Four people with taper candles light chalice framed by two rings

“The Great Conversation” – October 8th, 2023

Oct 9, 2023


“For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet” 
by Muskoke/Creek Nation poet Joy Harjo

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

Don’t worry.

The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.

Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters.

 Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.


“The Great Conversation”

This morning we have listened to the wisdom of the Pacific Northwest Chinookan People. Their Blessing Litany served as our invocation.

We have heard the wisdom of Muscogee Creek Nation Elder Joy Harjo, our poet today.

And we have also acknowledged this land beneath our feet and bodies in our land acknowledgement. We have honored the wisdom and lives of the Wampanoag, Nipmuc and Massachusett people, as we do every Sunday. They stewarded this land, and continue to do so, for over 10,000 years. They call themselves People of the Dawn.

And I stand before you this morning humbled by the honor that it is to speak and listen to their words and names, share in their wisdom, and acknowledge their lives and land.

And I have also, for a long time, felt deeply troubled, overwhelmed, and powerless, when it comes to repairing, reconciling, restoring relationships with these original stewards of lands I have lived on and loved. Where do we begin? Where do I begin?

We are learning more, and that’s wonderful. Let us all educate ourselves and keep on educating ourselves–come to know their names and memorize them. This is awesome.

But, for most of us, this is where it stops. It’s neck up work. We are great at neck up work, right? Give us the study manual, the facts, the latest and greatest history book. The lecture at the University…Again, this is awesome. But you know this, because you are wise, something is missing. You can feel it. You can feel it in your bodies. The body doesn’t feel repaired, reconciled, or restored after reading, say, the Indigenous Peoples History of the United States. The mind has been opened, yes, but then what? And I’m not talking about ‘then what’ action steps–of course measurable actions, activism, is amazing. Please do it. But I’m talking about something else here. And, again, because I know you are wise, I know you can feel it. That something is missing.

I’m talking about broken relationship. Yes, the broken relationship with the original stewards of these lands: the Wampanoag, Nipmuc, Massachusett. The Mashantucket Pequot from the west, and the Wabanacki Confederacy of the north. We must all commit to putting our land acknowledgment into action and stand in solidarity with them, as well as make their stories and lives visible. So that we might begin to heal this broken relationship. This is a commitment I take seriously and continue to grow into.

But our land acknowledgment asks us to make another commitment. To the land. My people, for hundreds and hundreds of years, have been severed from the land. Oh sure, they have worked it, lived on it, owned it, fought for it, died for it, but they have not been in relationship with it for thousands of years.

That’s a long time. So, when I say, something’s missing and we can feel it. This is what I’m talking about. Many of us aren’t well as a result.

It is time to restore The Great Conversation. This is a turn of phrase coined by 20th century mystic Father Thomas Berry who, in his lament over the separation from the Earth, writes, “We are talking only to ourselves. We are not talking to the rivers, we are not listening to the wind and stars. We have broken the Great Conversation…and it is this conversation that actually holds the web of life together.” We have broken the Great Conversation. No wonder so many of us don’t feel well. Father Berry calls this separation a ‘dangerous fissure’; this broken conversation a ’shattering of the universe.’

Eco-feminists, womanists, environmental theologians, human rights activists, indigenous theologians, would all agree that our separation from one another, oppression and the like, is rooted in this dangerous fissure. This broken conversation with the Earth.

I was not taught to talk to the rivers. Or listen to the wind and stars. I learned the names of rivers. I had to memorize where they were on maps. I was taught they were places of recreation and fun. Beautiful to sit beside. I hear about winds on the Weather Channel. I have numbers in my mind that relate to hurricane threats. I know they can be measured in miles per hour. I know about good kite flying winds, and bad kite flying winds. I know the names of some constellations. I often have trouble remembering which ones are where in the sky depending upon the time of year. I know that my whole life has been lived knowing only a small spattering of stars because of the cities I have lived by that make it impossible to see all of them. I can go for weeks, months, without giving much thought, beyond an occasional and passive “oh, how beautiful,” to rivers, wind, or stars.

The sea levels are rising. Coastal places are being flooded. I have lamented the state of climate change. I have donated money to organizations that help people who have been hit hardest by rising waterways. I have read lots of articles and books about this. And I try to do my part to not contribute to it by what I buy, and how I live. This is all the good neck-up stuff. But I have never stood at the ocean and listened to what she is trying to tell me. I wasn’t taught to do this. I am trying to learn.

This Broken Conversation and relationship are parts of my heritage story. Our heritage story? I put a question mark there as I don’t want to assume that you share this fissure with me. But it is true for most people today. Particularly those who identify as white.

AND. You know that there is always an AND in my sermons. This Broken Conversation implies that it once wasn’t broken, right? It has become broken. But as with all broken things, the possibility of mending is there. In this case, it is FOR SURE there.

Indigenous People’s wisdom about this Great Conversation is available to us. Their wisdom and teachings, their worldview shows us how to be in relationship with the land, and by virtue of this, all living things–including people. I am not talking about sloppy misappropriation of their culture and rituals, I am talking about humbly–I used that word last week–humbly and reverently looking to their wisdom as a guide here. Their wisdom is not all that different than our ancient indigenous ancestors’ wisdom. We have simply forgotten it.

Suddenly the “what now?” becomes clear, right? Not easy, but clear.

The Great Conversation restored means you must learn to walk gently on this Sacred Land and with one another. To never take more than you need. And always give back to it. It means you must recast yourselves as stewards of the land, rather than owners of it. Commit yourself to doing no more harm to it–which will affect every purchase you make, what you throw away, what you eat and drink, and on and on. It will be a great and sobering and inconvenient awakening. You are going to need to find new names for things. Dirt becomes sacred Mother Earth; lumber becomes sacred Brother Forest; drinking water becomes sacred Sister River; and on and on. Our kin you see. The web of life retied. And the restored Great Conversation also means that you will need to get comfortable with prayer and meditation for there is no other way to listen and converse with this Sacred Earth and Her waterways and skyways; rivers, wind and stars–but to pray and to meditate. Every day. It will be a new muscle to work. But don’t worry, it has only atrophied. It once was very strong.

Hard as all of this might be, don’t you find yourself longing for this? Doesn’t your body and soul ache for it? Mine does. It’s exhausting wandering around the way we are disconnected and out of relationship with the Land and with one another. I know that it’s exhausting because every time I go deep into nature, well you tell me–how do you feel? Restored? More returned to yourself? Rested? Yes.

This weekend celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Please don’t let today and tomorrow be it. We want to be called to kinship with our Indigenous siblings; we long to mend the hoop of our hearts and anxious bodies; we hope to find our way back into the Great Conversation; and to live with spirits of peace and justice and gentle footprints on all days. For the love of all things, please don’t let today and tomorrow be it. Or for Earth Day to be it.

Where to start? Take this question to the mountains, woods, rivers, and oceans. Plead it. Pray for it. You can also dig your fingers into the Earth and just hold them there. And try listening. Breathe in Sacred Sky. I know this sounds wacky and weird, but is it? Is it? Start telling one another about the Land that raised you. And that continues to raise you. And please, Dear Ones, come to know the wisdom of Indigenous Peoples. Know their names by heart. Commit yourself to learning about who they were and who they are.

In this spirit, I want to give the last words to Joy Harjo. We’ve already heard her magnificent poem “For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet.” I now want to offer you another one. Both, along with our Chinook Blessing Litany and the Land Acknowledgement I spoke today, have been printed up for you. I am going to put them on our altar after worship and will also have them in the newsletter on Friday for those of you at home. Maybe reading some of these words at the start of your day, or at its close will inch you closer to the Great Conversation. I pray it will.

From Joy Harjo, Eagle Poem:

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

May it be so. Amen. Hallellujah!

Let’s sing No. 203 “All Creatures of the Earth and Sky”

Land Acknowledgement

We worship on the ancestral homeland of the Massachusett Tribe at a place named for the meadows at the widening of the river.  The original peoples who lived here stewarded the land and fished in the river which they called Quinobequin.  We acknowledge that this land is unceded and remains sacred to the Massachusett, the Nipmuc, and Wampanoag Nations.  We recognize the violence perpetrated upon Indigenous people by the colonial settlers who occupied what is now Watertown.  We stand in solidarity with Indigenous people who today resist erasure and demand to regain their sovereignty.

Chinook Blessing Litany (used as today’s Invocation)

We call upon the earth, our planet home, with its beautiful depths and soaring heights, its vitality and abundance of life, and together we ask her to
Teach us, and show us the Way.
We call upon the mountains, the Cascades and the Olympics, the high green valleys and meadows filled with wild flowers, the snows that never melt, the summits of intense silence, and we ask that they
Teach us, and show us the Way.
We call upon the waters that rim the earth, horizon to horizon, that flow in our rivers and streams, that fall upon our gardens and fields and we ask that they
Teach us, and show us the Way.
We call upon the land which grows our food, the nurturing soil, the fertile fields, the abundant gardens and orchards, and we ask that they
Teach us, and show us the Way.
We call upon the forests, the great trees reaching strongly to the sky with earth in their roots and the heavens in their branches, the fir and the pine and the cedar, and we ask them to
Teach us, and show us the Way.
We call upon the creatures of the fields and forests and the seas, our brothers and sisters the wolves and deer, the eagle and dove, the great whales and the dolphin, the beautiful Orca and salmon who share our Northwest home, and we ask them to
Teach us, and show us the Way.
We call upon all those who have lived on this earth, our ancestors and our friends, who dreamed the best for future generations, and upon whose lives our lives are build, and with thanksgiving, we call upon them to
Teach us, and show us the Way.
And lastly, we call upon all that we hold most sacred, the presence and power of the Great Spirit of love and truth which flows through all the Universe … to be with us to
Teach us, and show us the Way.

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