Piety... (c) 1989 by Kristi Martel
(written as a talk for Happening #24, April 1989 - I was just a kid then!)
I always find a spectacular peacefulness in nature. I really appreciate spring and all of its newness. Spring always seems to come at just that time when I need something new. It always seems to bring a small but generous bit of hope with it.
I've always loved that space of nothingness before a storm. I can tell there's a storm coming before I actually look out a window to see. There's a certain peace to this nothingness that has always let me think without questioning, or judging, or even responding - just listening. Yet I've always felt its presence and knew that I could be me in the peace and absolute and let myself unfold. There has always been a reviving calmness to nature. Some would call this God.
In this calmness, there is always a pressing wind reminding me of the coming storm. Without it I would become lost in the stillness, but instead I am brought to notice the huge clouds withheld from rupture with what seems to be a single thread. There's a definite sense of reality to nature.
While telling you this, I can hear the rain falling all around me. I can feel it splashing on my face and see it rolling down my street. I remember how the rain has always had an unrestricted presence. It can always be remembered and felt. Yet it isn't constricting. It's open and airy and let's me be perfectly free of worry and surrounded by the rain. It's comforting and seems to accept my aggravations without even changing its tone. It's still raining. The rain is very constant. It has a way of silencing me; it's indifferent, and it's silencing.
When I was lots younger, I loved to play in the woods beyond my backyard. These woods were where I was controller of all the world; and when the rain got all too wet to play in, there was (and is) a ledge that would hide me, sheltering me from the rain. Nature protects me.
I love thunder and lightning because it's so exciting. I think of the power of the thunder's volume and I become in control of my surroundings. The lightning reminds me of what I only wish I was doing, and I get started. It gives me energy and capability.
There is such fantastic life and beauty in nature. It is so persistent. Everything within is continuous and reoccurring. It all seems so simple yet impossible to explain or understand. What I'm saying seems so limited when compared to nature's endless characteristics... which some would name a gift of God.
I am sometimes overwhelmed by all this. Such beauty, such simplicity, sometimes paralyzes me:
I went to a camp in Ferry Beach, Maine last summer. It was a Unitarian Universalist camp. It had a fantastic altar. It was in the forest. The altar itself was a big stone platform surrounded in the back by huge tree trunks. I could hardly comprehend the simplicity of this place. It was a perfectly natural place to worship God.
And then I am again taken aback by its complexity and wonder how it all works and why. I have reverence for the animals and the stars and the earth, and they all seem to work together like clockwork. It is all too logical to have just "happened."
A letter written in 1855 by Chief Sealth of the Duwamish Tribe, which inhabited what is now the state of Washington, seems to explain this very well. It was written to President Franklin Pierce protesting the President's proposal to buy the tribal lands:
"How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. We do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water. How can you buy them from us?... ...One thing we know which the white man will one day discover. Our God is the same God. You may think now that you own him as you wish to own our land. But you cannot. He is the Body of man. And his compassion is equal for the red man and the white man. This earth is precious to him. And to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator... continue to contaminate your bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste."
It's unnatural to think we try to own land and sky and animals. I wonder why people are so possessed with money at all. It's all so pointless in a way.
There was an oil spill this past month near the Alaskan coastline, the port of Valdez, one of the United States' or maybe the world's, most valuable fishing ports. I heard the story day after day: that it could have been prevented. One morning the newsman stated that the price of oil was going to increase by 38¢ a gallon in the coming months. All I could ask was, "What about all the fish, and the birds?" Is it really worth it?
I'd love to be capable of capturing nature's beauty and simplicity in words or in a picture or in music. I hope to accomplish that someday. That's a part of my appreciation of such peace.
The peace, the silence and energy, they're all part of my surroundings. They are sometimes my motivation, sometimes my survival. I'm so thankful for all this. You probably don't realize it, but I've been talking about piety all this time. As I think and feel in nature, I feel very close to God. I guess you could say God is the universe and my appreciation is piety. Piety is my interaction, my relationship, with my God.
While explaining all of this to you, I found it very hard to name God. In the Old Testament of the Bible, the Hebrews named God "Yahweh," which translates as, "I am who I am." They spelled his name, "Y-H-W-H," leaving out the vowels "a" and "e" which we put in. They did not pronounce his name because it is too sacred. This is the name that best explains what I understand as God.
So when I smile at you, it's not just a coincidence of greetings and politeness; my smile is not actually directed toward a single person all the time. It's an act of my thankfulness for this huge creator, and it serves its whole purpose, just in being smiled.
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