Skyline, Spring - 2011

By Diane Pendola

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It is the first week of spring, though here at Skyline Harvest in the Sierra foothills it feels more like the depths of winter! Perhaps appropriately so, as we experience our solidarity with the people of Japan as literal and metaphorical winter descends upon them. Yet spring extends her promise that day and night, dark and light will find their balance in our world; that both grief and joy are part of the creative matrix that allows new life to come forth. So today I wish you blessings of the daffodil, the crocus, and the pink camelia in the snow.



When written in Chinese, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters.
One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.

John F. Kennedy

When I visited the Sea of Bengal India in 2007 the trauma of that great devastation of 2004 was still worn on the faces of the women selling their silk swaths of cloth on the beach to visitors like me. In the tsunami that had swept everything away, they had recognized the great cobra snake. The wave actually looked like an awakened cobra. In Hinduism the cobra is a symbol of the sacred goddess energy, Kali. It was Kali that they witnessed, rising as a towering black-hooded wave and striking with sudden and irreversible power. Now in 2011 she has struck again, this time on the shores of Japan, venomously uncoiling herself as a huge serpentine tide ripped from the sea's depths by shifting tectonic plates of the ocean floor.

Kali's masculine dimension is Shiva. He is one of the most important gods of the Hindu pantheon, known as the Destroyer of the Universe. Sometimes the gods and their consorts speak to us more elementally and directly than our scientists possibly can. Our minds cannot make sense of what is unintelligible, irrational, beyond our human capacity to understand. Perhaps that is why Kali is often depicted wearing a necklace of decapitated skulls, to remind us that it is not through our heads alone that we navigate the mysteries of death, destruction and despair. The gods inhabit a cosmic realm full of violence, beyond our concepts of right and wrong, good and evil. The gods are not reasonable, nor is reality.

On March 11, catastrophe of unimaginable proportions broke into our secure living rooms, awakening the precariousness that sleeps in the shadows of our mortal hearts. There hey were on our TV news, the images: whole coastline communities devastated for miles inland as well as along the shores; snow now falling on the rubble and the stooped shoulders of the people; the people homeless, without water, warmth or shelter; loved ones lost or buried, dear pets gone and random photographs gazing hauntingly from the debris.

What is this violence woven into our cosmic story? We recall that the very name we gave to the star that went supernova, creating our planet through her own annihilation, is the name of a Goddess: Tiamat . The name is borrowed from Babylonian mythology where Tiamat , coincidentally symbolized sometimes as a sea serpent and sometimes as a many-headed dragon, is the primordial goddess of the ocean. She contains within herself the deep mystery of chaos, of uncontrollable energy and passion, of destruction and creation. Through violent battles and conflict her eventual self-sacrifice creates the seas, sky and earth, the wonder and beauty of creation–our world.

But our world is not always beautiful. Our wonder is awakened as much by evil and violence as by beauty. The tsunami bears witness to the destructive power within the natural world, but the unfolding conflict in Libya bears witness to this destructive capacity residing in the human heart. The nuclear meltdown underway in Fukushima testifies to our human hubris. We continue to speak in this country–even now– of clean, safe, nuclear energy. We, the Americans, can plan for every disaster, anticipate every contingency, decide that the risks of planetary catastrophe are minimal and bet the lives of all future generations on our calculations. But as we have seen, reality is not reasonable. As much as we would like to dominate reality, splitting the atom, making ourselves gods by dethroning divinity and subduing the cosmos, there will always be the wild, incalculable power emerging out of the unknown and unknowable.

Thomas Berry has suggested that we are at the end of a 67 million year venture called the Cenozoic era. We are standing at the threshold of a new age. Will we choose to continue to commit ourselves to what he calls the "technozoic," a future of increased exploitation of Earth as resource, all for the benefit of humans? We are living now with some of the destructive results of the technozoic paradigm. Along with the present nuclear calamity, we have experienced the ruinous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the tragic aftermath of global financial melt-down, and the consequences of climate change that are off the historical charts! Moments of crisis like ours are also moments of choice. Will we change our direction, committing ourselves to a new paradigm, what Thomas calls the "ecozoic," a new mode of Human-Earth relations, one where the well being of the entire Earth community is the primary concern?*

Does it feel like the web we have woven is coming undone? The sense of security we find in our technology? Our feelings of our human superiority? Our pride in individualism? Our worship of the almighty dollar (euro, yen)? As this web unravels what is the net that holds us? In Japan it is the people with homes taking in those who have lost theirs; it is strangers no longer strangers because hearts have broken open enough to allow a stranger to become a friend, a sister, a brother, a child, a grandmother; it is a father looking across his dinner table in gratitude for his living children extending hope to a father despairing over the death of his. It is the sense of our need for each other, our discovery that we cannot do this alone! We can only hope, rebuild, move forward through love of one another–individuals, communities, nations reaching out to each other.

These are glimmers of light and opportunity in a dark and dangerous time, stirrings of new life and creativity emerging from death and destruction. Kali and Shiva, the destroyers of the universe are also the creators. Tiamat, who went supernova to create our galaxy, forms life and human consciousness out of her star-dust. In Japan we witness an activation of the human heart, perhaps most awakened when most urgently needed. What is truly important becomes foreground. We realize technology does not sustain us– Human community does, a vibrant Earth community does, connection to the Divine does. Out of this cosmic violence that has undone the lives of thousands a new creation is possible, an emerging consciousness that has labored through millennia of human suffering and eons of planetary upheaval to mature: that we are one people, one planet, with the well-being of the entire Earth community as our primary concern. In this time of crisis the choice is before us. The moment is ours.

* The Universe Story, by Brian Swimme & Thomas Berry, 1994, HarperCollins, p. 15

©Diane Pendola, Spring 2011. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author.

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