Reconciliation with Earth: Some Questions and Probings

Red Clay, Blood River raises the question of what it means to find reconciliation with the Earth. Or is it “reconciliation with Earth”? Perhaps the latter, for we always want to see reconciliation in inter-personal terms. In my own life and culture this interpersonal form of reconciliation has been a powerful one. But it only sharpens the question once again. It only pulverizes it into other questions.

The first is what we mean by reconciliation itself. In the novel, Clayton Bagwell, from the Cherokee nation, sees it in terms of “duyukta,” right relationship, harmonious alignment, balance. For most people fed by the Bible (like me) it has meant a return from rebellion to obedience through repentance (and reparation), the parable of the Prodigal Son being perhaps the most famous example. In rediscovering the riches of covenantal thinking and its connection with land, I moved closer to Clayton’s idea of duyukta, but the relation with land still occurred in terms of what we did with it or how we distributed it as “property” — what is proper to us.

My friend John DeGruchy has drawn these strands together theologically in a context deeply shaped by the experiences of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was finishing up its work when Marietjie Tilman came, with her ecological vocation, to America. For John’s full exposition check out his Reconciliation: Restoring Justice (Fortress, 2002). But his and my work stopped at the doorway into the larger question of what reconciliation with Earth might mean, though it was clear that it involved a much fuller meaning to “covenant” than the one we had received.

The second question is about the “personality” of Earth. Is it a lower-grade version of the personal? Or perhaps a larger version that includes our puny minds and spirits within it? Or does it exist on another plane, yet also as a “partner” of the Divine reconciler of all? Is it gendered? It is interesting that in spite of my author’s ear and intention to place Earth beyond our gender distinctions, readers have tended to hear Earth as either male or female. (Send in your own take, readers!)

This question also involves Earth’s “language.” There are Earth-talkers in the book, generally women. My own religious tradition puts the capacity for language at the heart of our relation with the Holy Source of all things. With it comes command and (dis)obedience, apology and reconciliation. But what is the language by which we might be reconciled with Earth? How would we have to hear differently? Speak differently? Or is it not a matter of language but only of feeling or non-verbal action?

Finally, for today, what is the alienation or estrangement from Earth that has to be healed? In the language of rebellion/reconciliation what have we done to Earth that must be repaired, restored, and remade? Is it conceivable that Earth has done wrong to humans? Or do we need a different model for reconciliation and our estrangement from Earth? The dominant alternative at this time seems to be some kind of theory of evolution, especially as it was developed by the French theologian and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Now, Thomas Berry, here in North Carolina, has taken Teilhard’s thought into an intense engagement with our ecological crisis. For an example of the influence of Berry’s thinking, visit Mike Bell’s website, www.inukshukmanagement.ca, and check out his writings. I have been studying Thomas Berry’s little book Befriending the Earth: A Theology of Reconciliation between Humans and the Earth (Twenty-third Publications, 1991). I am still digesting it, but it seems that Berry’s work, along with the network his works have generated, comes closer to some sense of duyukta, in which the law of ecological harmonies is the measure of our “rightness,” and our willingness to change ourselves to be aligned with it is the measure of our reconciliation. And that, I guess, is what Lanier, Clayton, and Marietjie do at the book’s end – orient themselves in terms of a mysterious memory toward the challenge of ecological duyukta.

Your thoughts would be most appreciated!

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