Tuesday, January 13, 2009
CARRIE TOMKO'S "ILK"
The passage before that quote down below sheds a bit of light on the nature of the word:
As with other mainline religious "greening" movements, green sisters are grappling with the fact that the terms of the current debate over the "greening of faith" are firmly set against them. This quite successfully forces green reformers like the sisters into a defensive posture. Within the discourse of greening movements in religion, terms such as nature worship," "paganism," and now "New Age" carry powerful and culturally embedded negative responses within biblically based religions. In subway terms, these epithets constitute the "third rail"--the track rail that is electrified to a high and dangerous voltage, the hot rail one must not touch. And yet movements to harmonize religions with themes, images, or patterns of nature almost immediately trigger the use of these terms. Green sisters are thus thrust into the distracting position of having to reassure and deny. Consequently, they rarely get to the point of actually testing the terms of the debate in a way that would establish a broader cultural, historical, and political context for each of these terms, what they mean, and how they may or may not be relevant today.[Or put in other terms, they have not yet been able to redefine the words in order to reshape the debate, but they'd like to.] In the absence of widely circulated treatises such as Zayac's, questions posed to green sisters about "greener" worship and ecospiritual practices tend to be framed from a critical rather than metacritical standpoint. That is to say, challengers ask rhetorical questions such as 'But this is nature worship, isn't it?" rather than asking what it really means to worship nature and how an opposition between Christianity and earth-reverence or earth spirituality developed in the first place.
To the extent that sisters are able--through their earth ministries, their written work, and even their artwork--to shift the framework of these discussions away from a binary opposition between legitimate Christian worship and closeness to nature, they will likely change the tone of some of these exchanges. If they are unable to do so and their opponents are indeed successful in using the New Age label to discredit the movement as flaky, silly, superficial, or self-absorbed, the movement's efficacy may be seriously threatened. It is thus critical that sisters find ways to reframe discussions so that they are not so often placed on the defensive about these issues.
In order to shift the debate away from New Age name-calling, the sisters have instinctively tried to demonstrate systematically that they are historically rooted in traditions of the Church. They return again and again to their Catholic heritage, digging into the soil of their own "backyard" and recovering its "heirloom" seeds to replant and cultivate. Repeatedly, they assert ownership of Roman Catholic traditions and claim this realm as the living "bioregion" to which they are indigenous. This is likely a good strategy, not because such an approach will ever get anyone of Bill Jacob's or Carrie Tomko's ilk to agree with them, but because it comes from the heart. If green sisters did not value and love the living traditions of the Church (even with their difficulties) and revel in their study, debate, and analysis, which they so clearly do, they would have "pulled up stakes" and "moved on to new ground" long ago. (pp. 271-272)
Much earlier in the book Sarah McFarland Taylor tells us about this claimed preserving of Catholic tradition:
There are, of course, some aspects of religious tradition that have not been conserved. Aspects of Catholicism that are regarded as not being "life giving"--for instance, patriarchal norms, abuses of hierarchy, notions of humans' divinely sanctioned right (or indeed mandate) to dominate and subdue the earth, and associations of women's bodies with sin, to name a few--are permitted to pass away, much in the way that, in sisters' organic gardens, the death of diseased vegetation makes room for new and "healthier" growth.(p. 14)
For the green sisters, Taylor spells out the kind of "healthier" spiritual growth that is being pursued. On p. 12 we are told about the "sacramental food culture of the green sisters movement", on p. 13 we read of the "notions of 'sacred agriculture' and the gender dynamics involved in recasting farming as a kind of 'priestly practice.'"
If words traditionally applied to that which belongs to God are now going to be used to apply to the province of man, something in religion is forced to change. We move the concept of holiness out of the realm of God into the realm of humanity. We, in effect, become our own God.
The author proposes that the green sisters desire, as they follow the works of Thomas Berry, what I have come to see as a reanimalization of the planet:
For Berry, the Great Work of our time is for humans to turn away from a "technozoic" era of ecological destruction and despair and to turn toward a new "Ecozoic" era, in which human beings live in harmony with the natural world. Joanna Macy similarly envisions the transition from an "Industrial Growth Society" to a "life-Sustaining Society" as our only truly viable path into the future. She prophesies that "when people of the future look back to this historical moment, they will see, perhaps more clearly that we can know now, how revolutionary it is. They may well call it the Great Turning...(p. 19)
Those who contemplate such a turning should give some thought to the way the animal kingdom operates. In a nutshell, animal eats animal. That is how they survive. And the killing is never pretty. Animals live in constant fear of being eaten. They have no peaceful place to raise their young away from predators unless man provides it. We are talking here about returning to the days of the cave man--of dog eat dog.
Plantlife, too, has no consideration for its fellow species. A chickweed would as soon choke out a tomato vine as sprout a new leaf. True Christianity, with its introduction of altruism, offers a far greater potential for human happiness than does a return to paganism and nature worship.
Taylor does provide a convenient new word--"Rhizomorphoric" (p. 25). It's proper use concerns the way some plants spread. Pachysandra is a good example. Pull it up between the roses and it shoots out new tendrils between the Yews. It has so many points of growth that it is nearly impossible to kill. Now apply that concept to the new social order called "networking" in which several units in the network can be destroyed or discredited and the network will continue nearly unaffected, and will morph into yet a new entity. "Rhizomorphic" is a good word to apply to today's New Age, pagan, rosicrucian and masonic social order.