Friday, August 17, 2012

NYT "Tapping Into the Land, and Dividing Its People"

Article New York Times, Thursday August 16, 2012: “Tapping Into the Land, and Dividing Its People.”

Ground is Sacred Because Related to Persons:
Always surprising, God became  man and took on a human body. Since God is what we mean by “person” in Christian revelation – and Christian revelation is the source of the notion of person - , the body and everything it can connect to is personal. By personal I mean “relational” since the meaning of “Person” in God is relation as Father, Son and Spirit. Therefore, the body and all matter that can possibly be connected to it has a relational and therefore a personal character.
            Notice that the Old Testament – Second Book of  Chronicles (2 Cronicles 36, 21) – reads: “The land enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.” Benedict XVI explains: “What this means is that the people had rejected God’s rest, its leisure, its worship, its peace, and its freedom, and so they fell into the slavery of activity. They brought the earth into the slavery of their activity and thereby enslaved themselves. Therefore God had to give them the Sabbath that they denied themselves. In their ‘no’ to the God-given rhythm of freedom and leisure they departed from their likness to God and so did damage to the earth. Therefore they had to be snatched from their obstinate attachment of their own work. God had to begin afresh to make them his very own, and he had to free them from the domination of activity. Operi Dei nihil praeponatur: The worship of God, his freedom, and his rest come first. Thus and only thus can the human being truly live.”[1]
The Times story tells that “there is beauty here on the Blackfeet reservation, but there is also oil, locked away in the tight shale thousands of feet underground. And tribal leaders have decided to tap their land’s buried wealth. The move has divided the tribe while igniting a debate over the promise and perils of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in a place where grizzlies roam into backyards and many residents see the land as something living and sacred….
“The divisions within the tribe are more than disputes over the economy and environment — they represent two visions of the land where Blackfeet members have lived for centuries. Ms. Matt and the women who oppose the fracking speak about the streams and meadows and mountains as if they were family members. They go on vision quests in the mountains. They braid native sweetgrass to burn in prayers and collect berries and herbs for food, medicine and ceremonies.
“The drilling companies, the local Bureau of Land Management and tribal officials say there has been no evidence that the fracking has affected the reservation’s water supplies or soured its air. But to opponents, the damage to the land is still being done.
“You see this butterfly, you hear those birds?” asked Crystal LaPlant, as she sat on Ms. Matt’s back porch one evening, the meadows alive with sound. “Once they start drilling, we aren’t going to have those things anymore.”
Ron Crossguns, who works for the Blackfeet tribe’s oil and gas division, has oil leases on his land, a 10-foot cross in his yard, and little patience for that kind of pastoral veneration. He called it “movie Indian” claptrap, divorced from modern realities. Mountains, he said, are just mountains.
“They’re just big rocks, nothing more,” Mr. Crossguns said. “Don’t try to make them into nothing holy. Jesus Christ put them there for animals to feed on, and for people to hunt on.”
What’s involved here, of course, are two perceptions of reality depending on whether the self  is engaged in living the image of God’s personhood as relation, has an experience of self as gift and relation, and therefore is able to perceive the land within the context of experienced and perceived relationality of the self.  It comes down to having only a reductive perception of the sensed reality or a relational perception.  To my joy, I found this telling reflection of Ivan Illich commented on by David Cayley:
“In  ‘H2O and the Waters of Forgetfulness’ (1985), Illich reflected on what he called ‘the historicity of “stuff.” The ‘stuff’ in question was water, and Illich’s reflections were prompted by an invitation from The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture to comment on the city’s plan to engineer an artificial midtown lake. He spoke of the way in which the imagination ‘sings reality,’ giving a different shape and substance to things in different epochs, and he traced the history of how water had been imagined, from the classical age when the waters of Lethe carried the memories of the dead to the pool of Mnemosyne, right up to Dallas’s plan to wash away care with a ‘public display of recycled toilet flush.’ His point was that industrial treatment beyond a certain intensity, deprives water of the metaphorical resonance it has always possessed and turns it into the technically managed scarce resource that he terms “H2O.” It can styill serve as a cleaning solvent or add a beguiling sparkle to Dallas’s downtown, but it can no longer mirror the water of dreams.”[2]
This is that task that Benedict XVI is putting before the Church and the world in “broadening reason” to enable it to escape the trap of objectified reduction to conceptual categories of use and experience again the relational absolute that is inevitably tied up with personhood and everything connected to personhood. In a word, what’s at stake is the capacity to see reality as it really is. Failure to achieve that leaves us with mountains that are just rocks, and oceans that are not Mystery but simply H2O.  

[1] J. Ratzinger, “In the Beginning…” Eerdmans (1986) 32.
[2] David Cayley, “The Rivers North of the Future – The Testament of Ivan Illich,” House of Anansi Press (2005) 25-26.

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