“We live in a participatory universe”. So says Franciscan priest, Fr. Richard Rohr, Spiritual Teacher and author. He is quoting a little known British philosopher, author and poet named Owen Barfield(1898-1997). These words continue to rise up like leaven in me, all these years later. I am still only a beginner in understanding the meaning of this on a visceral level.
But something happened this past week that drove it home on more than just the mental plane. I got it on a physical level. Bear with me…this will be a longer blog than usual.
I was driving to Colorado, along the remote highways and byways of New Mexico, with such stunning scenery, it never fails to take my breath away. As always, when I drive into these parts, I say a prayer. Actually I say many prayers. I name the animals, plants and waters that populate places, giving thanks for their humble lives. I ask that they stay safe and far away from my vehicle. As you can imagine, it is not only for them, but my own self preservation. If you’ve ever heard a story from someone who has hit an elk, a deer or a wild mustang at high speeds in New Mexico, it has left an imprint of trauma—physical and emotional. Not to mention the vehicle damage.
Personally I would be traumatized if I hit even a squirrel. And so I ask for safe passage. I have never had a vehicular/animal encounter since I have practiced this—my deepest fear being that if I hit a creature, it would suffer, meaning I would have to participate in this also.
But this particular day, my unbroken record failed. As I slowed to enter a small town, marveling at the prairie dogs along the side of the road, suddenly, a tiny junior gopher was facing me directly at the intersection of my tires and the pavement. I didn’t have enough time to slam on the brakes (which likely would have been deadly), swerve or honk. There was a sickening crunch as my tires rolled over this baby. In my sorrow, I knew I needed to go back and carry my slain little friend off the road, as a way of honoring his life. This is always a matter of practice—to carry roadkill and gently place them beyond the ribbon of death, to avoid the continual assault by vehicles. It’s a small way of honoring their lives, as well as to give any other predators the green light to come and feast safely.
The amazing thing was, as I drove back to the site of the slain prairie dog, my stomach gripping, before I could even pull over, a massive sleek, shiny Raven swooped across the road carrying the little one to safety. A nice little treat for him. The circle of life was unbroken. It was a gift for me to see this circle of life and death triggered so quickly. I didn’t even have to gaze on the tiny critter’s broken, destroyed body. It was a grace. It was indeed a Participatory Universe, and I could only hope that my willingness to be awake and aware and prayerful on the road, allowed me to participate in a way that was life affirming—one creature among many, seeking safe passage in this life. And if death is imminent, a mercifully quick end and a return to the wheel of life by supporting another’s breath and being.
I sometimes think of my beekeeping this way. I participate in the Universe by working as reverently and kindly with my sister bees as possible— hopefully bringing consciousness to the work. In a time when losses of bees are disturbingly unsustainable (44% losses last year), I invite you all to participate in whatever way you can. Whether it’s planting native pollinator plants. Or refusing to use chemicals. Spending time observing your non-human kin. And always, always seeking to do no harm, acting with compassion and sending prayers of goodwill and blessing their way. All of it counts in this Participatory Universe. It is a two way street.. It creates a reciprocity in our relationships. A communion of beings, rather than a collection of objects, as Thomas Berry, the late theologian and ecologist wrote. Shalom. The original vision. As a former NM land commissioner, Ray Powell said, “If we take care of the land, it will take care of us”
In June 2016, Think Like A Bee will launch Bee Awareness Day and Pollinator Week activities. There will be ways to participate very concretely, with your money, your time and energy to support bees here in New Mexico. Now more than ever, they need friends.