Excited by reading this today in "Love and the Soul: Creating a Future for Earth" -- by Robert Sardello. This is a book that Joseph Chilton Pearce recommends with such delight in his own book, "The Death of Religion and the Rebirth of the Spirit." Pearce died on August 23 of this year, and since his death seems to be reaching out to me in an especially compelling way.
Here's Robert Sardello:
"Rhythm is the essence of the world as feeling. Cultivating presence to these more encompassing world rhythms makes it possible to again feel rhythm where only inert things seem to exist." (Robert Sardello)
The Rhythm of Natural Cycles
By "these more encompassing world rhythms" Sardello means the natural rhythms of the earth: the daily cycle of the sun, the lunar cycle, and the annual cycle of the autumn equinox, winter solstice, spring equinox and summer solstice. I would add that by attuning ourselves to these cycles, we become -- gradually -- more aware of our own natural cycles. Yes, men experience a similar cycle to a woman's menstrual cycle.
So Robert Sardello observes that by attuning ourselves to natural cycles, we co-create a fully alive earth and self. We can participate fully in the big whole creative process of the world. What I call "Process with a capital P" and -- as does Thomas Keating -- "The Heart of the World" -- Sardello calls "the World Soul" or "Sophia." The important point is that it's a creative process, ongoing activity that's whole and alive.
It's what Owen Barfield sees Jesus calling us to co-create: a world of final participation. It's an evolution rather than a return to what Barfield calls "original participation" -- in which everything in the world is alive by being inhabited with gods or nature spirits. It's -- thank heavens -- a way to go beyond the modern "dead" world of inert objects -- of non-participation. This is what some call "a re-enchanted world" though it's really distinct from pre-modern enchantment. (Barfield is wonderful: don't miss his book, "Saving the Appearances.")
Of course when thinking of process, I think of process philosophy and Alfred North Whitehead. In "The Aims of Education," Whitehead describes a three-stage natural cycle of creative action: romance, precision and production. Romance is an exuberant reaching out to gather, precision the pruning away of the less relevant, and production the summing up to share. I add a fourth stage: rest. When teaching about natural cycles, I notice that many students become anxious at the thought of an entire stage devoted to rest.
Can we dare to rest for all of winter?
Indeed, if we integrate Whitehead's stages with the natural cycle of the year, we get an entire winter of rest. How our culture conspires against this! In fact, right at the time of the winter solstice, many of us complain about the extra busyness and stress of "the holidays." And after the holidays, we're supposed to redouble our efforts to "make this year a more productive year than last year" by setting higher goals and resolving to achieve them. Thus culture tries to triumph over nature.
Institutionalized Christianity pays brief homage to the need for rest, by establishing the season of Advent -- the four weeks before Christmas. In reality, both clergy and lay people tend to exhaust themselves in preparations for celebrating Christmas. And even four weeks of somewhat enforced rest is a paltry substitute for the three months of rest that might bring us true renewal.
It's impossible for me not to experience the Church Calendar as something a bit fake, overlaid on the natural ("pagan") holidays. I'm not exactly opposed to the Church calendar. I find meaning in celebrating Christmas as a celebration of the vulnerability from which creativity springs. I celebrate Easter as part of the renewal of life every spring. To take them as a full substitute for the "real" holidays of the earth? No; the thought bemuses me.
The Autumn Equinox
All this is to say that the approaching Autumn Equinox is important. It's partly a natural harvest celebration. It's an honoring of the need to go deeper -- to nurture roots and bring up awareness from deep within. It's a renewed awareness -- for us as warm-blooded mammals -- of our vulnerability and eventual passing out of bodily life.
In many cultures the Equinox ushers in a time to acknowledge our responsibility for any broken relationships and take steps to restore them. I embrace the Cherokee tradition of doing this around the time of the Autumn Equinox. I admire the autumn Jewish holidays that honor this need for honesty and reconciliation. These rituals are designed to recreate community on an open, honest basis rather than on a superficial politeness.
The Beginning of the Year
Note that in these cultures the work of restoring broken relationships marks the beginning of the natural year. Without such restoration, the ongoing creative world process can't continue. "Life" stagnates and the world seems full of dead, inert objects. Human beings aren't designed to live in such a world, for indeed, we begin to experience ourselves as objects -- to criticize, try to improve, manipulate (perhaps through "New Year's resolutions!)
We're invited to embrace the world as it is and love it as it is. That's when judgment becomes ecstasy, and the two merge into an ongoing creative process of love. The Autumn Equinox invites us to renew ourselves and the world, to come more fully alive by appearing to do much less.
"Come way, O human child,
To the waters and the wild." (W. B. Yeats)