Every morning I love to walk early beside the wetlands where I live. It is a time of natural reflection and prayer, a time to be alone with nature and the divine that is present: in the hawk sitting on the telephone lines, the skyline softening and turning golden. And now, as we move towards the winter solstice, the first light comes later, and the darkness seems more potent. In this natural time of darkening my prayer instinctively deepens, as if in response to the loss of light. I sense the energy withdrawing into the earth, and today, the first hard frost, white and brittle, drew me even more towards an inner light.
In my prayer I wonder how it is for the Earth itself, at this time of another darkening, when our materialistic consumer culture depletes so much of the land. We have all heard the news of climate change, pollution, and species extinction. We have seen the pictures of smog-filled streets and clear-cut forests. But how do we sense this in our hearts? Do we dare to acknowledge and feel the wasteland we have created? Do we feel the grief of a world that is dying through our greed and desires? Do we pray for the Earth as we would a sick friend, a cancer sufferer, a dying partner?
More and more we are being reminded that we are not separate from the Earth and its ecosystem -- we are all living together, dependent upon each other and our shared environment. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes: "We will survive and thrive together with our Mother Earth or we will not survive at all."
We are a part of the Earth and it is through her great generosity that we are nurtured and nourished, eating her food, drinking her waters, clothed in her fabric. Even as we deplete her, she continues to give and give. Her generosity is a lesson for us all. Each morning on my walk I pass a gnarled old apple tree. I watch her boughs become heavy with fruit, slowly reddening as late summer turns to fall. I marvel at how she gives with such abundance without wanting anything in return. Now, in this "season of giving," if we can remember the constant stream of gifts we receive from her, and be appreciative in our hearts.
As I get older I feel the Earth's endless generosity more and more, as if I treasure each season in the year and its different offerings, its changing fruits. I know more clearly how I would not be here without this giving. At the same time my heart hurts for the Earth, grieves at the way our culture treats her wonder and gifts, her magic and sacred meaning. And the question arises from my depths, in a culture of seeming abundance how have we lost so much?
So during this natural season of darkening my heart responds to an unnatural darkening. My prayers turn towards a sacred world we seem to have forgotten. This prayer sometimes feels as if the Earth itself were crying through me, imploring us to remember it at this time of need. Maybe in this darkening something can be born, a new way of being that respects all of life, that sustains the whole of creation. Maybe once again we can remember our love for the Earth, our reverence for what is sacred within all of creation, and honor all of its inhabitants. Then our hearts can open and sense the divine that is all around us -- our prayers turn into praise. Once again we can live in an ensouled world that nourishes us everyday with sacred meaning.
We are part of a magical, beautiful, and suffering Earth, whose darkening we have created with our endless exploitation. The Earth, which is so infinitely generous, needs our prayers, needs our loving, our open hearts and remembrance. Each morning as I walk in the first light I feel this need, and the response that comes from the depths of my soul: in this time of winter solstice may we include the Earth in our prayers.
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is author of the newly released book Darkening of the Light.
A recent short video: Darkening of the Light: