Gwendolyn Hallsmith, Universalist Parish, Derby Line, Vermont
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Meditation for Sunday, May 12, 2019
Universalist Parish, Derby Line
by Gwendolyn Hallsmith
Happy Mother’s Day! I’m a mom, but my son lives far away, so I won’t be seeing him today. I wish all of you moms out there who will see your children today blessings and happiness. Sometimes when you see them all the time you can’t appreciate how nice that is, or how much you would miss them if they were far away. Next year, my son will be living in Africa. That makes Virginia look close.
How many people here are mothers? Who has a mother here with them today?
I’m interested in having a discussion about mothers and mothering, and how they relate to your current themes of environment and justice. As I was thinking and praying about it in preparation for today, it occurred to me that the very first thing I needed to say was I’m SORRY. On behalf of all the mothers, living or dead, I’m sorry if your mother ever hurt you. I’m sorry if the mothering you received was inadequate or harmful. So to start our discussion, I’d like all of you to put your hand over your heart and take in a deep and genuine apology.
Our mothers are all human beings. They all make mistakes. They try their best, but sometimes their best is not all that good. Mothers did not get an instruction manual with their children, and so all they know was what happened to them when they were children, and often that was also not so good. Generational trauma gets passed on again and again unless something, somewhere stops it.
So I’m saying I’m sorry. It was not your fault. You were a child. Even if you did things that made you think it must have been your fault, it wasn’t. You are a beloved child of the universe, and your mother loved you even if she didn’t always show it. So keep your hand over your heart for a moment of silence and take in the universal love you deserve.
Now I want you to sit with your hands on your knees and your feet flat on the floor if you can. Close your eyes. I want you to feel the pull Mother Earth makes on your feet, on your legs, on your seat. This is another form of mother’s love, and it is a signal she gives us all, every minute of every day, to help us know and recognize that she loves us and that we are not alone. Just enjoy it for a minute, and imagine that pull as evidence of love, evidence of community and caring.
We are surrounded by our mother. She is the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink. She is the path and the destination. She is alive and strong, even as we take her for granted and despoil the abundance she has given us.
More than that, she loves us all. We all are pulled by that same love, holding us close and keeping us in her care. We are never alone as long as we can feel her pulling us to the ground, holding us to her heart.
She is the Great Mother, the forgotten and suppressed archetype, the source of all life, the sustainer of all beings.
So I have a question for you. What qualities do you think embody the mother, mothering, motherhood?
I have two recent examples from my own life. One was the other day when I reached out to the son of a friend to invite him to come for a visit. She was happy about it, and she said “You’re such a mom.”
The other was the little girl I am mentoring in Cabot. We were in a play together this spring, and the director was telling all the children that if they had questions to ask one of the “motherly types” who were in the play to see if they could help.
I asked my little mentee if she thought I was one of those motherly types. She looked at me and said, “yes, of course.” I asked her why, and she said it was because I was always giving her good things to eat.
That gave me pause. So mothering might have something to do with sustenance. It makes sense. After all, as mammals, the first job we have as mothers is to feed our infants. So a close connection between food and mothers is really pretty obvious. I was still a little surprised at her answer, though.
Sustenance. That’s a 50 cent word. I looked it up in my New Shorter Oxford Dictionary, and the first meaning of the word was a means of subsistence, livelihood.
As humans born on Mother Earth, do we have a birthright to a livelihood? Yes, we do. We live as part of an abundant, fertile being that keeps us alive on a journey through the vastness of space, and yet we create artificial scarcity. We do this so some of us can be unspeakably wealthy while others in our human family starve to death. If I had a powerpoint, this is where I’d show the slide of the inequality matrix, both for our country and the world. Now 62 individuals own more assets than the other half of the 7 billion people on the planet. It’s a race to own our Mother, lock, stock and watershed.
She’s not for sale, not any more than your own mothers.
My friend Gary just visited from Australia. He’s spent the last 30 years working on the economic mechanism to provide all people on Earth with a basic income. His framework pays people dividends for preservation and use of the endowment we inherit as children of Earth. A basic income for everyone would disrupt the extractive system responsible for our habitat’s demise. It also could re-energize efforts to turn back destructive patterns while we still can and restore healthy ecological ecosystems.
Take down the For Sale sign, put up one that says We Are All One.
A healthy environment and justice are not separate issues. They are the foundation of human life… the natural abundance we depend on – food, water, air, shelter, clothing, mobility, waste assimilation, pollination, biodiversity, a caring community, communication, learning, health care, art, music, theater, creativity and spiritual practice. Participation in decisions which have an impact on our lives, conflict resolution, equity, access to information – these all meet important human needs. They are all part of sustenance, sustainability, resilience, there are now a lot of words for it.
Governments start programs to explore and foster resilience, advocacy groups talk about it, work with community leaders to promote it, sometimes even set up local systems that counteract the force of the larger systemic dysfunction. We need structural and cultural change. We need it to happen at the speed of light, a light that now shines as a pinprick in the darkness but will soon grow into the flames of transformation.
What is cultural change? What do you think I mean by that?
We live in a culture of separation, opposition, polarization. Fear is fanned by the games children play, the TV shows we watch, the movies we see. Most of us live in a strange form of isolation, where our daily experience comes from various states of animated imagination. We somehow “belong” to a nation, to a race, to a class, to an electronic Facebook group, to a party, to a mythology of the world disconnected from the ground of prosaic existence. Being here and now hurts for reasons we don’t even want to try and understand, so we succumb to endless distraction.
Contrast that with a joyful, purposeful life where people are free to pursue the paths to their own liberation and enlightenment. Where time is freed up from the mundane toil of modern slave wages. People work around the clock at impossibly low pay without a hope of a comfortable home, leisure time, sanity. It is possible to change the system, the culture. We start by recognizing that We Are All One. Our common mother is Earth herself.
We also need structural change. What do you think I mean by that?
I’m working on a new book now that talks about five main economic structures we need to change to achieve a just and sustainable world. I call them the mantra for a new economy, because they’re easy to remember if you say OMMMM. That stands for ownership, money, markets, management, and metrics. These all form the economic box we live in, they are almost invisible to us because they are part of the frame, not the glitzy decorations on the walls. Yet they are all man-made structures, composed of customs, laws, regulations, and treaties. Not natural laws.
We can’t change the second law of thermodynamics. We can’t change the way carbon, methane, and other greenhouse gasses behave inside our atmosphere. We can’t even change the general trajectory we are on – the carbon cycle has a half life of 50 years, so even if we stopped all the emissions right now, the climate disruption would continue to get worse for two generations. We are far from stopping all of it right now. All our efforts haven’t even managed to slow the rate of increase.
Why is it so hard to stop? How many people here have some form of renewable energy powering your home? How many of you have taken steps to insulate your attics, weatherize your windows, turn the thermostat down? You’re all doing your best, right? So why hasn’t it stopped?
Our hyper-individualized culture in the U.S. tends to look to the things we can do as individuals, rather than the larger systemic problems. Even if you, all your friends, and the rest of the State of Vermont stopped using cars, trucks, tractors, motorboats, jet skis, snowmobiles, lawnmowers, and motorcycles, stopped heating with oil, and stopped throwing food waste in the garbage, it would not make a significant dent in total global emissions.
That’s because whole systems we don’t control are the drivers: the U.S. military, the international food industry, international redundant trade where chickens grown here go to China first to be processed, then are sold back to us, and vertically integrated corporations whose supply chain requires vast quantities of fossil fuels to make all the connections.
And what drives the drivers? Money. The way money works, there can never be enough of it. It is not sufficient to make a profit, you need to make a profit at an increasing rate to keep up with the monetary system based on debt.
The monetary system also drives inequality. The very existence of the 1% has nothing to do with merit, nothing to do with entrepreneurial spirit, nothing to do with some hyper-individualized man pulling himself up by his proverbial bootstraps. It has everything to do with the fact that money is issued as debt and the people paying the debt, all of us, are transferring our birthright to the wealthiest among us. It is why 62 individuals now own more assets than half the other people on Earth.
There are alternatives. There are even alternatives you can develop here in Derby Line that counteract these large forces at work. Time banks, commercial barter systems, food currency, I wrote another book about all of that. They are not difficult, they don’t require a huge amount of investment, and they build community rather than tearing it apart. Let me know if you’re interested. All my books are available for free online.
But getting back to Mother Earth and Mother Wisdom, mothering, ecological integrity, and justice, I hope I have started to illuminate why justice and ecology are two sides of the same coin. How you can’t have one without the other. How it all can come together as a Mothering Movement, a revelation of the Divine Feminine, the way we all need to walk to a healthy, happy, new world. Amen.
Mother Earth, Mother Wisdom