Listening to the Land ~ A Short Sermon

Like many Unitarian Universalists, the braid of my spirituality is made up of many strands. For me, one strand of belief originates in the far north – Scandinavia, Norway, and Iceland.  I find the old myths and folklore compelling and resonant, touching a deep thread of spirit within me.

One of the things I love about Norse mythology is the way spirit and sentience exists in so much of the world around us.  In the folklore and surviving texts, we encounter a group of beings called landvaettir – land spirits.  Some of them can be quite large: the spirit of an entire lake or mountain, for instance.  But they can also be quite small and local: spirits that coexist with us on the small patches of land we live on.

If we think about our bones and flesh as the physical vehicle for our spirits, the soil, microbiota, fauna, and flora in a given area of land are the physical vehicle for the land spirits.  And when we begin to see the land we live on – our little chunk of earth – as part of someone’s body, we begin to make different choices in terms of how we behave toward it.

I was already trying to form friendly relationships with the land spirits where I live when the pandemic struck. I began to expand my garden as many of us did. I started exploring permaculture – a form of gardening that returns fertility to the soil and aspires to grow food while improving the local ecosystem on every level.  As my garden projects unfolded, I watched the pollinators and wildlife begin to turn up more at home. And just to clarify, I don’t live in a bucolic country setting.  I live within the city district of Hagerstown on a small patch of land near a busy road. There are bright streetlights, electric cables overhead, road noise…the works.  Yet by putting effort toward enriching the soil and working to create more food sources for the local pollinators and birds, my little tiny chunk of the city began to change.

There’s a saying in witchcraft: we don’t get proof, we get eerie coincidences.  This past year, I added three pollinator gardens planted with Maryland native flowers that specifically support our native species of butterflies and bees. The day after I installed them, I was walking down my steps to go to the grocery store.  A pair of white butterflies rose from one of my lavender plants and flew directly in front of me, hovering at about chest level and blocking my path.

I said ‘oh, do you like the new pollinator beds?’

The flew up to face level, doing a little aerial ballet around each other, hovered there for a moment, and then flew off.

As a mystic, my world is filled with these funny little moments that could be nothing, or could be something.  I choose to find meaning in those in-between experiences. I think I may have gotten a little nod of approval from my land spirits.

Climate crisis is a global threat ultimately coming from being out of right relationship with the world around us. We, as a culture, as a species, have collective work to do to manage the coming changes and to try to mitigate them.  The thing that’s easy to forget, though, is that right relationship is also found at home.  It’s in the small things.  In the finches and squirrels, the salamanders and earthworms.  It’s in the butterflies that cross our path.  It’s in the very makeup of the soil we walk on.

Right relationship isn’t just the phone calls and emails we send to senators. It’s remembering that the land around us has a spirit and a body that can be cared for and fed, protected, and loved.  We can make choices that treat that body better. If we’re working at re-treeing our area, we can choose native species like dogwood, common persimmon, oak, red mulberry, or others that not only offer shade, but support our local fauna.

We can push back against the outdated model of green grass lawns and choose to plant nutrient aggregators like clover that not only involve less mowing, but return nutrients to the soil rather than strip it.

We can work to be in right relationship.  We can respect the body of the land where we live. We can listen with open hearts and minds. We can remember that the land beneath and around us is inspirited, just as we are.

And if we’re lucky, we might even experience some eerie coincidences.



This short sermon was offered for the June 13th, 2021, streaming service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick.




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