Monday, Indigenous Plenary and spirituality that does not back away at the last day of 2015 Parliament

by Kate Greenough Richardson

Choir of Parliament participants perform

Choir of Parliament participants perform “Songs of the Earth” cantata, Monday at 2015 Parliament (by Kate Richardson)

I actually slept a little later this last morning of the Parliament (10/19), and stayed in to write up my notes over coffee at the big table in the house that became the ‘study hall’ while we were there.

Though there were still more fascinating workshops available all morning and into the afternoon, many of us went to the Indigenous Plenary at 10:30. I am sorry that I did not get the names of the all the speakers. The messages they brought were powerful and moving, and cut straight to the heart of what the Pagans I know are reaching toward in their spiritual awareness and practice.

  • Te’Kaiya Blaney sang beautifully, and later spoke about growing up struggling with her identity as indigenous. At first it seemed painful, but she embraced it, and it has become a source of strength and hope.
  • Chief Arvol Looking Horse called to stop fracking and the KXL pipeline, and spoke of World Peace and Prayer Day.
  • Wande Abimbola, Yoruban Ifa leader, said “it is stupid to divide the world into living and non-living things. All things are living.” He also said it’s time for the world to shed itself of the bigotry of color and faiths.
  • Arnold Thomas, native of the Great Salt Lake basin reminded us that the earth is not in trouble, it is humans that are in trouble. He asked everyone to stand, and ordained the entire audience to go “convert people to love Mother Earth.”
  • Rangimarie Turuki Rose Pere, a Maori grandmother sent a call to stop the Trans Pacific Partnership trade alliance. She spoke of how we are universally connected and can not be separated even if think otherwise. She said, surround the people who hurt you with love, only attack the bad energy behind them. And if you cannot do that, move into neutral! She sang a song wishing peace, Love, Joy and Truth to the universe. Then she turned to her grown grandson that she walked onstage with, and said that this work must be done in partnership between genders. He performed a short haka, and she joined in.
  • Our own friend and travel companion Inija Trinkuniene came on with Andras‘s introduction, and told of how the ancient sacred oak groves in Lithuania were cut down in an effort to convert the indigenous people there to Christianity. But oaks have acorns, which sprouted again, and are growing new sacred groves. She offered a blessing by casting grains of wheat.
  • Steve Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) of the Indigenous Law Institute, said that it would be a grave mistake to work on climate change without working on paradigm change. He called for the revocation of the centuries old “Doctrine of Discovery”, which still impacts indigenous Americans when dealing with legal and government issues.
  • Angaangag Angakkorsuaq, an Eskimo-Kalaallit elder from the far north of Greenland said it is too late to stop climate change. In his 68 year lifespan he has seen the ice go from 5km to 2km thick. Animals, plants, earth – they will be fine. It’s humans who will suffer. Millions will perish and there’s nothing you can do about it. And yet, his message was of hope.

There were more speakers, and I was glad that they each took their time on the stage to say their piece, even though it made the plenary last far beyond its allotted time. I was glad that I had already heard some of these messages in other forums and plenaries; they weren’t quarantined in some special forum but permeated the whole gathering. [Watch the whole video of the Indigenous Plenary and part 2.]

Shortly after the plenary ended, Mary Lou Prince and Patty Willis’s piece finally, Songs of the Earth cantata, was performed, to much appreciation. A choir of 144 voices, 30 or more different faiths, joined with the piano and string quartet to bring the words and music to life. Singing in this really made a lovely capstone for my Parliament experience.

Then it was all over but the Closing plenary. Blessings and appreciations, and the welcome news that the next Parliament will be in 2017! When there is so much going on in the world, and such great need for people of faith to work together, why wait 5 years between gatherings.

During the following evening, there was packing, leave-taking, divvying up of expenses, and such. A carload of us went to watch the sun set over the lake, but I was not among them. I was sorry that I didn’t get to connect directly with the land lying under the city pavement, but at least in each direction between and beyond the walls of buildings I had glimpses of the mountains, I smelled the breeze and the rain, I added a buckeye picked up from the sidewalk to EarthSpirit’s ancestor altar on the booth table. I touched some lovely old sycamores that grow beside some of the city streets. And one morning Isobel and I saw a quail cross the street just as if it were an odd looking pigeon.

I’m writing this post after several days full of catching up with the tasks of the life I left behind when I entered the world of the Parliament. This morning at last I have time to sit and reflect, and try to think consciously and carefully about how to weave some of the threads I grasped there more fully into my regular life. There’s no doubt that this experience has shifted my energy, and given a substantial, pragmatic boost to my native determined optimism. The question now is, how best to put that determination to good use?

For one thing, I’m more than ever convinced that some kind of regular spiritual practice that connects me with the mystery of the whole of existence is a great source of strength and guidance. It was inspiring to be among so many people who have found that connection by so many pathways. There are great problems in the world, and the spirituality I witnessed does not back away, but faces them with courage and love. I wish the same for you and us all as we travel this path between birth and death.

It was inspiring to be among so many people who have found that connection by so many pathways. There are great problems in the world, and the spirituality I witnessed does not back away, but faces them with courage and love.

Grain blessing by Inija Trinkuniene at Indigenous Plenary, Monday at 2015 Parliament by Eric Arthen

Grain blessing by Inija Trinkuniene at the Indigenous Plenary, Monday at 2015 Parliament (by Eric Arthen)

Sunday, Community in action at the 2015 Parliament

by Kate Greenough Richardson

Priestesses Panel, Sunday at 2015 Parliament by Kate Richardson

Priestesses Panel, Sunday at 2015 Parliament by Kate Richardson

Sunday is the last full day of the Parliament. Again, it started early, though I missed the 7am morning observances in favor of an extra bit of sleep. I’m not alone in feeling that some of the best stuff is in the early hours, when there are rituals and practices shared. You get to experience the flavor of things rather than just hearing about them. But it does make for shorter nights!

This morning at 8:15 I attended a panel discussion about what it means to serve as a priestess, and how to embody and sustain that role. The panel had incredible wealth of experience: along with Deirdre there were seven other women, including Vivienne Crowley, Angie Buchanan, Selena Fox, Phyllis Curott, and Starhawk. The discussion was filled with wisdom and humor, centering around taking care of community and of self, maintaining a personal practice, and connecting with the web of existence.

After this I had some time to help get the booth up and running for the day. It’s wonderful to be in a place where people with questions and interest stop by to learn something about Paganism in general and EarthSpirit in particular. We get to practice and fine-tune our ‘elevator speeches’ that carefully pack much information in a small space of time, giving people ways to connect and learn more if they wish. But the booth is a steady hub of activity, so eventually I had to leave to write up my notes from the day before!

Rehearsal for the cantata was at 1pm, and let out just in time for me to get to the Langar before it closed up at 2:30. The crowd had thinned by that time and I was seated near the ‘kitchen’ where buckets and dishes were being filled with food for the servers to take around. I was close enough to hear that a couple of the Sikhs in the kitchen were maintaining a steady chant the entire time they worked, interrupting it to issue instructions to servers or children. The menu had the same format but different dishes: rice, naan (bread), salad, fresh fruit (bananas and apple slices), and two hot dishes – today, saag paneer (greens with cheese) and kidney beans. Nourishing, and delicious.

I took a few pictures of some activities and installations in the hallways on my way to the plenary at 3:45. As at the Parliament in Melbourne there were Buddhist monks making a sand mandala, but this one was on a smaller scale, with amazingly delicate detail. Nearby a table invited people to write messages on ribbons to be taken to the upcoming climate summit in Paris. I made a ribbon for myself; today I plan to add one on behalf of the EarthSpirit Community because I know that many of you would resonate with this action.

The Climate Change Plenary had plenty of substance but I also thought it left plenty of questions unspoken (link to video). Speakers all agreed on the urgency and the complexity of the problem, and mostly spoke to the fact that it underlies so many of the other pressing issues facing us all. Al Gore’s daughter Karenna moderated the session and presented a videotaped address from her father. Katherine Hayhoe, climate scientist and author, who pointed out that addressing climate change is not a question of conserving resources, but of not using resources that are available. Jonathan Granoff, a lawyer with focus on nuclear proliferation called on us to ask all our political leaders 3 questions: What are you doing to protect the climate? What are you doing to eliminate poverty? What are you doing to eliminate nuclear weapons? Chief Arvol Looking Horse urged us to remember that the Earth is the source of life, not a resource. Francois Paulette from First Nations in Canada talked about the environmental devastation already being experienced in the northlands, and said “your way of life is destroying our way of life.” The final speaker was Dr. Saleh Abdullah M. Bin Himeid, imam of the great mosque in Mecca. He spoke through a translator, about the need to address climate change, poverty and extremism, and called for people of all faiths to work together.

Burundi drummers at Morman Tabernacle at 2015 Parliament by Kate Richardson

Burundi drummers at Morman Tabernacle at 2015 Parliament by Kate Richardson

I dashed out of the plenary to save a few seats at the Mormon Tabernacle for the evening concert of sacred music. Many of us managed to attend despite the overflow crowd turned away at the door once it filled. It was a lovely way to end another full day, with prayer, dance and music from many cultures and traditions (including some rocking Burundi drummers, and the Lion drummers we’d seen at the Emerging Leaders plenary) After it ended, though I had meant to get to bed early, I ended up going out to a nearby pub for supper and a beer, and conversations about the day’s events with EarthSpirit friends.

It’s really great to see how this group has been working together to take care of each other and make sure we can all get the most out of this experience. Wren has served as chauffeur for this whole event, making it possible for those less able to walk to get from place to place. Cerillion has been provisioning the kitchen in the house. A team of us has made sure that there’s always somebody, and usually two people, at the booth. And everyone is checking in to make sure that people are getting to go to the sessions and events they most want to. This is our community in action!

Saturday, Another full and rich day at the 2015 Parliament

by Kate Greenough Richardson

Mayan dancers at the 2015 Parliament

Mayan dancers at the 2015 Parliament

As I sit at a table in the “Gathering Place” to write this Sunday morning, I can see a couple of tables of buddhist monks in saffron robes, several Mayan performers are walking by with ankle shakers of seed pods, and it looks like some kind of chorus is taking the stage in the far corner. I’ve had to make my peace with how many things I would really like to hear, see and experience I’m simply going to miss. Luckily, with so many EarthSpirit friends along for this journey, it’s likely I’ll get to experience many things vicariously.

Saturday was another full and rich day at the Parliament. It started early, as I sat in Deirdre’s morning observance at 7am, entitled “Devotional Chanting for the Earth”. About 40 people showed up to join singing some off our favorite chants, starting with “We Are One With the Soul of the Earth” and ending with “Peace in My Heart”. People really came to sing, and stayed with each chant long enough to really sink into it. I felt grounded and centered as I went off to start my day.

From there I went to the second of a two part workshop called “Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee”. There I learned from Chief Arvol Looking Horse of an annual observance that is a 9 day ride following the trail taken by Chief Big Foot to the massacre at Wounded Knee. This year the arduous ride is being done in prayer that war and genocide should end. The organizers dream of a world wide ceremony to take place Dec. 29th at noon in every time zone, to honor and hold this intention of peace. They ask people to gather in wounded places that need healing. I signed up for their email list, and hope to pass on details as I learn them.

There was rehearsal for the cantata at noon, and from there I passed through the smudge gate to the sacred fire to make an offering, on my way to the Sikh’s Langar. This is a free lunch offered to all the 10,000 people attending the Parliament, and it’s an astonishing and moving demonstration of the power of service and generosity of spirit. You take off your shoes, and receive a scarf to cover your head, then get seated on the ground in long rows. Sikhs move up and down giving out plates then filling them with delicious vegetarian food until you are satisfied. You’re then invited to move to tables for tea and sweets if you wish. It really makes you wonder how hard could it be to feed every hungry person on the earth.

Langar, free meals served by the Sikhs at 2015 Parliament

Langar, free meals served by the Sikhs at 2015 Parliament

I was tired and filled with contentment and gratitude after my meal. After checking to make sure the booth was covered, I spent the rest of the afternoon watching performances by various groups. I saw Mayan dancer in full regalia, a Navajo hoop dancer, a Canadian Mohawk flute player, Cambodian classical dancers and Devotional dancers from India.

Then it was time for the evening plenary. The topic this time was Focus on War, Violence and Hate Speech. The speakers were hugely inspiring. Many spoke with great passion, calling out the institutions that promote and perpetuate violence, and asking us to search our souls for the commitment to active defiance of these evils. I had heard of some of the presenters – Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, and Jane Goodall. Others were equally impressive: among them, Allan Boesak from South Africa, Karen Armstrong who was presented an award for her work, Dr. Tariq Ramadan who asked us not to give emotional applause, but to think.

The evening ended up with a little party at the spacious and somewhat swanky house where some of us are staying. Cerillian had put together a tableful of festive nourishment, and many of us had the chance to meet or catch up with a couple of Parliament board members as well as each other. Honey and the Sting did a little impromptu performance of a few songs before the evening ended and we all went off in search of a good night of sleep.

We are always thinking of our dear friends and family back home; with these posts I can at least imagine I’ve got you in my pockets as I go through the day!

Friday, Hope and Determination at the 2015 Parliament

by Kate Greenough Richardson

Young Whirling Dervishes at the Emerging Leaders Plenary, Friday at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Young Whirling Dervishes at the Emerging Leaders Plenary, Friday at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Friday started early, with morning observances from 7-8am. I didn’t manage to get to the Peace Drum Initiative session with Buyondo Micheal from Uganda, who had stopped by the EarthSpirit table on Friday and stayed to chat about drumming, involving youth, and working for peace. Instead I stayed at the sacred fire tended by Native Americans at the main entrance. A Mayan elder from Guatemala was doing a blessing of the four roads, including explanations of colors, directions, and numerology involved in the Mayan calendar. He ended by invoking ancestors and involving everyone present in making offerings to the fire.

Mayan ceremony at dawn, Friday at 2015 Parliament

Mayan ceremony at dawn, Friday at 2015 Parliament

Back to the booth for the morning. I hoped to spend some time choosing programs to attend for the day. If you think choosing workshops at Rites is hard, you have not seen anything. Not only are multiple presenters speaking on topics at any given time, but there is a cultural hall, many displays, a labyrinth, and of course the exhibition hall filled with booths where people stand ready to speak and exchange with such open hearts and minds. As I write this, there has just been some spontaneous drumming and dancing by “sikhs being distractingly joyful”, as Tiffany put it. In their booths, Sikhs are wrapping turbans on anyone who wants to try it out. Around the hall people are shopping (lots of pretty shiny stuff, much is Tibetan and Native American) or having earnest conversations. You could have a whole weekend’s worth of stories even if you never left the exhibition hall!

I left the booth for a while for a rehearsal of a 10 song cantata that is being performed Monday by a pickup 150 voice chorus. Written by Mary Lou Prince with words by Patty Christiena Willis, the songs evoke seasons and ancestors. On the way back, I stopped a while to listen to some amazing Indian singing and tabla playing going on under an outside tent, with people spontaneously dancing to the infectuous beats. I found a long hallway lined with banners with colorful depictions of many deities, I could have spent a half hour just getting through it.

The main event today was the Emerging Leaders Plenary in the evening [video part 1 and part 2]. Isobel was very involved in planning the program, which was stirring and diverse. Music and dance alternated with rousing speakers, people under 35 talking about their work and calls to action in the world. There was a group of very young whirling dervishes, Honey and the Sting performed a couple of songs, and a phenomenal group of lion drummers with a singer and a sword dancer. The projects described include “Rebuild With Love”, a Muslim initiative to rebuild Black churches destroyed by arson, and AFL Peace Team, an Australian Football (“Footy”) team from Jerusalem that is half Palestinian and half Jewish. There were speakers whose family members have been recently killed by hate crimes, speaking out for spreading peace and love, and defying the hatred that is so commonly being sown. Toward the end, all audience members younger than 35 were asked to stand and pledge to go out and do the work to change the world for the better. Then those over 35 stood and pledged to support and respect and publicize the great work that these young leaders are doing.

I think we all left the hall tired but energized. Another rich and full day, spent full of friendly curiosity, being moved to tears by reports of pain and injustice, being lifted by hope and charged by the determination to take the needed actions to heal the world, in the company of so many different and diverse people working for the same ends.

Emerging Leaders take a bow at the end of the Friday Plenary at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Emerging Leaders take a bow at the end of the Friday Plenary at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Thursday, Opening day at the 2015 Parliament

by Kate Richardson

EarthSpirit booth at the 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions

EarthSpirit booth at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

I arrived at the Parliament just in time for the closing session of the Women’s Assembly on Thursday (10/14). Deirdre started it off, filling the large room with voices chanting “I am the Earth” while she sang the main melody counterpoint. Women of many faiths then offered songs, prayers and invocations with encouragement for activism on behalf of peace, justice and healing the planet.

I then connected with some more of the EarthSpirit contingent at our booth in the exhibition hall. The booth is a communication hub for our group. Passers by stop to chat as well, and exchange information and questions, and sometimes to leave information about their events and practices. It’s lively, sometimes a little chaotic, full of web-weavings and little openings.

Just walking in the hallways you come across many fascinating sights that you wonder what they are about, such as this circle dance on a floor of circles.

Circle dance on a floor of circles at the 2015 Parliament.

Circle dance on a floor of circles at the 2015 Parliament.

The big event Thursday night was the Opening Plenary [video]. A huge room held many of the nearly 10,000 Parliament participants. It started with a procession of flags of different nations, and groups of indigenous people in full regalia, while a group of men drummed and chanted from the stage. As with the Australian Parliament six years ago, the chair of the Parliament Council started by thanking the local indigenous people, as original caretakers and inhabitants of this place. Many of the following speakers did the same.
Addresses and blessings were given by dignitaries of many faiths- Islam, Baptist, Baha’i, Sikh, Ute, Judaism to name a few, as well as a representative of the United Nations, and the governor of Utah and local government officials.

The plenary ended after 9pm, and some of us went out in search of food. Most restaurants were closing, but we found some highly entertaining cycle cab drivers who whisked the sore of foot off to a good kebab joint that was willing to serve us before they locked the doors.

As we move through all this activity I’m struck by how every one of our group feels a connection to the people who helped us get here, in so many ways. I’m sure there will be many wonderful photos and stories to help us carry it home and share the inspiration we’re getting here.

All best from Salt Lake