Weaving the Threads ~ A Short Sermon

This short sermon was offered for the December 13th, 2020, streaming service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick. Full text below.

I sometimes joke that paganism is an unusually intense form of environmentalism.  One of the common threads that comes up when talking to other pagans is that we were pretty feral as children.  Most of us spent our playtime hours outside, covered in mud, making friends with the trees and insects. That sense of connection to the natural world didn’t leave as we grew up.  Many of us simply shifted from making mud pies and forts to going hiking or camping a lot.  Most people who find their way to paganism live with a quiet sense that there’s something wrong with us because of where we find the sacred. When we finally stumble into pagan beliefs, it’s an immense relief to discover that we’re not alone.

It seems like every few years, there’s a scientific breakthrough that reinforces rather than counters the idea of interconnection. For example, a flurry of scientific studies changed the way we think about forests during 2018.  Those studies confirmed what foresters and tree-huggers of many stripes suspected for years: trees communicate.  Forests are connected by fungal networks that relay messages, nutrients, water, and distress signals through the root systems of the trees.  The trees themselves form what can really only be described as friendships – a cooperative, resource sharing relationship with their neighbors.  In some pairings, when two trees have shared resources for so long, if one tree of a cooperative pair dies, the other soon follows. It looks a lot like grief after love from here.

The interdependent web is also more delicate than we always realize. I lived in Okinawa, Japan, during my early 20s.  Okinawa is a little island roughly the same latitude as Miami, Florida. The island is home to an endemic species of poisonous snake known as habu.  For people working at sugar cane farms, the habu is a problem species.  In the early 1900s, an attempt to control the snake population was made by deliberately introducing a breeding population of mongoose to the island.  The problem, of course, is that some vital information was not considered when humans tried to alter the web of life present on the island.  You see, habu snakes are nocturnal.  Mongooses are diurnal. So the two species rarely meet.  Since the mongoose population was not eating snakes, it began to eat endangered birds and small mammal species instead.  There’s a massive, expensive operation underway to try to control the mongoose population to this day.

It’s easy to forget that when we are trying to solve a problem, the butterfly effect of our actions has long-reaching consequences that we can’t always imagine or see the results of. Our species can both discover the delicate threads of connection that allows a forest to talk to itself and, in a bumbling attempt to help, throw an entire ecosystem out of balance with one poor choice.

Paganism includes many different threads of belief, some more fully focused on interconnection than others.  The strand I follow encourages cocreative relationships. This means I seek out ways to connect with the world and form friendships that are mutually beneficial.  So, if I am trying to cultivate a stronger connection with the land spirits where I live, I look at what the land spirits need. Just as our bodies are the physical chariots of our spirits, the land itself – the microbes, fauna, flora, and fungi around us, is the body of the spirit of the land. When we are contemplating gifts for our friends and family, we think about what they would like.  When I am building a friendship with land spirits, I think about what the land would like.  This can be eliminating the use of harmful pesticides, building the soil or at least not depleting it, supporting native species by making sure they have food to eat and shelter to live in.  It’s a blending of the sacred and the mundane.  By viewing nature and the interdependent web of life as sentient and sacred, my mundane actions are different than they would be otherwise. Even if I’m just trying to keep the snails out of my lettuce patch.

There’s a chant by Shekhinah Mountainwater that is frequently sung at drum circles and pagan rituals.

We are the flow, we are the ebb
We are the weavers, we are the web

We are the weavers, we are the web
We are the spiders, we are the thread

We are the spiders, we are the thread
We are the flow, and we are the ebb.

It’s one of my favorites, and I think encapsulates much of pagan philosophy around interconnection.  We are the weavers, we are also what is woven. As we approach the threads of life around us, we need to remember that each individual thread is just as sacred, just as important, and just as impactful as our own thread of life.  We are not alone. May we make choices that weave a tapestry that is more just, equitable, sustainable, and beautiful than the one we’re part of right now.

 

 

 

 

 

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