Skyline, Spring - 2002

By Diane Pendola

Groaning To Give Birth

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The Equinox is at hand. Here at Skyline, spring is at the threshold. The naked branches of winter slowly unfurl their buds toward the sun. Soon the dogwood trees will be opening their white flowers. Soon the bare branches of buck brush will spill their creamy clusters across green limbs. Already turtle doves pair off amidst the tree tops and greening grasses, their cooing haunting through the canyons and my own heart. I am blessed to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I share it with one of the most wonderful companions anyone could hope for. I have kindness in my life. I share work that is meaningful. I have leisure for music, for poetry, for prayer. I enjoy the wind in the trees and the sights and sounds of Bridger Creek moving freely in its course. I have the hawk’s flight to lift my spirit and good red earth to ground my body. I have peaceful days and frog-sung nights. I am as happy as any individual could be. And yet…

And yet, there is beneath my happiness, running underground like a hidden current, a river of grief. Sometimes I accuse myself for my own good fortune. I do not think it is simply guilt that prods my accusation. I think it is something much more fundamental. I think it is an elemental knowing that beyond my individual life I am connected to every other life, like members of one body: when one part suffers the whole body suffers. As St. Paul says, “the whole of creation is groaning in the act of giving birth”.

And to what is creation laboring to give birth? I sit down to a beautiful salmon dinner and I suffer with the Salmon. I do not suffer for the loss of its individual life that sustains my own, which is a communion of Spirit and of Life. I suffer because the Salmon People, as the northwest Indians call their totem animals, are threatened with extinction. Their ancestral rivers have been dammed, their spawning grounds silted and polluted. These Beings, that have been fundamental in sustaining human life, that for eons have sacrificed their lives in the perpetration of Life itself, may disappear forever from our rivers, from our world.

To what is creation laboring to give birth? I bring my fork to my mouth and I suffer in the awareness that 40,000 children, innocent beloved children like my own nieces and nephews, like your own children and grandchildren, die each day of starvation. I do not suffer because death is part of life. I suffer because this death, is preventable; because this death should be unthinkable; because this death indicts my humanity; because this death cries out to my soul for confession, conversion, for a radical redirection in my life and the life of my country.

To what is creation laboring to give birth? I chew my food and suffer to know that families in New York, in Palestine, in Israel, in Afghanistan and across the planet are suffering the death and loss of loved ones. There is an empty place, many empty places, at their tables. Hatred and violence have stolen the lives of their children, mothers, husbands and friends. I suffer with the fact that rather than beginning our new millennia with peace, Americans are at war. We are spending over a billion dollars a day on war at the cost of our environment, our children and our future. Dwight Eisenhower once said: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in a final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of it laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hope of its children.

Nobel Prize Laureate and former president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias Sanchez cited this quote from the former military General and President of the United States in a talk that Sanchez gave at the United Nations in September of 1999. I read the article before 9-11, before our country launched into a whole new campaign of building arms and rallying public support for a huge military build up. His words had a powerful impact on me then but speak even more powerfully to our situation now:

“The impact of military spending worldwide is dramatic, and the progress that could be realized if military spending were redirected is tremendous. If we channeled just $40 billion each year away from armies and into antipoverty programs, in ten years all of the world’s populations would enjoy basic social services -education, healthcare and nutrition, potable water, and sanitation. Another $40 billion each year over ten years would provide each person on this planet with an income level above the poverty line for their country. Shockingly, this life-giving $80 billion in annual funds would represent only 10 percent of world defense expenditures. Truly, increased military spending represents a missed opportunity for momentous human advancement.” (Oscar Arias Sanchez)

I suffer because I know we human beings could do this common life so differently. We could feed all the children. We could shelter the homeless. We could relieve the physical, emotional and spiritual pain of so many who suffer. We could create sustainable lifestyles that respect all the beings of the planet as a “communion of subjects rather than a collection of objects” (Thomas Berry).

And yet we don’t do it! We have the means, yet we lack the will. During a gathering with the Dalai Lama the question was asked, “What are we ignoring that will be the heartbreak of future generations? His response: “We are ignoring spirituality”. We are ignoring that most fundamental intuition of Buddhism: that life is a mutually interdependent web of relations. We are ignoring that most fundamental intuition of Christianity: that we are all one body in Christ.

To what is creation groaning to give birth? Can meaning be found in the long legacy of human and planetary suffering? Is this monumental suffering in fact the labor pains of creation attempting to birth a new kind of consciousness - a consciousness that understands our fundamental unity and works for the common good of all? Or are we to continue as a species, warring against each other with more and more sophisticated weaponry until we have exhausted the resources of our planet, bringing about the extinction of thousands of species until we finally bring forth our own demise? I don’t know the answers to the questions, but I do know the questions must be asked. And if asking the questions becomes unpatriotic, then I truly fear for my country and I fear for the loss of the freedoms for which my country stands.

One thing I do know is you and I are part of creation. We labor to birth love. We suffer into the awareness of our shared kinship at the communion table of Being. We suffer our own personal pain and we groan with the pain of the greater body of which we are a part. This “suffering with” is the meaning and the heart of “compassion”. The ability to touch my grief in the midst of my own individual good fortune is to open myself to the possibility of healing at ever-deeper levels of my being. It is to honor the great commandment articulated by Jesus: to love God (Creator) with my whole mind and heart and soul and to love my neighbor (all of creation) as myself. To dive into the river of grief is to transform my individual happiness into the possibility of communal joy.

So, I encourage myself, not to turn from the suffering in the world; not to turn from examining deeply how my own life choices contribute to the suffering; not to turn from the fact that the wealth of the world is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands so that more and more of the worlds’ people live in grinding poverty; not to turn from the fact that species are disappearing at a rate of extinction 10,000 times faster than what is “normal” in the natural unfolding. Instead I pray for the strength to turn toward the suffering; to turn from ignorance to awareness; to turn from the activities that anesthetize me to activities that vitalize my passion and dedication to change. Instead I pray for my conversion, the conversion of my country and the conversion of the world towards peace.

“We need to live together not in a world of aggression and counter-aggression, not in a world of mutual exploitation but in a universe that is the deeper self of each of us. As we recover from the sorrows inflicted upon us by the recent destruction of the Trade Towers, as we ease antagonisms that surround us, we need to go further into that deeper identity that we have with each other in the Great Self. Somewhere, somehow, mercy and justice must kiss in the all-embracing numinous presence wherein peace descends upon us all in the dawn of a new day.” (Thomas Berry)


The quote from D. Eisenhower was part of a speech delivered by Oscar Sanchez reproduced in EarthLetter, May 2000 issue.
The quote from the Dalai Lama was from EARTHLIGHT Magazine, Issue 43, Fall 2001.
The Berry quote was from an EARTHLIGHT Magazine online essay by Thomas called “An Historical Moment.”
I also recommend the film “SARAFINA” about students keeping hope alive in Apartheid S. Africa in the 1980’s.


©Diane Pendola, April 2002. 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. Thank you!

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