I Hear the Earth Breathing

Posted on in Healthy Living by Deborah Santana


“Another world is not only possible; she is on her
way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
—Arundhati Roy,
War Talk

Iclearly recall the moment I heard a woodpecker’s steady drumming on a redwood tree whose tip touched the sky. I was on the downhill slope of my hike on King Mountain, lost in thought, inhaling the clean air, feeling the freedom of being alive. I stopped and looked up, scanning the limbs for the industrious bird, and found the black wings dotted with white, chest with brown markings, and a bright red feather cap, the tail curved onto the trunk of the tree. The percussive sound brought my attention to a sacred moment in nature.

This was years after I came of age during the Civil Rights Movement. There was little justice for those whose skin color was brown or black, and whose families had been enslaved in this country. In San Francisco, I did not experience the horrors of fire hoses turned on me, the lynching of innocent people, Jim Crow laws, or the right to vote being taken away, but being ostracized and maligned was palpable. In our church, we joined with others who wanted to eradicate racism peacefully. It was our mission, as people of color who followed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to stop racist oppression through peaceful protest and working together to change policies of persecution. “We Shall Overcome” was an anthem we sang from the center of our souls. But we were not successful, and the fight for equality and justice continued.

The idea and vision to have a spiritual order to celebrate, heal, and protect Mother Earth is a gallant one. To dedicate ourselves to this community will require deep prayer and the practice of nonviolence as we witness the destruction of our planet. I look to Native wisdom for guidance and light. Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation and spokesman for the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, suggests a map to follow: “In our way of life, in our government, with every decision we make, we always keep in mind the Seventh Generation to come. It’s our job to see that the people coming ahead, the generations still unborn, have a world no worse than ours—and hopefully better. When we walk upon Mother Earth we always plant our feet carefully because we know the faces of our future generations are looking up at us from beneath the ground. We never forget them.”

light through the trees

Yet we are not taught Native ways. In early times, Native tribes’ medicine people and societies made medicine and prayers for good crops and for success in the hunt. If the tribe was faced with going to war, the medicine people were consulted. In times of sickness or drought, prayers and ceremonies were made to the Great Spirit. There was no action taken without prayer and the consensus of all.

With this understanding of healthy community, I joined activists when I was a teen to protest the Vietnam War. We marched through the Golden Gate Park Panhandle carrying signs: “End the War,” and “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” In January 2017, I joined 600,000 lovers of our world marching in Washington, DC, along with millions of others around the world. We stood together to bear witness and cry out for human rights, environmental rights, LGBTQI rights, and to love and cherish the Earth and each other.

For decades, activists and scientists have warned about the dangers of forgetting to respect Mother Earth. Jeannette Armstrong is Syilx (Okanagan) from Penticton, British Columbia, Canada. She originates from the Okanagan Valley, where the ecology has very harsh and dry summers. The Syilx people practice a philosophy and system of governance that requires them to always be vigilant and aware of not over-using, not over-consuming the resources of their land, and they are mindful of the importance of sharing and giving. She writes, “…the land is a body that gives continuously, and we as human beings are an integral part of that body.” We are all responsible for our Earth. We are all responsible for our children and their children, for the future of creation and life. We are not helpless bystanders who can afford to throw away plastic cups, bottles, toothbrushes, baggies, food containers, and store-bought product packaging that cover the Earth and fill the oceans with trash. We must be attentive and mindful of everything we touch so that our presence on this planet does no harm.

In October 2007, I heard Wangari Maathai speak. She had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her environmental work in Kenya and the world. What made her a shero and activist of monolithic proportions was her belief that poor and disenfranchised women could plant seeds to re-birth their rural devastated landscapes. She knew innately that working to heal the environment would heal people too. “Planting trees came to me as a concrete, doable response,” she wrote. She founded the Green Belt Movement to educate and work at the grassroots national and international levels to promote environmental conservation. She witnessed the climate become dryer and warmer and the glaciers on Mount Kenya and the snows on Mount Kilimanjaro vanish, Kenya experiencing recurring droughts and losing forests and vegetation. Today over 51 million trees have been planted worldwide because of Wangari’s work to empower women to repair the destruction of their environments. Her belief was “to urge individuals not to wait for divine intervention, but to give themselves the energy they imagine, or pray that God will provide, and to recognize that God expects them to take action and rise up and walk!”

I hear the Earth crying for people to rise up and act as if every decision we make will either destroy or protect the planet. The denial of climate change is loudest from the billionaire titans who profit mightily from oil and chemical industries. We see the consequences of living without environmental conservation as the planet’s surface temperature has risen 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit, ice caps are melting, the Plains are flooding, and sea levels are rising.

To stand in unity with the Order, I must sit in silence, and in prayer. When I am quiet, the wind whispers loving songs through tree leaves, birds whistle sweet melodies that soothe my soul. The ocean waves remind me of nature’s power, and each sunrise is a promise that I have been given another chance to make choices that preserve and replenish the gifts from Mother Earth.

The Order of the Sacred Earth is asking us to serve, give back, to become part of a spiritual order. They ask us to hope. I am not a joiner as such. I am an empath, one who feels deeply the suffering, joys, struggles, and growth of my sisters and brothers. I commit to defending Mother Earth and to being in circle with those who say “yes” to this vision. Sun Bear, Chippewa leader of a community of Native and non-Native people, wrote about common vision. “Members must be in agreement on the purpose of a community, its goals, methods, and priorities. This common vision is necessary so that our energy is not dispersed in conflicting directions, but channeled toward a specific goal.”

I have seen and heard many woodpeckers since that day on King Mountain 10 years ago. I have learned that they are socially monogamous and show displays of bi-parental care. The males build new nests each year in the cavities of dead trees such as willow, oak, and alder. The woman and mother I am loves this shared caregiving. The environmentalist in me loves that these woodpeckers are not endangered. The activist in me will continue to be in circle with voices guiding us to save our Earth and love each other.

Deborah Santana is an author, business manager, and activist for peace and social justice. Her memoir Space Between the Stars depicts her growing up as a bi-racial child and her coming of age. All the Women in My Family Sing is an anthology documenting the experiences of women of color at the dawn of the 21st century. This essay is adapted from Order of the Sacred Earth by Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, and Jennifer Listug by Monkfish Publishing. MonkfishPublishing .com, DeborahSantana.com

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