Every morning begins in darkness. Every morning begins with this stretching out of the still dark across mountainous horizons, over tree tops, mirrored in bodies of water. Even in our houses in the city, the early morning, before any waking has occurred, has a stillness to it that reminds us of the dark. This stillness, the heaviness of dark, begs the question of what can be done with this time of day. As the temperature drops towards its lowest point in a twenty-four hour cycle the moon begins to set. The queen of the night sky quietly slips away, leaving behind her a space for preparation. In my cabin out here on the lake, though the hour aches of 4am, I need a flashlight to walk outside and find my way to the bathroom. Instead, the cold keeps me tucked away, waiting.
Laying in my bed in the dark I am free to see the reality of my soul, and to enter into the cavern of self-doubt that becomes my dwelling. Who have I become? Do people respect me, look up to me, do they like what they see. Do I like what I see? I get impatient with my little ones, and blame them for faults that are usually my own, like running late. I’m a failure at cooking, it keeps me all bound up in anxious knots. My weight has crossed over that thin line on the panty-hose box that tells you you’re “regular.” I’m not published, I yell too much, and I’ve really never been cool. Deeper in this cave I search for God. My heart sinks when I realize that I have not spent a moment thinking of God between my last night of discontent and this one. Is she kind? Is she listening to me? Have I betrayed her eternally? Does it make any sense to still believe?
I buy things unnecessarily. Sometimes it’s a new pair of shoes, or a kitchen appliance, sometimes a plant for the garden or an expensive lunch at the local health-food store. This culture teaches us that buying something will make us feel better, and oh how I have followed those instructions. Instead of binge eating I’m afraid I have a problem with binge buying, and always the justification that it serves some greater purpose in our family life. But this is always a lie.
A few weeks ago I had an experience in the woods that sought to reach inside me and mold my perspective from my heart out. There is a question that has begun to surface. If I can be nourished by the beauty of the woods, and continue to pay attention to other sources of life that are crying out, will this emptiness that I keep falling into, be filled?
The destruction fueled by our consumption in this culture, by my own addiction to stuff, is a creeping massacre across this earth. The cutting down, the poisoning, the burning, the enslaving of both land and “human resources,” is well hidden from the vantage point of strip malls and middle class houses. But really, it is so obvious once you care about what’s missing. There is a new development of box stores in our town called “The Orchard.” It bares that name as a fabricated monument to the acres of apple orchard that were cut down for the concrete foundations and pavement that now monopolizes those acres. And what was clear cut before that to plant the apple tree seedlings?
When I am driving around that section of town, aimlessly wondering what will become of this day, this year, I can feel the pull of that shopping plaza to buy my future and play dress up with sophistication. The way out of that alluring mind game is to put on the perspective that can see through the mirrors and facades and seek the spirit that is living. A day spent exploring existence with a community of trees and seeking beauty and finding beauty step after step in the undergrowth is a mind changer and consumption buzz kill. I find my hope in a future where forests flourish, and where children flourish in forests, and my will to consume pales, starves, and wastes away.
I ache for my children, alive in their creativity, brought to ecstasy with the expectation of a dip in the cool forest stream, speaking with back-yard squirrels, making up words for things and falling back in cascades of laughter at the things they have discovered and invented. Will they soon just become consumers too? Will they someday seek to be defined not by their sense of humor or free style dance moves, but by the technology they can master and the expense they have spent on clothing? How will I survive the coming struggle over purchases and the constant “I want” if I look inside our family to see that I have perpetuated this false hope. This empty meaning.
I read that in the new generation’s children, just entering high-school, some have declined to create facebook pages and rejected the digital relationships of text and status updates. With their youthful belief in possibility and meaning, they can see through into the emptiness of all these games. And if we don’t destroy it first, they may find the fullness of life in the living earth. Maybe the next generation of children, like my children, will grow up allowed to step outside each day, to feel the warmth of sun and run barefoot in the cold autumn because they don’t care to know the difference between 60 degrees and 65 degrees. Unless we teach them not to, they will see hope gasping, and they will grasp it and pull with all their might, pull hope out of its hospital bed and it will grow with them. We must not only force them to learn from us, we must learn from them, and together, from her, the creator that dwells in mother earth.
Every morning begins in darkness, and yet, something happens with that darkness every day. Most of us miss it because we are asleep, but it happens whether we are watching or not. Out of God’s womb comes the thing she has birthed over and over. A thin band of light grey becomes a thin band of pink, and then pale yellow, 1000 miles wide and 10,000 miles deep. There emerges a hint of light, a pale beckoning from beyond our reach, calling the day to come, ushering in the sun. With each passing day, and each birth of a new day, as with each birth of a new life, human and non-human, there is a sure moment where hope is king.