This semester my “Religion and Ecology” professor gave us an assignment to visit a quiet place in nature twice a week. I usually walk at Dennings Point in Beacon with my dog, who takes her slow sweet time smelling every smell along the way, before arriving at our destination. As I walk into the clearing where the Fishkill Creek meets the Hudson River, I am greeted by the gentle lap of water, and- depending on the season- blue heron, swans, wild geese, and mallards. The peace of the moment is pervasive and holy.
And yet, in the midst of this peace, I have become keenly attuned to signs of loss and destruction- the untold removal of peoples who once lived and worshipped and buried their dead here; the remains of brick and awning factories that changed the landscape and soil forever; and symbols of current day consumption- plastic bottles and trash along the shoreline, habitat loss, deforestation and destruction. At the same time, adaptation and ingenuity serve to restore and renew. The land here is now protected in winter for bald eagle nesting; spring through fall, it is a place for scientific study of water, environmental education of school children, and nature wanderers and dog walkers like me.
This afternoon I listened to a storyteller of the Ramapough Lenape nation speak of his ancestors, and
his sense of kinship with the land. For 13,000 years, his ancestors lived on this land- the same land which includes the place where our own meeting house is situated. He spoke of his own sense of self being intimately connected to the land. I thought of my own wandering over land to which I am, by comparison, a real newcomer…
I wonder, as we celebrate the holidays this month and enter into a time so often characterized by busyness and consumerism, if we might consider- not the heavens, but the Earth. What would it look like to live that most sung about, sought after, prayed after, “Peace on Earth”… perhaps we need not look to the skies, but to the snowy ground beneath our feet, and all who have walked this way before.