I was at a conference yesterday at Villanova University on the topic of mass incarceration. I heard a wonderfully thoughtful analysis of a recent court case that was in the news all over the country. While the talk was thoughtful and provocative, what remains with me is what the young woman who introduced the speaker said at the beginning of her remarks. She said, “Let’s pause a moment to remember that we are standing and sitting on the ancestral grounds of the Lenape people.” Silence ensued.
The Lenape people once roamed freely through the greater Delaware Valley Region which includes the land where Villanova University emerged in the mid 19th century. As the European settlers made their mark on this beautiful and resource abundant land, the Lenape were forced to retreat, to radically alter their ways, and today they survive in small towns and villages through this region, clustered in communities that fight to keep alive their once thriving and powerful nation.
I approached the young woman after the talk about her call for silence. She explained that she is Canadian, and that it is a growing practice in Canada to begin public events with a call for silence in recognition of the First Nations so brutally dislocated from their sacred hunting and living grounds. The moment of silence is a way to honor the history and reality of what happened where we were standing.
A day before, my wife and I watched a documentary film called “Eagle Huntress” about a young 13 year old girl in Mongolia whose father taught her to hunt with a gold eagle, a traditionally male Mongolian practice. At the beginning of this film, a Mongolian man was returning his gold eagle to nature (as required by custom after 7 years of captivity). To assist his able companion in the transition to the “wild,” the man brought along a sheep and killed the sheep so that the eagle would have a source of food during the transition. I bring this up because prior to killing the sheep, the man offered thanks, in sweeping gestures, encompassing the sheep itself as well as the whole of the earth.
Just last night a good friend, Francine Grabowski, was leading us in prayer at our faith community at Sacred Heart Church in Camden, NJ; she mentioned an author, Cynthia Barnett, who has written “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History.” Francine talked about how fascinating it was to learn about rain, and that she could not look at water the same way after reading this book. The ordinary became extraordinary for her.
These three moments in my life over the last three days have shown me a way of living that is deeply aware of what is right in front of us. The Lenape who graced this land for thousands of years, the generosity of earth in providing us such abundant resources for life, and the centrality of water, for life itself.
We need to be able to slow down enough to see what is there to be seen, to touch what is there to be touched, to feel the traces of reality that are often overwhelmed by the fleeting, colorful and loud impressions of the market. We owe the Lenape, and all First Nations in whose land we live, moments of silence, to hear their stories and to admire their fidelity. We owe the earth a gesture and a commitment of gratitude for her manifest generosity. And we owe water, bustling and tranquil, a deep and profound attentiveness to its vital importance for all living things on this planet.
What would that look like? Perhaps remembering the Lenape Nation when you walk through your neighborhood woods, should you live in the Delaware River Valley. Perhaps you could come down to CFET for a First Saturday workday. Perhaps you could spend time at a nature center, to learn more about the animals that roam our area, or perhaps the next time you sit down to eat a meat-based meal, have a moment of silence for the animal whose life made that meal possible. Perhaps you could march on April 29th at the People’s Climate March, traveling on a bus that CFET is sponsoring (more on this later in the newsletter). Perhaps you could read Cynthia Barrett’s book on rain. The important thing is to become more attentive, to celebrate the circle of life of which we are a part, to think about our actions in light of their impact on the seventh generation. All of these are suggestions, sparked by three unrelated, but remarkably illuminating experiences.
Thank you, God, for these moments of insight. Thank you, my reader, for reading these thoughts, imagining these moments, and offering them hospitality.
Peace be to you during this preparing time for the Christian feast of Easter and the Jewish feast of Passover. May the blessings of Mother Earth be yours and may you join me in making a commitment to notice and celebrate and honor what is, indeed, a cornucopia of epiphanies.
Mark Doorley, Ph.D.
Board of Trustees, CFET