Blue Boat Home
Speaker: Rev. Fiona Heath
April 22, 2020
Presented on-line April 19th, 2020 Rev. Fiona Heath
“In company with cultures of many different times and places, we name these things as sacred: air, fire, water, and earth. Whether we see them as the breath, energy, blood, and body of the Mother, or as the blessed gifts of a Creator, or as symbols of interconnected systems that sustain life, we know that nothing can live without them.
To call these things sacred is to say that they have a value beyond their usefulness for human ends…”
These are the opening words of the Declaration of the Four Sacred Things, written by neo-pagan author and activist Starhawk. Since reading this in my twenties, these words have guided me to try and live lightly, with care and conscience.
It’s one of the threads that brought me to Unitarian Universalist ministry.
The sacred has value beyond utility.
I love this definition of the sacred. It isn’t about being divine or special or transcendently beyond ordinary life: the sacred is that which has value beyond use.
It is life being alive.
For me, this makes listening to a bright red cardinal sing in a birch tree – as I did yesterday – sacred. It is of no practical use to me to hear a bird sing, and it’s not a source of grand insight or meaning, it’s just lovely to be part of world that has red singing birds.
It’s sacred because the bird is alive and I’m alive and here we are together for a moment. Life just being in all its glory.
The Four Sacred Things Declaration goes on to say…
“Only justice can assure balance; only ecological balance can sustain freedom. Only in freedom can that fifth sacred thing we call spirit flourish in its full diversity.
The fifth sacred thing is spirit. Spirit – that intangible wholeness entangled with body, mind and emotions. Spirit flourishes in the conditions of ecological health and freedom.
Within healthy ecosystems, everyone – people and cardinals and foxes and salmon and violets and birch trees – are free to live their lives.
You all know the seventh principle – I quote it endlessly – but it is both scientifically accurate and a spiritual truth – we are part of the interdependent web of life on earth.
We are intimately connected to all that lives, and all that lives is sacred.
Not super special, not to be held up as perfect or ideal, but sacred, having intrinsic value beyond its usefulness to us. We know this truth when we stop and pay attention.
As poet Mary Oliver says, “my work is loving the world…
Which is mostly standing still
and learning to be astonished.”
Loving the world, standing still and being astonished is vital spiritual work. We may not always be able to save what we love, but we won’t even try to save what we don’t know, don’t love, don’t value.
If the earth is sacred, if life has value beyond utility, we need to live differently.
This odd time of pandemics and economics – the break in normality is a chance to stop and consider how we live. How we might live if collectively we hold the earth and all its creatures – including us – as sacred.
We are getting smog free skies again. Airplane noise is rare rather then constant. We can drive without gridlock or not commute at all.
We learning what is essential.
The animals are coming out to play. The birds can sing loudly and the sea creatures can hear each other.
While I would like all this without a pandemic killing thousands of people, this global economic slowdown shows us that we can live differently. I don’t want to diminish the need to focus on managing the COVID-19 crisis, and tending to the grief and trauma that is present among us, but the climate crisis is also still here.
And the pandemic response by governments shows that when they take a crisis seriously, they can act, they can mobilize resources and find the money.
So what world do we want to create?
I want a world with less speed and asphalt and more trees and birdsong. with shorter commutes and more public gardens. With walkable neighbourhoods powered by solar panels and wind turbines. With less racism and poverty and inequality.
And more foxes.
I want a world where the earth is considered sacred, where decisions are made not based solely on economics but on ecology and human well being.
All of this is entirely possible. We can live in an equitable, sustainable society. But we have to work towards it, set our intentions towards a different future, a truly new normal.
And to sustain the work, to sustain that difficult effort of changing global systems, we need to love the world.
To stop and learn to be astonished by the cardinals and foxes and see them as sacred, as having intrinsic value, to respect their right to life.
This will drive us to include their well being in planning and decision making. After all, when you love someone you care for them, you help them, you treat them well. That is how you show love.
The Declaration of Four Sacred Things ends with these words:
“To honor the sacred is to create conditions in which nourishment, sustenance, habitat, knowledge, freedom, and beauty can thrive. To honor the sacred is to make love possible.
To this we dedicate our curiosity, our will, our courage, our silences, and our voices.
To this we dedicate our lives.
Our work is loving the world. May we love the earth and all its creatures, not just on Earth Day, but on all days.
May we dedicate ourselves to creating an equitable and sustainable world for all beings.
So Say We All.