I come to this pinnacle of the solar year, this hot and heightened sun, with a posture of vigilance, a stance that might not be all too surprising given our times, but one that is consternating all the same. Already in our Pacific Northwest part of the world, the fires are burning. Smoke cloaks the sun's intensifying rays, amplifying the heat. Seattle's urban streets are buckling under the sweltering strain. Gun violence is already intensifying (the corollary between inescapable urban heat and social tensions is a studied reality). While children may be enacting the summer rituals of swimming and sandal-wearing, there is a sense that the adults are diligently looking over their shoulder, or even up at the smoke-filled sky, discerning when to return to the relative refuge of home.
Not the picture that you might have expected to kick off this quarterly newsletter offering, I'm sure. And not one that I necessarily want to write about either, and yet.... And yet, it speaks to the grief that I know I am not alone in experiencing as each consecutive season brings with it more suffering change, so markedly different than the perception of the assured rhythmic seasonal changes in which I grew up. And yet, even that which I knew was its own iteration of shifting environmental degradation that had become its own version of an accepted and normative existence. This psychological and sociological phenomenon is termed shifting baseline syndrome (SBS), which is increasingly recognized as one of the fundamental obstacles to addressing a wide range of today’s global environmental issues. When one forgets over the course of a couple years, decades, or generation what once was, or who once was, it becomes near impossible to advocate for those places, people, or other remarkable forms of existence. Do you remember the Passenger Pigeon? Probably not, and if you know about its one time form of life, its likely you don't stand around missing it.
We are a forgetful and fickle species, us humans, and if we continue to not remember, we will end up forgetting what has been lost. But even in our forgetfulness, there is something deeper still that remains, a cellular memory that longs for what once was; a longing for a home that no longer exists.
While working at the University of Newcastle in Australia, ecophilosopher Glenn Albrecht coined a word that seeks to describe this feeling. 'Solastalgia’ – a gladstone of the words ‘solace’ and ‘nostalgia’ – is used not just in academia but more widely, in clinical psychology and health policy in Australia, as well as by US researchers looking into the effects of wildfires in California. It describes the feeling of distress associated with environmental change close to your home, and speaks to growing unease around what this loss portends for the future of all life on our planet.
The magnitude, rate, and extent of the changes that humans have made to the Earth’s more-than-human world are hard to grasp. What is easier to grasp is the idea that it has always been this way. And yet, we find that we are awaiting the fist summer sight of the Monarch butterfly flitting through the wasting away Sword ferns, but the waiting is endless; or we realize that the ache in our eyes is do to the relentless searching for the nesting pair of Red tail hawk that have been in the Big leaf maple down the hill for twenty years...but they are no longer there. The solace found within the dynamic constancies of one's environment is waning as the "lived experience of negatively perceived environmental change to one's 'sense of place' and existential well-being is increasing" (Glenn Albrecht Murdoch, 2010).
The human caused degradation to our home planet is causing massive species extinction. Indeed, we are within the Anthropocene Extinction, or the sixth mass extinction, which is one of the most significant events in the history of the Earth. Every day there are unique and particular life forms that are closing their eyes to the hope of a future. And with each eye lid shuttering, I would maintain that we are losing embodiments of the sacred. Every species that becomes extinct is a lost name, and form, of God.
Ecotheologian Sallie MacFague's seminal work has been around our metaphoric language and symbols used to describe and define the divine. In our era of global heating and climate catastrophe, she urges us away from metaphors that describe God as separate from the world and creation--words and resulting paradigms related to monarchy, kingdoms, hierarchies, dominions, etc. Instead, she advocates for the mindset shifting metaphor of seeing the Earth as the Body of God. Sit with that for a moment. The Earth: The Body of God. How does this land with you? If we lived within this worldview, how would it change how we are presenced upon this planet? This understands the world, and its host of wild and wonder-filled life, as sacred, every aspect and being a numinous element. So when the Passenger Pigeon, Monarch, and Red tailed hawk no longer exist in the air, or when the Salish Sea resident Orca population rings the death knoll at the brink of their extinction, we are literally witnessing a diocide, the killing of God.
What do you do when you lose something? You ponder its whereabouts, and then go out to look for it, and sometimes you end up recovering that which was lost in places that surprise you. We have lost the knowing that the earth is sacred, that we are surrounded by hallowed presences who bear witness to our lives, as well as express their own inherent divine qualities. Grief is a handmaiden to loss. Studies show that within the realm of environmental grief and anxiety, practicing nature-based rituals and ceremony can help one be resilient in these grief-filled seasons, and be a way to respond to feelings like solestagia.
Seek through the practice of ceremony. Find a recovered and reconnected way of understanding that the holy is Here. And hope beyond hope, may your ceremonial search yield the surprise of the divine ground of being that is within your particular place.
May something within this Summer season whisper to you, beseech and beguile you, rooting you deeper into the places you call home. Or perhaps you haven't yet found your way home, and this is why you are here. May you be invited into a ceremonious way of living that seeks to recover the sacred within the wild.
Waymarkers' mission is to bear witness and act as a guide to your journey, to your rooting and to your rising, and to your pilgrimage journey of belonging to this wonder-filled and wild world. May the wisdom-seeds that were planted this past Spring be about the critical work of differentiation and particularity. May that they become the wild and precious fruit that only you can bear and bring to the world. May something in the potent summer heat and long, light days ripen in you your purpose and your belonging. May that the sun, present and demanding, remind you that it is time to become; for it is now time to allow Summer's heat to transform the seed into an offering. And in this work, may you observe and be guided by waymarkers~ones from the wild who will accompany and apprentice you, reminding you of the way back to the belonging we have within the sacred reality that we live within an ensouled world.