Saturday, December 3, 2016

Reading the "Signs of the Times"

A Message from Margaret Swedish

The Center for New Creation has come to the end of its 2016 fiscal year in a time of cultural turmoil. The year ending has been a transitional one for the work I do under this umbrella – a decision to ground my work more deeply in the urban reality of my city of Milwaukee, to connect the ecology and spirituality focus with the deep-seated reality of racism and segregation (not unique to Milwaukee). I also continue as I have for years now to offer programs that help us root our human existence within the truth of Gaia, a deeply interconnected Web of Life within which we dwell and outside of which we do not exist at all – and that web is in big trouble as we know. The election didn’t help that any.

Copyright : Romolo Tavani
Like a lot of people, I’m worried. I am deeply, deeply worried about where we are in the tumult of the moment, the enormous shifts underway, about how unprepared we are for what’s coming, how hard a time we are having seeing the truth of our predicament. It seems to me a deeper sharing is required, a deeper look into reality than we are getting from the mainstream that sees only in terms of surface dynamics, important as those may be. 

I believe that what we are seeing in this election cycle is not the thing in itself, or a beginning of something new, but rather a reaction to or an expression of the changes already underway – for our planet, the global economy, the demographics of our increasingly crowded world – in other words, the shifting of the ground beneath our feet, or the collapse of foundations that have been crumbling for a long time.

The mistake would be to try to repair the foundations. They are collapsing for a reason. The world they have been holding up doesn’t exist anymore.

And so, as we discern how to proceed with our own work in this challenging moment for our culture and our planet, we think it essential to take time to read the signs of the times. We think it essential to go into some very deep interior places, without fear of what we will see there, and have a good long read – in community, with the benefit of diverse vantage points and life experiences, the wisdom of elders and the fresh eyes of the young, from different cultures and locations in our history. And we need to do some deep listening to the Earth, too, to the other sentient and non-sentient beings with whom we share the planet.

These times call for different kinds of work, work that comes from a grounding in what is real about how we got here, what is really at work underneath the layers of political tumult, what is crumbling, what may emerge (or is emerging in places like Standing Rock) if we can free ourselves from the paradigms, entrenched cultural institutions, belief systems, a good deal of ego, and defensive postures, and wrestle with the truth about our human predicament.

In the virtual space of the Center for New Creation, we want to become one place where that reflection is occurring, or where we can instigate and facilitate more of it. We are not a physical Center (though we could be one someday, who knows where, we just keep evolving). Or we could be a moving center, being in different locations to anchor a process, or hold a space for a time for people to gather around this new prophetic call – which is, to read the signs of the times.

Alice's Garden, Milwaukee
2016 was a good year for our work as we made some shifts in emphasis to embrace realities like racism and environmental injustice. From helping to create and lead a retreat day on Spirituality and Ecology at a Wisconsin monastery on the prairie this fall; to several speaking engagements and PowerPoint presentations with community organizations on climate change, the fossil fuel industry, and other ecological challenges; to getting involved in urban “farming” in a large community garden in the inner city and all that has followed from that, including being part of a growing new “just food” culture in Milwaukee; to launching (finally!) a new website that we hope will become a tool for sharing news of the planet and stories of “new” creation – all of this work has felt empowering, helpful, a way to be of service.

And now we want to help create spaces for reading the signs of the times, and encouraging others to do so. This is not some one-time shot at an explanation for Trump’s victory or the rise of white nationalism or the collapse of the two-party system. This is about something much deeper of which these occurrences are symptoms (which also makes them signs to be read more deeply than the surface on which they are reported in the media and to which we react). Symptoms can help us look for source. They tell us something is wrong. Signs can help us find direction. Check out the symptoms, look for the underlying causes – then see what these signs tell us about how to proceed.

And so this is what we foresee for us as program directions over the next year.
  1. Co-convene a group or groups in the area where we are located for the express purpose of reading the signs of the times out of shared wisdom, deep listening, and a diversity of lenses or vantage points.
  2. Be available for convening or facilitating these kinds of gatherings in other locations where invited (so think about inviting me to your community – for a day, a weekend, longer).
  3. Build online community around the website, inviting other writers to contribute, getting out to other places to gather stories where “new creation” is underway, and activating the “Members Area” for non-public sharing of the ongoing reading of the signs of the times. 
  4. Continue my many years now of presentations, workshops, reflection days on Spirituality and Ecology, the unbreakable link between the two, and the deep searching into the heart of who we are as humans within the long history of our Mother Earth and the evolutionary journey. 
  5. And into that latter work, bringing in the inescapable themes and realities of racism and genocide, legacies of our American history that we continue to ignore at our peril.
This is no easy time to be alive on this planet. But we arrived here now, like it or not. Hard as these challenges are, we are also graced with being here at a time when the planet really needs us. In the next 10-20 years, the decisions humans make will be critical to how the rapid planetary changes now unfolding play out – climate change, extinctions, habitat destruction, toxic contamination in nearly every corner of the world. Waste is piling up. The detritus of industrial life is everywhere, and the extraction/production/consumer economic culture has trapped us in ways of life that are leading us to increasingly disastrous consequences. And the reality is that it has not exactly led us to happiness, or general well-being, or to a loving-kindness sort of world.

What gave Trump this election and turned the country more deeply red are undercurrents of fear and longings for someone with power and wealth to fix it – whatever “it” is – or make it like it was before. The big lie of the political culture is that the “it” can be fixed by looking backwards for answers. What is wrong with us cannot be fixed – not within the cultural and institutional paradigms that brought us here.

We would be so grateful if you were able to help support and strengthen this new and expanded commitment for the work of New Creation. You can click on the DONATE tab to make a contribution, and share this website around your communities, in newsletters and networks. We also invite you to participate in the discussion with the comment function (if you don’t see it on the webpage, just click on the headline to open it below the post). You can also subscribe to receive these news posts in your email queue.

Let’s take on this moment with some real courage, spiritual courage most of all. I grew up in an era where part of the cultural “meme” was, question everything. Seems we have arrived at one of those moments again.

And some of our best moments have come in times like these.

May new light shine into the darkness of our time – remembering that, if not for the dark, we cannot see the light at all.

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