deep ecology

Mary Oliver...A Remembrance

Mary Oliver.jpg

Mary Oliver was a great North American mystic.  She called herself a "praise poet," but she did not come to her sense of praise easily for she had been sexually abused by her father as a child.  The day she graduated from high school she  left home and never returned.  She says it took her years to get her life back.  "For years and years I struggled just to love my life." 

She was a profound creation centered mystic who awakens us all to the healing powers of nature.  Here are a few of my favorite lines from her poetry ( including of course her poem "At the River Clarion" which names so wonderfully the cosmic Christ and which I reproduce in my latest book on Hildegard of Bingen)

"Glory to the world, that great teacher"

"There is only one question: how to love the world"

" I want to be in partnership with the universe."

" let me keep company with those who say 'look!' And laugh in astonishment and bow their heads."

"Still, what I want in my life
Is to be willing
to be dazzled--
To cast aside the weight of facts.

Mary Oliver drank deeply from the wells of the via positiva as well as the via negativa--she talks of " the black river of loss" and of how "nature has many mysteries--some of them severe."  She urges us to do the same

Mary Oliver recites her poem; set to Phildel's Piano B.
”…When it's over, I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. “
(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

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.

Memories of Sister Dorothy Stang and her Art

Sister Dorothy Stang, S.N.D.N., who returned to the Amazon rainforest on graduating from the Institute of Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names College, was a leader among her peasant people in standing up to privileged land owners on behalf of rural workers and in defending the Amazon rainforest. We remember her with love and honor her as our first martyr.

This article by Sharon Abercrombie was published in the National Catholic Reporter on February 12, 2015, the 10th anniversary of her death. It celebrates her exuberance, and her passion for prayer through the arts.

Painting, dancing were Sr. Dorothy Stang's lesser-known passions

Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Dorothy Stang in her dorm room in 1992 at the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names University, in Oakland, Calif. (Sharon Abercrombie)

Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Dorothy Stang in her dorm room in 1992 at the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names University, in Oakland, Calif. (Sharon Abercrombie)

Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Dorothy Stang’s persistent activism on behalf of Brazil’s poor and the earth is well known to environmental and social justice activists throughout the world. Thursday marks the 10-year anniversary of her death at the hands of hired guns.

We know from her twin brothers, Dave and Tom Stang, that she would often convince female security guards to allow her to camp out on the floor of the Brazilian Ministry of Justice the night before she was due to testify at public meetings.

We know that if an official denied having received one of her letters, this delightfully outrageous Cincinnati sister would walk to the politico’s filing cabinet, and much to his embarrassment, whip out the document.

Not so well known, perhaps, is Rainforest Dot’s love for painting and dancing.....

(read more...)


This memorial essay was written by David Stang, brother to martyred activist Sister Dorothy Stang, SNDN. Reprinted with the author's permission.

Dorothy Stang, by Marcy Hall:  Used with permission from FutureChurch  No further use of this image is permitted without the express consent of FutureChurch.    

Dorothy Stang, by Marcy Hall:
Used with permission from FutureChurch
No further use of this image is permitted without the express consent of FutureChurch. 


OnFebruary 11, 2005 Dorothy Stang called Colorado to talk and she said, “I cannot leave my family in Esperanza. I know that Luis and his family have just had their house burnt down, their crops destroyed and his wife and children are out in the Amazon forest with no food, blankets, or protection of any kind and there are others who are very afraid nearby. Can a Mother leave her children in such need,” she said?  I wanted to tell my sister over the phone, please don’t go to Esperanza.

“David,  she continued to talk, I am on my way to Esperanza, now,  with food, clothing, hammers, nail, saws.  For one minute though David I can smell the cool air of Palmer Lake Colorado where you live, and say hello to you. It is very hot here, humid and it is raining. I stopped at the police post to ask for assistance as there are killers where I am going but the Police  refused to help me. Thugs  have just burnt down Luis’s home and they are terrorizing the people who merely want to survive and maybe even enter into the economy of their country. The Government has approved this Project of Sustainable Development where Luis just had his house burnt down by the local Ranchers, Plantation Owners, and their armed thugs who believe they are the government. I am going to Esperanza, to show support, maybe protection and help them, though this terrible  time,  however this time I am a little nervous.” Again, I wanted to say please don’t go. Now, I am trying to pull myself together with this disconcerting  phone call as it is 4AM here in Colorado.  I could still hear the people outside Dorothy’s house laughing and joking. “ The next day Dorothy was murdered. Six shots were fired at her, at close range and all of them hit her, a 73 unarmed woman who was a known protector of the poor.

 A week after Dorothy’s murder I flew to Anapu and visited Esperanza, sat and cried at the spot where she was murdered, sat and cried at the spot where she wasburied , deep in the Amazon, surrounded by nature, beautiful trees,  falling rain, humidity, singing birds, the dirt, mud  and the people. I was surrounded most especially by the poor who hugged me, touched my t-shirt with Dorothy’s picture on the front of the shirt. They all cried, but most of all, I saw unbelief in their eyes that this person who for years fought for them, ate with them, slept with them, how  could she be murdered, they thought. She had often escaped death, prison, hunger,  and stood with them, a warrior, fearless, undaunted. She would often show up with legal documents from Belem or Brazilia, documents  to protect their homes and land. She was known to all of them, to not only fight for them personally, but also for their schools. Schools which  from the beginning she personally helped build,  over thirty schools. She would often see that their teachers were paid and even developed teacher training centers. However,  I cannot forget the local Brazilian priest, who slept at Dorothy’s grave for a week, to protect her grave from being desecrated by the local ranchers who hated her. He left her grave only after the Federal Government sent troops to protect the people and Dorothy’s grave. His hug was a greatly appreciated.

People walk 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) accompanying the truck carrying Dorothy Stang's body to its final resting place.

People walk 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) accompanying the truck carrying Dorothy Stang's body to its final resting place.

 As I sat in the Bishops pick up truck with soldiers in the back for protection, driving from Anapu to Esperanza, I was stunned to watch the driver handle the muddy road, slide down the hill and just stop right before the wet log bridge and wonder how we would cross over. The driver was  telling everyone to get out and walk over. As we slipped on the wet logs, looking at the raging river down below, we wondered how he was going to cross over with the Bishops pick up. Staring intently we watched the driver make the sign ofthe cross, put the metal to the petal and sped over the narrow wet bridge, the tail end weaving back and forth. Truly this was a marvel of driving. I thought to myself how did Dorothy a week earlier make it to Esperanza   in a tiny car during the rainy season, for we had four harrowing bridges to cross over, deep mud, and hills and valleys to climb and slide down, hoping not to slide into the river itself.  The 20 miles from Anapu to Esperanza took four hours.  I kept repeating to myself during this drive, Dots powerful  message, “I cannot leave my family.” A message so powerful it overcame the enormous struggles that I was seeing before my very eyes. Tears came to my eyes, thinking, like the people, how could they kill her, however, still  remembering Dot telling me that there were hundreds of leaders, farmers, who have been killed in the area just in the last couple of years.  As I slept in Dot’s bed that night, on the walls were pictures of those who have been murdered. On the night stand was a little shrine that she made and on the wall, next to the door, was a piece of bamboo, slit in the middle, and carved out of this bamboo was the Christmas crib set that she would touch every morning when she left her room.  Can we wonder if we would have staid true under such horrific circumstances, and knowing that many people already had been murdered? Can we not ask what strength it took for Dorothy to stay with the poor.

I mention all this to set the stage for the important question, “what happens now” in this great forest that the world needs, for   such corruption and violence does not just disappear. Over the next ten years, after 9 trials and only four people being indicted by the State of Para, the killers are after less than ten years  now free. Even one of them has been indicted again for another killing. The big rancher Regivaldo appealed his verdict of 30 years in jail, to the High Court of Brazil, and he won his appeal. For years now , he is free on appeal, even though the judge of theCourt of the State of Para clearly stated, “ Regivaldo even if you appeal, you must stay in jail during the appeal.” W e all remember  In a packed courtroom, at the trial of Regivaldo,  with one of the now free killers sitting right in the courtroom with us and with his thug friends. We all heard the verdict to Regivaldo from the Judge saying, “You will stay in jail, if you appeal.”  The Judge during the trial brought in extra policemen to protect us, as the courtroom were full of Regivaldos powerful friends. I am sure the last thing the Judge wanted wasto have  murders in his courtroom. As we left the courtroom, we sawone of the TV broadcasters  surrounded by security, for she had just been threatened by a motorcycle gang, supporters of Regivaldo, who we were told were  going to escort Regivaldo  home free. They were angry that he had been indicted.  Obviously, the trials were merely a small part of what was and is happening in and to the Amazon. We must remember that there were many others involved in Dorothy’s murder and many of the other murders of the farmers in the Amazon, all free.

As we move on to today, one does ask, who controls the Amazon today? . For example, there is a new law allowing  cutting down illegally the trees in the Amazon,  and that all who cut down trees illegally in the Amazon in the past  have been legally forgiven. Sucha horrendous law helps me to  remember one of the people who worked for years in the Amazon saying to me during the trials, David, “these trials of Dorothy’s killers are merely a distraction from worse things that will happen. ” One wonders if any good behaviors remain of all the work that Dorothy and the people did. We do hear that, the two Projects of Sustainable Development, that Dorothy and the people worked so hard to create are thriving, and others farmers are uniting to demand, their rights to own their land, seeing that the projects were able to persevere why can’t they fight for their rights. The schools are still open. The special school to educate future farmers, is still open. The seed of Human Rights planted by all those who have been murdered are growing and the memory of Dorothy and all those warriors for the people in the Amazon are still remembered even, in the midst of enormous oppression such as  pisteleiros are still haunting the forest,  and hundreds of years of  tradition that supports these  Injustices continue, so one wonders how things can possibly go forward?  Is it not the blood of those who gave their lives that keeps hope alive? Is it not those who still continue to fight for their rights that give us hope?

Changing long term habits of oppression can be so difficult. Dorothy knew very clearly the long history of oppression that she was up against and that she did as much as she did is clearly a miracle in itself.  There is a saying that, “ We must know History or we will certainly repeat it”. This we must know in order to understand why there are so many murders in the Amazon, among Indigenous People, among the poor. Historians tell us,  “When Christopher Columbus first set foot on the white sands of Guanahani Island, he performed a ceremony to take “possession” of the land for the king and queen of Spain, acting under the international laws of WesternChristendom. Although the story of Columbus’ “discovery” has taken on mythological proportions in most of the Western World, few people are aware that his act of “possession” was based on a religious doctrine now known in history as the “ Doctrine of Discovery”. Even fewer people realize that today five centuries later, the United States government still uses this archaic Judeo Christian, Doctrine of Discovery” to deny the rights of Native American Indians, to their lands. This Doctrine pervades the thinking of the rich and powerful in Brazil.

Why do I bring this document before us? The Plantations Owners, Ranchers, in Brazil still feel they have the same right of discovery, even if people live on the land they are claiming. Governments are vital to overcoming this long habit of Discovery. Dorothy was very involved with the Government of Brazil on so many levels, Education, Land, Freedom, to change this horrendous memory of the, “Law of Discovery.”  As the Federal Prosecutor of Land in the Amazon said in the Courtroom, “She did what we were afraid to do, she encouraged us to do our job.” The stories of Dorothy going to Brazilia or to Belem to help people get legal documents to protect their ownership of land  is well known. In 2005, when I went to see the Minister of Justice, I was stopped at securityat the Justice Building entrance. The security person who stopped me looked at meand said, “ I recognize you she said, you look like your sister Dorothy. I am the one who would give her permission to sleep in the hallway all night so she would be at the officer’s door when he arrived the next morning to do his job and Dorothy would get legal documents to help her people.” I saw a look of pride in her eyes as she spoke. Hopefully, this pride  is the future of Brazil, of the Amazon.

David Stang

Feb. 15, 2017