Ordinary Courage

Here is the complete text of Rex Weyler's speech 'Ordinary Courage' delivered today at the Vancouver Unitarian Church for Earth Day.

In the great Hindu Ramayana: After Sita tells her story to the people – how the demon had abducted her, and why her husband, king Rama, had banished her on the suspicion that she had been unfaithful – she knelt and spoke to the Earth.

“Let me prove my innocence. Mother Earth, if I have been faithful to Rama, take me home. Hide me.”

The Earth rolled and moved. The ground broke with a great rumbling and a deep chasm opened, lit from below with lightning from the castles of the Naga serpent kings.

From underground rose four towering Nagas, guardians of Earth’s riches, hissing and weaving like giant cobras. Their silver scales rippled like moonlight on the ocean waves. With red eyes, they glared at the people.

From below, between the four Nagas, rose a throne, carved from stone and roots, and set with diamonds. On that throne sat Mother Earth. She was not old, but eternally fair; not sad, but smiling. She wore flowers and the seas swirled about her.

Earth supports all life but is not burdened by this. She is patient. She was patient under the Sun and Moon and through the rainfalls of countless years.

She was patient with seasons, with kings, and with farmers.

She endured all things and bore no care from it.

But this was the end of her long patience with Rama. She stretched out her arms and took her only child Sita on her lap. She folded her exquisite arms around her daughter, laid Sita’s head softly against her shoulder, and stroked her hair, as any mother would do. Sita closed her eyes like a little girl.

The throne sank back underground. The Nagas dove beneath the ground and the crevice closed gently over them, forever.”

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In this story, written 2,500 years ago, Rama is an incarnation of Hindu God Indra, reborn on earth to do battle with evil. But he forgets his divine origin and falls victim to rumors about his wife Sita.

When Rama realizes his mistake, he says: “I didn’t know. I am king of the whole world, but the earth has taken my wife from me before my eyes.”

This is Mother Earth, Bhumi to the Hindus, Gaia to the Greeks. In this story we hear that she is patient, but she is not oblivious. She hears the cry of her daughters, or her son’s for that matter.

This story, like all great stories, touches deep truths and so speaks to us still today. Earth shall not be mocked. Nature shall not be mocked.

Now, we know. We look out at our tortured world, heating up at unprecedented rate, rivers polluted, forests turned to desert, and we witness the hubris of humanity. Our mistakes return like the Naga serpents to stare us down. Rachel Carson wrote a half century ago, “The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology.”

We do not control nature. We are nature.

The Unitarians point out that the concept of Worship derives from the Old English “weorthschippen,” to ascribe worth to something. So, to what do we ascribe worth? To security, to money, to our career or nation? Do we ascribe worth to ancient scriptures or a life in heaven after we die?

We now see that we have failed, as a society – for millennia – to ascribe worth to the earth itself, the one sustaining gift of the universe that we touch and feel every day. Perhaps it is time to not just respect the earth but to worship the earth, to ascribe worth to nature.

Nature is the first teacher of humanity. Nature provoked our ancestors’ first sense of awe, the first inspirations for human songs, stories, and for our sense of the divine.

Where do we go for a holiday? Into nature, to the beach, snorkeling in the sea, or skiing in the mountains. We find ourselves suddenly back home. Nature built us. Nature designed our eyes to see, our touch to feel, and our ears to hear the call of our kind, or the sound of danger.

Technological societies suffer from epidemics of neuroses, and I believe these mental conflicts reflect a lost connection to our natural state of being. But our mother, the earth, is patient. She abides. She suffers our neglect. She waits.

I think she waits for us to ascribe worth to her.


Optimism and realism

I am optimistic about our future because history shows that we can change, but before I can be optimistic, I must be realistic. Otherwise I am not optimistic, I am delusional.

We cannot fear the truth, because that is what will save us.

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