Monday, March 12, 2007

Guest Author Blog: Shore Pebbles from David Weale, Holy Land

Holy Land

According to Roman Catholic dogma a graveyard is holy ground because it has been blessed by the Church, but take a single step outside that anointed territory and you are on ground that is unholy. Indeed, the rod the church holds over the heads of the faithful is that if they don’t behave appropriately they will be buried without blessing in unconsecrated ground, where the harvesting angels won’t be able to find them. It is a powerful story, and I know that for a very long time it was one that both buttressed the authority of the church, and provided comfort and assurance to the dying, but like so many other old stories, the days of its usefulness have passed. It needs to be replaced, or at least greatly revised.

Because I was raised Protestant, and grew up believing that Catholic’s were credulous and superstitious, and that they were all going to hell no matter where they were buried, I was little affected by their graveyard mythology; however, I did hear a lot about another, similar concept called “the holy land,” and as I reflect on conditions in our world today, it strikes me that it has become an even more obsolete and dysfunctional teaching.

The holy land I learned about was nowhere near where I lived. They said it was on the other side of the world: where Abraham trekked with his children and his goats because of a promise from Yahweh; where prophets with musical names like Ezekiel and Obadiah received urgent messages directly from the divine; where Abraham‘s descendents, under the resplendent and charismatic King David, slew the evil, unbelieving Philistines; and, most importantly, where Jesus lived and died, and was raised up from the dead. Compared to all that Prince Edward Island seemed terribly ordinary, but when I became an adult I began to recognize the danger lurking in that old, holy-land narrative. One day it dawned on me that by designating certain locales sacred we had effectively desacralized the rest of the planet, including the place I lived.
I also couldn’t help noticing that the place called the Holy Land by the three major religions of the West was, and remains, the most dangerous and ravaged landscape on the planet. Hmmm?
When I was in high school I had a teacher who traveled one summer to the Middle East to visit the shrines and holy places declared sacred by his faith, and the next year he spent one whole class showing us the slides from his trip, and rhapsodizing about all the amazing sights he had seen. His face was shining as he spoke, and we were all duly impressed, and glad for the break in routine, but as I think back on that time it occurs to me that neither that teacher, nor any other, ever attempted to open our minds and hearts to the sacredness of the landscape in which we all lived. And if they had, we probably would have resisted the notion, having already been instructed that the holy land was someplace else.

In North America we have scoured and trashed much of our landscape, and stretched long tentacles of exploitation around the entire globe. Like a fox in the henhouse, or vandals in a temple, we have pillaged and ransacked, and created a great, global mess. Bulked up with the steroids of powerful technology, inspired by a largely uncritical view of progress, and directed by old religious beliefs that promoted anthropocentrism, and undermined reverence for the earth, we embarked on an immensely short-sighted journey of despoliation. The hand-wringing litany of what we have done to our habitat is a long one, and, like most everyone else, I am tired of hearing about it. I also dislike the feelings of fatalism and powerlessness it sometimes evokes. But I am not without hope; and it’s not because I believe in some new technological quick-fix that is just around the corner. Putting more and more sophisticated tools in the hands of deranged people, who are captive to old stories, is hardly a solution. The reason I am not without hope because I know what great storytellers we humans are, and because I believe we are capable of a new narrative that will get us off this blundering course.

Stated simply, we need to author a new mythology; one that honours the earth and expands the old concept of holy land in such a way that every square foot of landscape, every drop in the ocean, and every creature (including ourselves) is regarded as sacred -- something to be treated gently and reverently, and experienced as a source of wisdom and communion. That is what we must do, and even as I write I know there are millions of soulful men and women world-wide who are joined in a powerful, unofficial alliance, all working together to create a different consciousness, out of which will emerge a new, redemptive storyline. Historically, our great, religious stories have separated us, and sent us clanking off in one righteous crusade after another, but the creation of a new storyline, in which we are all members a single family, living on the holy planet Earth, can point us in a new direction.

It simply is not possible to build a new world with old stories; or, in the words of a not-so-old old gospel song, “No you can’t get to heaven in an old Ford car / cause an old Ford car can’t go that far.” There are many intelligent people in our society who say we should respect all spiritual traditions, and in this country it is considered politically incorrect to be critical of the religious beliefs of others. But why should we honour and perpetuate beliefs that promote fear and hatred of outsiders, and that proclaim that certain parts of the earth, and certain of its inhabitants, are more sacred than others? I might respect my old stove for what it has been in its time, but when cracks begin to appear in the sides, and hot coals are spilling out onto the floor, I know what I must do do.

So long as old, short-sighted, religious narratives prevail, and continue to shape the world-view of hundreds of millions of individuals, it really doesn’t do much good to clean up rivers, or reduce smog emissions, or teach courses on the environment, or promote eco-tourism, or sign multi-lateral agreements. The disorder arises from a place so deep that none of those things can touch it. It is in ourselves, and our dysfunctional myths about who we are, and what is good for us. It is, in a word, a spiritual problem, and any measure that does not address that is a mere palliative.

We can pass all the laws, impose all the penalties, and initiate all the programs we like, but so long as our political strategies, our economic policies, and our educational views are based on those old “chosen people,” and “holy land” narratives, the despoliation of the earth, and the exploitation of many of its inhabitants, will continue. One thing alone is required: that we make for ourselves a new Abrahamic emigration to a renewed holy land consciousness.

And the next time anyone asks you if you have been to the Holy Land, it might be a good idea to tell them, with your face shining, that you were born there.

David Weale writes his Shore Pebbles from Prince Edward Island. He is the author of The True Meaning of Crumbfest, the unabridged audio edition of which is available from Rattling Books and the print edition from Acorn Press.