From Coast to Coast to Coast, we Canadians live upon a land which far exceeds the blessings many of our ancestors could only long for. In addition to the milk and honey of our ancestors’ dreams, this land is rich in blessings more numerous than all the words in all the languages spoken by this land’s diverse inhabitants. I suspect that those of you who call other lands “home” are also blessed with a similar love for your land. We only have to close our eyes to see the images of the beauty of the land we love simply because it is home. Walking upon the land, the ground beneath our feet holds promises passed down from generation to generation. Memories of landscapes long changed by human hands, haunt our visions of ever-expanding settlements. In addition to being overwhelmed by the vast beauty and majesty of the land, our eyes weep and our bodies shudder at gaping wounds, and ugly scares which threaten to pierce our over-inflated egos and challenge the wisdom of our imbedded delusions of grandeur. Standing upon the Earth, with its vast, majestic lands, how did we ever become so enamored of our species domineering posture of self-importance? There is an arrogance to our Western posture which threatens the land.
Years ago, when my family immigrated to this land which I call home, it was known as the DOMINION of CANADA. That word “dominion” sticks in my throat, like a bile which threatens to make me wretch. While it has been a long time since this land was viewed as the DOMINION of CANADA, this land we love continues, like many lands, to suffer the pain of the dominion we inheritors of the Genesis myth continue to claim as our place in the order of Creation.
Listen to these words taken from one of the Creation myths found in the book of Genesis. I’m using the New Revised Standard Vision because it is a familiar translation of Genesis chapter 1, verses 27 & 28: the NRSV translates the Hebrew text like this:
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Here endth the reading…or does it?
In one of the most treasured Creation myths of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures, humans are placed as the crowns in the jewels of Creation. For two millennia, the dominant Christian culture has interpreted this myth to endow the right of “dominion over” every living thing that moves upon the Earth; indeed, over the Earth itself. Creation is ours to rule over. We have dominion over Creation.
“Dominion” the word comes from the Latin word dominium which means “lordship” or “right of ownership” from the word dominus which means “lord”. Humans, male and female, for that is how “He” the “LORD GOD” created them in this particular Creation Myth, Humans are “lords of every living thing” we have dominion over Creation and we are to subdue the Earth, and multiply. Is it any wonder then that we are so very quick to consume the bounty of the Earth? It is as if we see ourselves as lords and ladies exercising our god-given right to tax the Earth and all her Creatures. One look at a “man-made” (sic) machine, excavating a mountaintop, confirms our “dominion” our “lordship” as we ravenously devour the land, so that we can gobble up the Earth’s resources.
Creation myths function as a kind of compass which orients a culture’s place in the world. But what if our Creation myths, or rather, Western Christianity’s translations and interpretations of our Creation myths went askew somehow? Perhaps instead of a compass our Creation myths are functioning as weights around our necks, millstones if you will, which continue to unbalance us? I believe that our notions of “dominion” continue to function as such a millstone and that we must cast off this weight if we are to have any hope of restoring our balance. Let me begin to lighten the load by looking back to our Creation myth to see if we can discover the roots of our delusions of “dominion”.
For centuries, the Hebrew word “radah” has been translated as “dominion” but when we go back to the roots of our myth we actually, quite literally discover a “root”. The Hebrew word, “radah” means “a point high up on the root of a plant.” When gardeners who pull up weeds encounter the radah the discover where the strength of the plant is. The radah of the root is the centre of the plant’s strength. The radah helps the plant say firmly in the ground when the winds come. What happens to the meaning of our Creation myth when we begin to understand the strength of a new translation?
Listen if you will to a new, more literal translation of our Creation Myth: “Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. On the seventh day ELOHIM (ELOHIM is the feminine plural for “majesty” which is all too often translated as “Lord”) On the Seventh day, ELOHIM, had finished all the work of creation, and so, on the seventh day, ELOHIM rested. ELOHIM blessed the seventh day and called it sacred, because on it, ELOHIM rested from all the work of Creation.
“Let them be “radah” of the fish in the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle, the wild animals, and everything that crawls on the ground.” Let them be the centre of strength of the fish in the sea, the centre of strength of the birds of the air, the centre of strength for the cattle, the centre of strength for the wild animals, and the centre of strength of everything that crawls on the land. Where might a Creation Myth, a compass like this lead us?
Long before this land which I love became the “Dominion of Canada” there was another name for this vast, fecund, and beautiful land. Turtle Island is a name given by the First Peoples of this Land. There is much that we settlers upon this land can learn from the Indigenous Peoples, for their Creation Myth provides a compass which will not lead us to dominion. Listen to the Creation Myth of Turtle Island as it is told by Haudenosaunee elders.
Back when the Earth at that time was covered with water, there was another place above the Earth called the Sky. In the world up above the water-covered Earth lived beings which were very much like humans in the sense that there were men and women. A woman was pregnant and like humans she desired certain food.
What she wanted was the roots of a tree that was called the Tree of Light. Because she wanted this root from the Tree of Light so much, she ran over to it and began digging underneath tree to get at the roots. The ground started falling away and she began falling towards Earth. All the creatures down on Earth were looking up and saw her falling. The geese came up under her to help her to descend safely. The very first interaction between human people and non-human people is one of care and kindness and generosity. The other creatures in the water, especially the great turtle, looked up and thought, “well she’ll need to land on something” and so the turtle offered its back.
And so that begins story about Turtle Island. When the Earth began to grow on the back of the Turtle it began to grow because of Sky Woman’s gratitude. The Earth is alive because it is this gift of the Turtle mixed with the gifts of all of the other Beings. The Sky Woman has her baby it is a girl. They that take care of one another and she grows until the Sky Woman’s daughter is able to have babies of her own. Inside her belly she feels her babies rumbling and tumbling. When it comes time for birth, the first baby is born in the normal way and this baby has a good mind and clearheaded, and a good spirit. The second one that’s in her is different. The second twin did not come as children normally come but was born out of her underarm and this killed her. The twins grew rapidly, and they began to disagree with each other, to battle with each other, It is a tug of war just like they were rumbling in the belly of their mother. When one was wanting to do something to help the Earth, the other one seemed to be contrary. So, whatever one brother made, like a rose, the other brother put a thorn on it. The CREATOR solved this by giving the good minded brother the daytime hours, and the not so good minded brother the nighttime hours to create balance on Earth. Balance requires both ways. With balance, all is wonderful. Creation was happening in both ways. So many things were being built and the Earth began to look wonderful and the Earth provided so bountifully that the Creatures of every kind had all that they needed, through balance.
For the beauty of the Earth, for the health of this Land which we love, I pray that we can once again learn to see ourselves as centres of strength, as radah, centres of strength and seekers of balance. May the ONE who IS the SOURCE of ALL live and move and have BEING, in, with, through, and beyond us to provide strength and healing upon the Earth.
Watch the full WORSHIP video for Land Sunday below