Earth Day, 2018: Some Fitting Responses and Remembrances


There are many deep ways to bear witness to Earth Day, 2018.  Surely to critique the attacks being done on Earth by our current political majority, whether withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, living and peaching denial of humanity’s abuse of the Earth, wallowing in denial and anthropocentrism and in what Pope Francis rightly calls our “narcissism” as a species—to organize and resist and prepare for upcoming elections where climate deniers and those making money off of the continued rape of mother earth can be defeated—all this is good and necessary response. 

I received an invitation to resist the current retrograde EPA that read like this: “This Earth Day, I’m thinking about half a billion dollars.  That’s how much oil companies have spent on elections and lobbying since 2015. It’s no wonder we haven’t seen Congress take action on climate change.”   To run for office and/or to support those who do and who include the Earth in their political awareness is a fitting way to remember Earth Day also.  To work to reverse Citizens United and therefore to return our disappearing democracy to a government of the people, by the people and for the people is another solid contribution.

Still another way is to read and study Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” which even scientists are praising for its breadth and depth.  Or to read commentaries on it such as my articles to be found on my web site,  Still another way is to read up about the Order of the Sacred Earth that was launched in a quiet way on Solstice, 2017, and will receive a fuller announcement in July, 2018, when the book appears in a public fashion.  Join the Order if your conscience so calls you and spread the news.

But another way to respect Earth Day is to look back at the violent and tragic history of those first Americans for whom Earth was reverenced and respected and holy.  As Thomas Berry puts it in his Forward to a collection of the late Catholic monk Thomas Merton’s meditations on nature, When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature,

An absence of a sense of the sacred is the basic flaw in many of our efforts at ecologically or environmentally adjusting our human presence to the natural world.  It has been said, ‘We will not save what we do not love.’  It is also true that we will neither love nor save what we do not experience as sacred.”[1] 

The Earth is sacred and the original peoples knew that.  It “invades” our very souls as Berry comments. The indigenous peoples loved the earth and respected it.  They knew its sacredness.  Therefore they are our primary teachers on this Earth Day.  The truth of their treatment by state and federal governments must not be swept under the rug or covered up with appeals to American superiority.  The truth needs to be told and meditated on and discussed and debated and acted on.

In memory and honor of this more ancient religious consciousness, two films have recently emerged, each only about thirty minutes long, that commemorate and tell the truth of the Indians of California and what they endured at the hands of the dominant and domineering culture.  To watch these films and to respond to them, to pray them, to discuss them, is, it seems to me, one of the most profound ways to educate ourselves about Earth Day and its’ deepest meanings.  It is to acknowledge the darkness and the pain and suffering that history teaches us.  It is to enter into the shadow of our culture around the deepest issues of Earth Day.  We must acknowledge the past in order to move beyond the wounds and to cease repeating the past.  These films help us do that.  They are not easy to watch.  But healing is never easy.

It is important that these films get the circulation they deserve—in our schools, our churches, our mosques, on our reservations and as an integral part of our political parties and decision-makers.

Following are my comments on these two films.  I strongly recommend one watch them as a lectio divina practice—read them like you would the Bible or any other sacred literature.  For they are part of the revelation that Earth is speaking to us today—they tell of the pain of the human soul when Earth peoples and their religions are abused.  They are truth-telling stories that push back against the heinous effort to canonize a brutalizer of the California indigenous populations.  Watch them; pray them; discuss them; ask Spirit what your proper response might be to the truths they lay bare.  This too is revelation; this too is prophetic teaching.

Film 1: Telling the Truth about California Missions

All education, all learning, is a wrestling to know the truth.  Healing only happens when the truth is told--only the truth will make us free.  In this video the truth of the California missions is put forward starkly and directly--the missions were essentially death camps and Serra was a sadomasochist.  The cultural and religious lies that have covered up this truth for far too long (including the sick idea that Serra is a saint) are pierced.  One hopes an awakening might happen and that a light is breaking through at last!

Film 2: Tears of our Ancestors: Healing from Historical Trauma

The suffering of the indigenous peoples can be a starting point, an invitation, for authentic humanity and religion to emerge.  How to approach the trauma of indigenous genocide?  How to let trauma open our collective hearts rendered cold by indifference and ignorance and cultural and religious lies?  How to bring healing to the fore? 

This moving film addresses these realities by taking us into the darkness of broken hearts and ancient wounds and efforts to heal so perverse a history.  It challenges our humanity to come alive. It gifts us with a powerful and needed exercise in truth telling that leads to making whole.  Let the confession for past oppressions begin so that healing can arrive!

Following is information for finding these important films:

Telling the Truth About California Missions (high school/college version):  password: hoax

Tears of our Ancestors: Healing from Historical Trauma:  password: soulwound


[1] Cited in Kathleen Deignan, ed., When the Trees Say Nothing: Thomas Merton’s Writings on Nature (Notre Dame, In: Sorin Books, 2003), 18.