Grandmother Encouraged By Pope Francis

Ranger and I both engage now with Grandmother Oak. While Darryl take aim at the giant air plants with his camera, we talk with Grandmother. We are praising Pope Francis for his encyclical on climate justice.

Darryl with Grandmother Oak.
Darryl with Grandmother Oak.


Ranger: “Why in the world would you be talking about what the Pope is saying? What do you care?”

Grandmother Oak: “Because if and when this ship turns around it will be because most people need to be led into another way of thinking. Today the Pope speaks for all of us regarding climate and our response to it. Climate justice is more than just believing that humans are causing it and accepting the truth of that matter. The reasons for changing our behaviors have to be spiritual. I believe the poor are entitled to pure air and water, and also be able to access fresh food. You all live in air conditioned comfort and have a water filter on your fridge, but you must contribute in a substantive way to make those things available to everyone on Earth. By the way, I spend all of my life in active respiration, providing life-giving oxygen back, so I put my money where my mouth is. ”

Me: “I need to vent just a bit here. I think it’s high time the Pope, and all other religious leaders, make restitution for the fact that Christianity bears an immense burden of guilt for the present ecological crisis. Religious leaders have highjacked the teachings of Jesus and turned them over to a cultural cabal starting with the reign of Augustine back in Rome. When it was rolled out, especially in America, the teachings didn’t reflect Jesus at all. They reflected a culture intent on private acquisition of wealth and democracy by trickle-down economics, which said, basically that if the rich prosper on Earth, that’s what they deserve for being so responsible, and the poor can only hope to win the lottery, work as hard as the rich had to work to get what they got,  or wait for heaven to rescue them from their miserable lives. Earth is to be used in this temporary situation for that all to happen. The culture created by Americans views the natural word as one of utility.. an object to satisfy intellectual curiosity or to allow the clever or lucky to accumulate the most toys.”

Ranger: “Do you want to be this harsh?”

Me:  “Yes, I do! After nearly 400 years of the American experience, we still have a beautiful and abundant land, but a land of roads and cars and grimy cities, a land of acid rains, polluted rivers and endangered species…. the American experience is one of terrifying assault of on the natural world. And religious leaders typically only remind us that redemption is close at hand. That is why Grandmother Oak and I think the Pope is saying and doing the right thing. Other religious leaders (and politicians!) now need to follow his courageous lead.”

Me: (continuing) “Just let me spout off a bit more! What this has made us into is a consumer economy!  Oh my, did you see the paper this morning, with the half pound of paper advertisements? Do people actually read that stuff? Do people really want to line up to be the first customers in the new store at the mall? Apparently.  Gees! That’s what the pope is talking about. We all need to back off. We must put others first, spend more time talking to Grandmother Oak, and stop consuming so much.”

Grandmother Oak: “Thank you. I am just doing what comes naturally, you know. Now it’s up to all of you to find your own ways to be in Earth as respectful participants in nature. I encourage you all to use your cameras, your brains, your resources to get that done.”

Grandmother Oak Inspires A Response

Barred Owl looking down from the great oak.
Barred Owl looking down from the great oak.

Grandmother Oak has inspired my friend Lois to quote from the wisdom tradition:

“Once upon a time there was a forest where the birds sang by day and the crickets by night. Trees flourished, flowers bloomed, and all manner of creatures roamed in freedom. And all who entered there were led to Wonder and Worship, for they felt the presence of God. Then the age of unconsciousness dawned, when it became possible for people to construct buildings a thousand feet high, and to destroy rivers and forests and mountains. And the houses of worship were built from the wood of the forest and the rock of the mountain. Flowers were brought inside, water was placed in fonts, and bells replaced the sounds of Nature. And God suddenly had a much smaller home.”

Ranger: “That’s it, exactly! I’ve been telling you that humans have it all wrong about religion. I know you go to the Unitarian-Universalist Church because it allows you the freedom to believe whatever you want as long as you do not judge anyone else. You say you go there to rub shoulders with other like-minded people. So that’s maybe not religion.”

Me: “Well, it’s not religion in the traditional sense, but it certainly is “numinous” or spiritual. Grandmother Oak would approve. The religious tradition I grew up with preached salvation (get right with Jesus), prepare for your death so you can go to a better place (Heaven), and if you’re ‘predestined’ you might even have a life here on earth that is full of wealth. Earth was a bothersome and bad place that needed to be subdued and conquered, certainly not worshiped or enjoyed.”

Ranger: “Makes me happy I was born a dog. Sounds dreadful.”

Me: “What it inspired is a lot of guilt, frankly, because I could never get up the gumption to ‘go forward’ and accept Jesus as my personal savior. Also it was ironic that I felt guilt for not making a ton of money, or at least marrying someone with a lot of it. After all, being a girl required marriage, so better to snare someone who was a super hard worker and achiever of the American Dream and good at subduing the earth. The theme song for my growing up was ‘Work for the Night is Coming,’ which was a hymn that was a frequent choice for my father the preacher. What I did learn very well is how to work.”

Ranger: “It’s really no wonder you need my counsel. Hope you get over all of this soon.”

I Meet Grandmother Oak

Wildflowers and butterflies at the Horse Ponds.
Wildflowers and butterflies at the Horse Ponds.


Darryl and I traveled to the Carlton Reserve yesterday. It was incredibly hot! We parked our car and walked to an area called “The Horse Ponds.”  It is composed of many acres of live oaks, and in the middle there are five depressions that I suppose become small ponds during heavy rains. The deepest one houses an alligator with her own big hole. The wild flowers were simply amazing. Butterflies were tripping over themselves in delight. Bees buzzed and beetles listened to the songs of the giant grasshoppers. After filming there I suggested I needed to experience some shade, as we were both dripping wet, so we entered the live oak forest. There we saw butterfly orchids in profusion. And then…..

I meet Grandmother Oak
I meet Grandmother Oak

Here is an oak tree that has stood for probably 300 years. In her youth she was thrown over by who knows what.  Yet she elected to send her branches into this hot Florida sky and grow. I am overwhelmed.

While I sit there resting on her broad trunk I am struck by the holiness of this place and time. Ranger and I have been talking about spirituality, and our conclusion has been that the cathedrals in Europe, grand as they are, miss the point altogether. Huge human edifices pierce the sky in an attempt to claim God for themselves, or for at least those who control them, while Grandmother Oak lives with Earth in an embrace. She lives her sermons.

Is the American experience one of missed spirituality? We flounder about in churches like fish out of water. We close ourselves off from Earth in air conditioned cars and homes. We process our food until it bears no relation to its earthly origins. And all because we believe in the mythic character of our nation as blessed by God to lead the world into a wonderland. We believe in constant growth and “development.” We worship at the alter of Wall Street and corporate profit. We take vacations in Disneyland with perfectly paved streets and cotton candy snacks.

And Grandmother Oak smiles. She knows that Earth is really in charge after all. Earth will send her branches up and recover, with or without humans.