Renewing Our Spirits in the Wilderness of Our World

First appeared in Feminism and Religion, March 19, 2017

In my garden blooming with native wildflowers, in nearby rivers and woods, across the New England landscape, the Earth is healing Herself.  Two centuries ago, New England’s forests had been cleared for farms; myriad species of  animals, birds, fish, and plants had disappeared; the network of waterways had been dammed to make power for mills. 

Now trees are reclaiming land abandoned by 19th century farmers seeking better soil westward and today’s environmentalists are reintroducing native flora and fauna and hauling away obsolete dams. As a result, species not seen for generations are thriving, most of New England is again heavily forested, and whole ecosystems are reviving. Creation is once more beginning to remake the landscape into a place of wholeness, life, and connection.

As I consider stories of Goddesses from various eras and places, I notice that Earth’s impulse towards renewal, abundance and wholeness—her renewing spirit— seems linked with female divinity.  Demeter and Amaterasu, after withdrawing their power and making Earth a wasteland, returned and brought the planet to life once again.  Spring goddesses from around the world, from Ostara to Ma-Ku and beyond, oversee the rebirth of the Earth after winter’s sleep.

If the Earth’s landscape is one face of this renewing spirit that seems to infuse creation, and stories of Goddess another, then perhaps there is also a third face, our own. I can think of many instances in my own life when I was overwhelmed with illness, anxiety, or depression and suddenly I found a small seedling of determination, hope, and joy rise up, seemingly impossibly but truly, from somewhere unknown inside myself.  Can you?  I wonder if perhaps we can draw upon this spirit together in times of collective fatigue and despair. 

When I contemplate this spirit, and how we can participate in it as we seek to make a difference in our many and diverse ways, what do I find? I witness that this impulse towards regeneration is beyond ourselves and this moment. It is as big as the universe. It existed long before we first drew breath and will be on Earth long after we are  dust. When we act in a way that encourages the re-creation of life we are a part of a force that is larger and better than our conceptions of ourselves. We are not alone.

At the same time, this renewing energy is deep within each of us. It is the essence of the most sacred element of our being, it is Goddess herself. Just as we are part of it, it is part of us. It is how we know that the basic nature of humans is, sometimes against much evidence, also yearning for wholeness and connection, wishing for what is benevolent towards life. 

Yet, connecting with this spirit demands much of us. She demands the truth, whether it is facing the environmental devastation of what we as a species have done or the injustice that pervades our daily lives, that shows us what we must do to make it right, even when it is hard.  She demands compassion, which is connection in action, whether in rebuilding an ecosystem or the reconciliation and trust that living in a society or community requires, even when we don’t want to give it. She demands commitment over a long time, whether to nurture generations of a reintroduced species or to change attitudes and beliefs held for centuries, one conversation at a time, even when we are so tired of trying.

This spirit also requires hard work that has a real effect on what is happening in our own communities. New England’s revitalization depended on the forces of growth of plants, animals, birds, fish, insects, and ecosystems, but also thousands of hours of hard physical labor done by human environmentalists. Just as it is the many small seeds sown that regrows the forest and each rock removed from the dams that frees the rivers, everything we do in our neighborhoods, in our daily lives to make the world better, no matter how small it may seem, is important.

Where might I find an example of people making significant change by working hard in collaboration with a spirit of renewal? I need only look to all of you here at FAR and in the feminist spiritual community.  In only 40 short years, our spiritual landscape has blossomed with new rituals and liturgies, art of all kinds, fresh theologies/thealogies, the reconstruction of our history and exciting visions of better ways to live.  All these exist because of the labors of doing research that unearths the history of women’s spiritual power, building spaces for women’s circles, making poems, songs, stories, dances, and art celebrating women’s spiritual lives, working on committees to write new liturgies, joining together to develop rituals that truly speak to our lives and so much more.

This summer, the severe drought in New England dried up a pond near me, driving away the turtles I have watched sunning themselves for many years.  Then later in the fall, after only a few inches of rain, the pond was once again wet and the turtles began to come home. Given the smallest chance, life renews itself.  It is easy to fall into despair when contemplating the many catastrophic situations at home and around the globe, the many severe droughts of all kinds in the midst of slow and hard won but real progress.  However, the only practical way to respond is to get up every day and do the best we can to move forward.  When it seems as if a better future is far away, may we remember the turkeys and eagles, streams and forests, air and water that are returning to New England, greet the Goddess spirit of renewal within and outside of us, and know that what we need to do, we can do.

Biography: Carolyn Lee Boyd is a human services administrator, herb gardener, and writer whose work focuses on the sacred in the everyday lives of women. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews and more have been published in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work at her blog, www.goddessinateapot.com.

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