Introduction to the Ways of Intimacy
Twenty years ago, I read a
book by Matthew Fox called Original Blessing. It stopped me in my
tracks. Matthew Fox is a distinguished theologian who has authored 30
books. He is known for his scholarship, his love of life, his passion
for justice, and his courage to tell the truth. Here was a priest
telling me I was not born with Original Sin, a model used by the
Catholic Church that assigned guilt and awakened shame. Rather, said
this radical priest, I was born with Original Blessing. Here was a story
to revolutionize the purpose of the spiritual life. The Old Story that
we were sinful and needed to be redeemed by prayer and sacrifice was
being replaced by a more empowering, life-affirming story: the Universe
welcomes us, our arrival is a blessing. All life is a blessing.
Matthew Fox was calling
for a return to the early mystical tradition of Christianity, which was
Earth-honoring. He outlined four paths to a spiritual life—the Via
Positiva, the Via Negativa, the Via Creativa, and the Via Transformativa.
They became wholesome, powerful guides for me. Years later, I was
introduced to the wisdom of Joanna Macy, a Buddhist scholar,
eco-philosopher, environmental activist, and the author of eight books.
Macy is a highly respected voice in the movements for peace, justice,
and ecological renewal. She has created a revolutionary framework for
personal and social change in her workshops, The Work That Reconnects.
I participated in one of these workshops
and observed how people are supported to transform despair and apathy
into collaborative and constructive action. When I came across Joanna’s
Personal Guidelines for a Good Life, I was struck by how they resonated
with Matthew’s four paths. Come From Gratitude was the first of her
guidelines, followed by Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Dare to Vision, and
Roll Up Your Sleeves.
In the writing of this book, I allowed
myself to be inspired by the wisdom of these two sages while creating my
own paths—paved with stories—to deepen our relationship with the Earth.
I call them “Ways of Intimacy.” I believe achieving a deep intimacy with
our planetary home is a true spiritual practice, as well as being
necessary for the survival of our species.
Each Way of Intimacy comes to life through
stories from my own experience and the experience of others. Each Way is
further enhanced by an Intimacy Guide, based on my understanding of The
Four Elements. Ancient Western philosophers observed a pattern of
expression in Nature they called the Four Elements. Air, Fire, Water,
and Earth were considered to be the prime building blocks from which
everything in the world is made up. I chose Air to be our Guide in The
Way of Wonder; in The Way of Emptiness, Fire; in The Way of Imagining,
Water. Soil (Earth) will be our Guide in The Way of Transformation; and
I invited Trees to guide us in The Way of Community, since they are a
supreme model for Community.
You will also find suggestions for an
Intimacy Practice at the end of each chapter, and more practices at the
end of the book, because intimacy is not just a feeling, it’s a
practice. When you love someone, you celebrate their birthday, give them
a card, a present, and tell stories about them; you hug them and let
them know you love them in all the many small rituals you create and
practice. It is much the same with our relationship to Mother Earth. Our
intimacy depends on a regular practice. My suggestions come out of my
own practice. Some will resonate more than others and I encourage you to
create your own intimacy practices.
I occasionally use the word “Gaia” as
another name for our planet. Gaia was the Goddess of the Earth to the
ancient Greeks; she was offered a new role by James Lovelock, a British
chemist, doctor, inventor, and creator of the Gaia Hypothesis. In 1965,
Lovelock worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California on
methods of detecting life on Mars. He was exploring the concept that
life on a planet could be detected by the chemical composition of the
atmosphere. Because the atmosphere on Mars was so different from that of
Earth, he concluded that Mars was lifeless. It also led him to believe
that Earth is not just a planet with life on it, but rather a living
system. It was his neighbor, William Golding, author of Lord of the
Flies, who suggested he call his idea “Gaia,” to honor the fact that
Western science was rediscovering what the ancients had intuited—Earth
is alive and we are part of her life.
Naming a scientific theory after a Goddess
did not sit well with many scientists, but the name remained
irresistible to many, including Lynn Margulis, a microbiologist who had
come to the same conclusion as Lovelock. Margulis theorized that
microorganisms had given birth to the Gaian system and they continue to
be its foundation. She wrote extensively about the Gaia hypothesis. It’s
a beautiful model and metaphor for our time, a compelling new way of
understanding life on our planet.
For me, being intimate with the Earth means
seeing all of Earth as sacred, all ground as holy ground. Holding this
view means I will reflect carefully before I dig, plant, or alter the
landscape in any way. For years, I have been inspired by the wisdom of
indigenous people. Although I resonate with their sacred relationship to
Mother Earth, I’ve had very little contact with my red sisters and
brothers—part of the sad legacy of colonialism.
I traveled far outside my
comfort zone to meet with them, not to take on their ways—I have my own
ceremonies, my own traditions—but to participate with them in the
honoring and protection of Mother Earth, to be with those who have a
long tradition of belonging to the land. I was awkward at first. I’m
still awkward, aware of my mistakes, my lack of understanding of their
protocols, their need to protect their sacred knowledge. I have made
every effort to be respectful of their ways in this book.
Most of us are familiar with the “stars” of
the environmental movement—the scientists, the activists, the
journalists, the artists, the indigenous leaders, those who carry on the
legacy of Rachel Carson, author of The Silent Spring. I admire them
tremendously. They do vital work. But activist Ralph Nader believed all
justice begins with ordinary people doing ordinary things.
So I’ve included “snapshots” of regular
folks, like you and me, regular folks who care about the Earth, who tell
new stories with their lives, who use their talent and their passion to
make a difference. They volunteer their time in a variety of intriguing
ways to heal our relationship with the planet. They’re not paid for this
work. They do it because they love the Earth, because they are intimate
with the Earth in their own special way. They range in age from 5 to 82;
and they live in my neighborhood. They are my Local Heroes. They inspire
me. Perhaps they will also inspire you.
The Ways of Intimacy are not linear. They
won’t necessarily occur in the order I have set them out, and they will
tend to recur as they spiral in and around each other. You may find that
they work in a different order for you, and you may come up with your
own ways of intimacy. That would make my heart glad.
“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for
us to turn again to the Earth in the contemplation of her beauty to know
of wonder and humility.”