Mar. 15, 2018

By Starhawk

The Fifth Sacred Thing: Reframing Power Dynamics

I recently read Starhawk’s novel The Fifth Sacred Thing. I was amazed that the book was written in 1993 because it is seems so apropos for our current polarized political situation. So I guess it was prophetic for its time. I was curious about Starhawk and looked her up online. Her sites states: Starhawk is the author of many books of fiction and non-fiction exploring earth-based spirituality, the Goddess, and activism. She's a permaculture designer and teacher, director of Earth Activist Training and cofounder of Reclaiming, a Pagan spiritual tradition.

Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centered on simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. The example in the book was amazing- an entire city dedicated to the most important aspects of sustaining life: water, food, shelter. Planting fruit trees along boulevards, gardens instead of lawns, cisterns to supplement the water system and dry times, public transportation, reclamation projects, community decision-making, meaningful work. Set in 2048, Starhawk’s future version of San Francisco is a place I would want to live. When people’s basic needs are met by their community systems, inequities disappear.

While reading the book, I was reminded of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed which seeks to transform society to rehumanize both the oppressed and their oppressors. Meeting oppression with violence only begets more oppression, violence and power inequities. Pedagogy of the Oppressed is an approach to education and organizing to transform oppressive structures and create a more equitable, caring and beautiful world through action and reflection that is co-created with those who have been marginalized and dehumanized. Freire defines education as a practice of freedom, which he contrasts with education as a practice of domination. This is part of the message of The Fifth Sacred Thing. It reframes millennia of a power dynamic that does not serve, in productive, life-affirming ways, humanity or Mother Earth. 

We have to resist the temptation to fight and use dominating, even violent forces on others, even others who commit violence and mayhem upon our loved ones. It is the essence of the phrase spoken in the New Testament: turn the other cheek. Violence begets violence. So forgiveness is essential to the task of reframing how one interacts with oppressors. Many of the individuals used in oppressor forces are oppressed themselves and do not have the knowledge and skills to behave differently, to stand apart from the apparent strength that gives them security. When they are invited in, included in the bounty of loving community, you transform hearts and minds. One has to forgive for true inclusion. The phrase continually repeated by the heroes in Starhawk’s novel is “There is a place set for you at our table if you would choose to join us.” They ‘fought’ in the landscape of consciousness and awakened humanity in the oppressors. They resisted with love and love won. Spoiler alert, love is the (5th) sacred thing from the title of the book.

This is how those of us who care about the planet should resist those who would exploit it. In a world of domination driven by greed, love is a radical action. It reframes the situation. The invading army was prepared to fight, but were confused when they were met with love, community and belonging. I know I am guilty of not practicing what I am preaching. I occasionally have a kneejerk reaction and jump into the war of words, but in my heart of hearts, I know the universe responds to the vibrational attitude that I am emitting. I will continue to strive to find a balance between informing and engaging in a war of words. I will strive to be the change I want to see.

Lastly, in my overview of The Fifth Sacred Thing, I want to comment on cooperation and competition. If we are to mimic the patterns of nature, nature does find a balance between cooperation and competition. Interdependence is essential in ecosystems. Survival is about the fittest, but the fittest is not always the strongest. The fittest is the group that is flexible enough to adapt to change and prudent enough to nurture their young. Community emerges from cooperation and a common vision of sustainability through future generations gives our life hope, meaning and purpose.

I found Starhawk’s novel impactful and hope others will too. There may be a movie, here is a link to the trailer:

 Synchronicity, my brother-in-law posted a video of Fr. Deer on Facebook this week discussing his new book: They Will Inherit the Earth: Peace and Nonviolence in a Time of Climate Change. 

In the Beatitudes, Jesus says of the meek, "they will inherit the earth." Meekness, John Dear argues, is the biblical word for nonviolence. He makes the connection Jesus makes at the start of his Sermon on the Mount between our practice of nonviolence and our unity with creation: our rejection of nonviolence is inevitably linked to the catastrophic effects of climate change and environmental ruin.

Drawing on personal stories of his life in the desert of New Mexico, his time as a chaplain at Yosemite, his friendship with indigenous and environmental leaders, his experience at the Standing Rock protests, as well as his work with the Vatican on a new stance on nonviolence, John Dear invites us to return to nonviolence as a way of life and a living solidarity with Mother Earth and her creatures.