Janet Thomas: The Sacred and the Grotesque
- Written by Janet Thomas
I am reading a book: “Asking for the Earth—Waking Up to the Spiritual/Ecological Crisis.” It’s a re-read, actually. The book was published in 1995, so I first read it about 20 years ago. It was written by James George, a retired Canadian Ambassador with a spiritual and physical passion for the environment. His book is an inside-out job. It connects the human spirit to our earthly home and the science of it all to the sacred. He references everyone and everything from Krishnamurti to Albert Einstein, from the Jesus Prayer to Buddhist mantras, from Humpty Dumpty to Hitler. And it’s a short book—less than 200 pages or erudition, insight, guidance, hope and despair. Within its pages, no stone of life remains unturned—including the weighty and weightless stones of heart, soul and spirit.
In the midst of this weekly read I got waylaid by the Kavanaugh goings-on, blind-sided actually, gut-punched and soul-sickened. It also plunged me into my own hellhole of personal memory. And it wasn’t the recounting of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s abuse that disturbed me—she was inspiring in her dignity and restraint—it was the arrogant sniffling and snarling of the U.S. Supreme Court candidate. It was the putrid power-mongering of elitist exploitation that has been far too long in control of far too much.
So, as the democratic heart of the country is bleeding-to-death on the steps of the capital, here I am reading about the world burning to death on the steps of time. And they are deeply connected. In his 28-year-old book, James George asks “…how do we feel today watching the spread of an increasingly pervasive corporate culture of multinationals devouring the resources of the planet, with barely a rhetorical nod in the direction of sustainability? We have a dominant culture that is, in an objective sense, a counter-culture because it is, in practice (if not in theory), against the order of Nature.”
This dominant—and dominating—culture is precisely the culture we are seeing in full poisonous bloom as Supreme Court candidate Kavanaugh is crammed down the throat of democracy, of civility, of the common good in favor of greater wealth for the wealthy and far less respect for the rest of us. His long-standing old-white-boy network is stacking itself up to rule non-stop over humans-being in favor of inhuman exploitation. This has been a long time in the making. Kavanaugh’s shock and outrage at being challenged speaks for itself—in volumes of vitriol and indignant privileged pride.
My friends get mad at me: “Janet, get over hating rich people,” was a recent remonstrance at a canasta game with my dearly beloved women friends. I cringed in shame. Yes, there are rich people whom I love—they are my friends. Then there are the rich people I was farmed out to as a kid, the rich people to whom family members catered to and revered, the evilly-empowered class of rich people to whom I was sacrificed—for both science and sex. The omnipotence of Kavanaugh and his cronies throughout history who see themselves as holier-than-thou regardless of the hell they are perpetrating, is a power based on the powerlessness of others. As a kid, somewhere inside I raged against this, and, thank God, I still do. Even if it is sometimes ignorant and embarrassing.
This Kavanaugh crisis has triggered the very soul of my soul. All my life I have taken refuge in the outside world—in both nature and in the world of democracy—real democracy. Now I am shaken to the core, and so are all of us in my survivor community. We are used to taking solace in the outside world, now the outside world is reflecting the perversion, exploitation and cruelty of our childhoods. And it is happening in far too many places at once. As I struggle to maintain my composure—spiritual, physical, emotional and psychological—I am frantically trying to remember, recall and reproduce all that I have learned from so many blessed teachers in my life.
In his book, “Asking for the Earth,” James George speaks of his own learning from his teachers from all corners and theisms of the world. He writes: “If the strongest Force in the universe is Love, how could we be perpetually cut off from that Force? We must have, and in actual experience, we do have, the capacity to open to it. Yet our whole world may be dying for lack of it.”
This is what I, too, have learned from all my teachers. “Love makes the world go around.” And it is love beyond language that manifests itself in the Being and Meaning of it all.
James George devoted himself to saving the whales on the planet. In his book, he writes about a swim with dolphins: “It was a palpably extraordinary experience, affecting my whole body. It has taken me months to begin to write about it, and I still don’t understand what happened or how it happened. I can only report the circumstances, and my conviction that it was no coincidence that when I had called with my heart, they were there beside me at once! They can relate to that sort of call. Everything else about us is boring. And it is, isn’t it? They are so right.”
Years ago, when I was first here on the island, I had several such encounters with the Southern Resident orca whales. I walked my old dog, Buck, along Westside Road—before it was Land Bank property. I was barely alive during those walks. It was the early 90s and I was reeling from the rabbit hole of memory. It was as if the SRKWs heard my call; they would suddenly be there, right next to the shore, foraging, playing, being at home in their home waters. I could almost reach out and touch them. But it was they who reached out and touched me. There was beauty in this world and, despite the ugliness within which I was struggling, it prevailed. And it still does.
This morning, I trudged myself to Jackson’s Beach for my morning walk—meditation in one direction, plastic pick-up in the other. But because it was a plastic tide, I picked up on the first half of my walk. As I got to the end of the beach I nearly bumped into the resident heron. Usually, he/she takes to flight while I am a long distance away. This morning it was different. I was stunned at our proximity. “Thank-you,” I said. “For staying.” And I started to cry. I felt heard by this bird. And the crazy coincidence of it all—an article waiting to be finished, a life waiting to be lived—and here I am literally face-to-face with a heron that has flown away from me for a year. This morning it stays. Accepting my presence. Sensing, perhaps, that I need this connection. This love, this trust in the divine nature of it all And, oh, how I do.
I will close with James George’s words from 1995, at the end of chapter four in his book:
“This love is never exclusive. It is naturally inclusive; and those who hear its call will find each other and be able to work together, regardless of their particular affiliations. For the call is the call of the self, of the earth, and of the sun, and of beyond the sun. It is the highest and deepest call we are capable of hearing; and there has never been a time on this planet when it was more urgent for us to heed it.”
World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, Union of Concerned Scientists, November 18, 1992, on behalf of over 1600 scientists, including a majority of the living Nobel Laureates in the sciences: https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/67/12/1026/4605229
Declaration of the Sacred Earth Gathering of Spiritual leaders at the UNCED Conference, Rio, 1992: http://www.silene.es/documentos/Declaration_Sacred_Earth_Gathering_1992.pdf
Janet Thomas has lived on San Juan Island for 27 years. She is the San Juan Islands Coordinator for Orca Relief Citizens' Alliance and was the Superintendent of San Juan County Parks when Jet-ski-whale-watching was prevented from launching from San Juan County Park, a decision ultimately upheld by the Washington State Supreme Court. She is an author and playwright whose work has been produced in Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Portland, Honolulu and Los Angeles. Her most recent books are: "The Battle in Seattle--The Story Behind and Beyond the WTO Demonstrations" and "Day Breaks Over Dharamsala--A Memoir of Life Lost and Found."