Reflections and Prayer

Diane Pendola is the host of Skyline Harvest in northern California.

by Diane Pendola

I began writing EARTHLINES the winter of 2000, after a wild fire in October of 1999 burned 13,000 acres of forest all around us. The loss of ponderosa pines, of sacred groves, of huge black oaks and wide-hipped madrones was devastating and life altering. It reawakened me to the preciousness of what remains, not only here at Skyline, but by extension, throughout our planet. Our fire shook me from a self-forgetting sleep to open my eyes to the enormity of the losses we are facing. As eco-theologian Thomas Berry expresses, “We are losing splendid and intimate modes of divine presence. We are, perhaps, losing ourselves.”

Now twenty years later the evidence of climate change is undeniable. Fires have raged out of control in coniferous forests throughout the western United States turning whole towns to ash. They have burned for months in Australia. They have ravaged the Amazon rainforests of Brazil. They have destroyed ancient redwoods on the California coast. They have burned through permafrost in the arctic of Siberia threatening to turn this important carbon sink into a carbon source, driving further global heating.

It is challenging not to fall into despair, or to go back to sleep into self-forgetting. But such self-forgetting is not only individual but deeply communal. When we forget ourselves, we forget all our relations. When we neglect our hearts we neglect the beating heart of our Mother. When we wash our hands of responsibility we set in motion crucifixions of a global scale.

I don’t know what to do, except to wake up as Bob Dylan sings and “strengthen the things that remain.” Prayer, I would say, is essential. Prayer that is listening. Prayer that is humble, that is connected to the humus of the earth, that recognizes our intimate need for soil and worms, and the birds that eat the worms and help our own spirits feel the lift of wings. Prayer that recognizes we are more than individuals but beings connected to every other in an interdependent web. Prayer helps us re-member, re-connect the threads to the lost and severed parts of ourselves: those splendid and intimate modes of divine presence that constitute our body, breath and life

Twenty years ago a group of us gathered, after days of planting seedling trees. We created a ceremonial circle, kneeling to plant a tree in each of the four directions: east, south, west and north. We asked the powers of sun and water, earth and breath to bless them, and us, in these new beginnings. We held hands and made this prayer:

We Pray
This land be made whole again
This forest grow strong again
These trees grow tall again.
We pray
That what we do today strengthens
the sacred web of life.
We pray
That the knot we tie today
in this place with these hands
will bind us to all generations to come.
We pray
That through our actions today
we make of this place a sanctuary
for all the creatures who have thrived here in the past.

We pray
That we secure a future for them in this present
and with them for ourselves
and our children’s children.
We pray
That the trout will flourish again in the creek
and the frogs will always celebrate
in their evening song.

What we do today matters.
This soil we clothe is our body.
This earth we tend is our flesh.
These trees we plant are our breath.
Today we express the unity of all life.

Today we enter into a covenant with this place
And through the particularity of this place and time
with all places and all times: