told to fear not.
PS- Watch for your tendency to want to lift yourself, or Jesus, out of his earthly realm in the third verse. There is certainly symbolism there that marks his death on the cross, and the resurrection, but he also lived his life with arms spread out, wholly incarnate, constantly dying like a seed, symbolizing the built-in sacred geometry of abundance, surplus, overflow, and fearless self abandon that results in a balanced ecosystem.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.