On this Sunday before Thanksgiving, Philip McGarvey and Tree gave reflections on what it means to live a life of trusting provision, trusting that our needs will be provided for — by the Divine, by the land, etc.
The first reflection is by Philip:
I’m writing to you from the south slope of our mountain up in the redwood forest where I’ve lived since last April. My feet are propped up on a dying madrone, and my head is leaned back against a fir. There are a lot of birds making noise today. I laid here all morning for my mind to slow down enough for words to come. I was asked to write something about land and food. It is hard for me to know what to say.
This land lived with the Cahto people for I don’t know how many thousands of years. And while this forest is thoroughly beautiful, I imagine its mangled body would be barely recognizable to many of them. Almost every tree has been killed, the land cut in all directions with roads, slopes stripped of their soil, no longer able to hold the rains on their way to the sea, eroding the streams into deep canyons. And the trees are dying on their own now, whether from drought or toxicity or loneliness, I don’t know.
What does it mean to live with the land? I feel no authority to speak to this. I lay in the forest and weep for what has been done to them and is still done to them. I am sorry. I don’t have an answer, and I cannot turn away. I will be here and ache. They tower above me, they shield each other and my own body from the wind like a thick crowd, solemn, silent. They want me to be here, they want me to see them. I feel this. I hear them whisper to each other in the rustle of leaves. I think they know why I’m here, but I do wonder sometimes what they really think of me. What I feel most from them is love and sadness, and a confidence that they belong.
Do I have any right to ask them to provide for me? I don’t know. They do provide. Even after all the people have taken from them they still sprinkle the ground with acorns, and drop wood for our fire. I am crying right now. I cringe to speak of them and of my own way of life on the same page.
Am I really living off the land? No. Sure, we have plenty of fruit and greens and mushrooms from the land. Our meat and eggs mostly come from friends nearby. The only foods we need to buy from elsewhere are grains, beans, and spices, but that’s still a significant part of what we eat. I can make excuses for myself. There were once abundant salmon here, and now they are so few I have still not seen one. I am not surrounded by a community that knows how to live with this land, while most of our ancestors always were. I have more pressing work to do; if I didn’t, I could gather enough acorns for the year. But I would still cook them in a metal pot that came from who knows where, while wearing clothes from who knows where else, on a fire of wood cut by a chainsaw. Most of what we depend on was produced elsewhere by the industrial system. There is no purity. It’s all tangled up.
And I am still a human animal in the world, this world so beautiful I am speechless in gratitude just to be here. I will delight in the warmth of the fire and the taste of strawberries. I will still try to feed us from the land as much as I can because it feels right. This means looking at what we have and eating that. We eat our own kale, garlic, mushrooms, herbs, and apples almost every day all year. And usually tomatoes or potatoes or squash or carrots or peas. So we can taste the land in our food.
As our industrial and political systems collapse and we can no longer buy the things we used to buy, our relationship with food will change. Here, we will probably end up eating more acorns, and being cold more often, and it’s quite likely that eventually we will go hungry.
I often wonder if it’s also too late for the forests as they are now, if the ecological balance is so upset that they will die soon even if the humans stop actively killing them. I don’t know. Meanwhile I want to love them as much as I’m able. Looking around the forest here I am always reminded that everything dies, and often sooner than we’d wish it to. I find something here to trust. I trust, not that I will live as long as I’d like, or that I will be fed and comfortable for as long as I live. Rather I trust that under all the sorrow and grief and confusion there is still something vast and beautiful that begs my attention and delight, and so I belong here.
I am grateful for the presence of tanoak, with its fuzzy, fatty acorns. I’m grateful for fir and it’s bracing sap scent. For redwood even though its leaves get all tangled in our hair. For madrone, dancing its smooth curves beside the straight solemn conifers. For bay with its rich bitter nuts. Chinkapin with its gnarled branches. Bold yellow maple and soft pink dogwood leaves, those funny alder cones, and the elusive yew. The sweet crunch of manzanita, the shiny huckleberry, spiky whitethorn, and the sticky fragrance of mountain jasmine.
And Tree’s reflection:
When Sheri asked me to share a reflection on what it is like to live a life trusting provision, I had to think about it. First, I had to translate what she was asking me to do. What does provision mean? She said many of my blog posts she has read cover this question, so that gave me some clues. I asked Angie about the word provision and l googled it. I found a search result for God’s provision and thought that is what Sheri must have meant. Trusting that God/Goddess will provide for us and take care of us.
I seem to be a one trick pony and I mostly write and talk about trusting in the universe or trusting the divine. I also talk about dropping out and doing things for free. Why did Sheri ask me to give this reflection? Did she think I have some special insight into trusting the divine being a gardener and being close to the land? I think gardeners and farmers after hanging out with the miracles of soil and garden life develop a faith and trust that things will grow or faith that one cannot control nature. Or is it that I am not your conventional congregant? I have almost never worked for a living and I guess have been trusting all these years that things will work out.
She gave me some prompts: So, what is it like to live a life of trusting in the divine? My first thought is a lyric from a union song from the thirties: “Hallelujah I’m a Bum!” That to me means I am happy with my choices in life, though often I feel like an alien on another planet.
Another prompt: How have I come to trust that the universe will support me?
I really don’t know how I came to drop out at an early age and begin a life of trusting. I think it was grace or good luck. I have never been religious but Sheri quoted from the Bible last week a passage I had heard a lot: “… Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”
When I was young, I never really thought about earning a living. I just did what I was inspired to do. The first time I hitchhiked to San Francisco in 1967 to see my sister who was living here, I just got on the road and didn’t think about how things would work out. When I discovered my sister wasn’t home and it was getting late, I went down to the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park where I was to have an experience that had an impact on me the rest of my life. I was fed by the San Francisco Diggers, who showed up in a large flatbed truck with a huge pot of spaghetti and Country Joe and the Fish playing music to the crowd. After I returned to Los Angeles, I pretty much dropped out of UCLA and got involved with draft resistance and later feeding people on Skid Row. I never thought about getting a job or worried about survival. In 1970, I returned to San Francisco with basically no money but wanting to feed people in Golden Gate Park like the Diggers who influenced me greatly in 1967. I met a group of people who were living communally, what you could call an intentional community, that totally inspired me. I joined them and lived and stayed connected with them over 42 years. I am still involved with them today. We lived like early Christians in a way, holding all in common (though we weren’t religious). Paying rent was not required, and all income was shared. They embraced the Digger philosophy of free and trusting in the divine.
I once drew a cartoon called “Faith Lifting” which was one of my earliest attempts to express what I was feeling about trusting the divine. It was about the importance of faith in growing a strong community that recognizes the oneness in everything and gives us something high and mighty to live and work for. I think this church is a faith community, and we are all trying to keep the faith and trusting the divine. In some ways I think everyone here gets this, and I don’t really have much new to say or to reflect on.
Sheri then comes up with another prompt: How would you challenge us to trust in the provision of the earth and each other?
This is a challenging part for me to challenge others. I am quite opinionated and feel strongly about things, but I respect others, and everyone must make their own choices on how they want to live. Also, I must put in a disclaimer that my thoughts and actions come out of white privilege and an upper middle-class background.
I truly believe that God/Goddess does provide for us and takes care of us all. To me we should do like the early English Diggers and abandon buying and selling… in this world we may have a hard time not buying (though there is a lot of waste to live off), but it is easier not to sell (at the bare minimum, we should always tell people no one turned away for lack of funds.) Things should be free and especially spiritual teachings should be offered as a gift. I feel uncomfortable with the custom of passing the hat in churches. To me, it sends the wrong message out there. Didn’t Jesus chase out the money changers from the temple? What is the message there? I also have a hard time with friends and people I know being landlords. Again, we should rent when we have to, but not rent to and pass the bummer of having to pay rent onto someone else. And now we live in the age of AirBnb…what if the stranger knocked on the AirBnb door? There is a bit of hope. I just read about moms4housing.org. There are 2 homeless moms occupying a vacant home in West Oakland. They are members of a collective of “unhoused and insecurely housed mothers, organizing to reclaim vacant homes from real estate speculators.” In an article they wrote on their website they say, “We need a new paradigm in thinking about private property.”
Today there is talk about democratic socialists, but what about Bible Communists? Let’s read Acts 4:32-35, …”Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. …” Yes.
The idea of private property and creating borders and border walls is a problem in our world. People come into the garden when I open the gate and are blown away, and then ask the silly question, “Who owns this land?” I say God/Goddess, I am just a caretaker. But people think I am just being cute. These ways of living are just yogic practices to polish our trusting capabilities in daily life. One other thing is that I tell everyone, especially younger people, is that one should put survival second, not first. Follow what Peace Pilgrim said is your calling first. If you live a life of service and giving gifts, all will flow back to you and you will be taken care of.
The last prompt Sheri gave me is this: In what ways is this provision is endangered? The only time things don’t work out is when we don’t follow our inner guidance. I can’t tell anyone how to live, because we are all different and come from different places and have had different experiences. When we can hear what the divine is communicating to us and follow that guidance, all will be well.