Solstice Gathering in Los Osos

By Lorienne Schwenk

What if we could live in harmony with these forces of our planet?

As we gather on a truly wintry evening to make our vows, let me introduce myself as a vow breaker. At least that’s how it feels. I am a chef and I offered to bring food. Tonight, that meant plastic packaging. There were some lovely grapes, and I didn’t even think about where they came from on this night in late December. So, this lover and defender of the Earth hopes that this Order has room for forgiveness!!

Here in the Central Coast, we are very close to where the recent fires in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties are. I work at a hotel where we took in many evacuees from beautiful places like Ojai, Santa Paula, Ventura, and Santa Barbara. Because these places are beautiful, folks want to live there. Seems so simple and obvious. It’s a dream come true! Sun, ocean, great weather. And yet, all that Nature has an impact. It seems that our Mother planet needs to burn, flood, blow wild winds, and even the hills themselves move. Every element seems to work to make us pay for the pleasures of these places.

What if we could live in harmony with these forces of our planet? I see in this vow a calling to respect the need for fire, the inevitability of floods and mudslides, and a grace to ride the storms of nature and life itself.

One guest at our site says that if you say you love your grandchildren and are doing nothing to protect their air and water, your love is incomplete and hypocritical. She also says we are the prophet!

Another guest responded to Matthew Fox’s call to join the Elders with the younger generations.

Another woman spoke of the Inclusive Container of this Vow, because the Earth includes all life. Other vows and structures are often limiting and restricting. A Catholic vow excludes other Christians, a Christian vow excludes other faiths, etc., but this beautiful vow is the most inclusive possible.

We discussed then, how to make a vow work. Creativity. This is a Great Work. Referring to Richard Rohr, one attendee said that in social justice issues, there are 3 different dimensions: hands on work; teaching and communicating; and the work of the politicians who try to form structures and frameworks. They are all important. The concept of the vow is like a context and concept of “who am I?” Another woman suggested a regular meditation time because her gift is mindfulness.

I think that love makes a vow work, too. I have made a life with another human being for almost 27 years. Yes, it takes mindfulness and creativity, yes it takes hands on work and LOTS of communication, and there are structures and frameworks to our life together. Mostly, though it is love. Could we see this vow as a way of articulating a MARRIAGE to the planet? Can we love the earth that much? We are intimately connected. Let us love and defend our marriage partner, this blue planet in space!

We each took a moment to handle one of the elements, a little water, a rock, a candle, a chime, to express how that element will support our vow.

Coming back to the fires, I am thinking through this vow that we need to find a way to welcome the fires and floods and to learn how to live on this planet in a more mindful way. If I love this planet, I must love the destructive powers that are part of the natural cycles. I’m also mindful that many many firefighters came to work these fires, leaving their families behind during this time of so many celebrations. Loving the earth means to me also knowing the balance required so that firefighters have the resources they need and gladly paying for those services. 

I have a vision of communities of diverse populations (Elders and the young, the haves and have nots, etc.) living in beautiful places in such a way that we do not destroy the beauty. I dream that when the planet goes through its flow of storms and fires and floods, we humans are flexible, that we look after one another, and show more concern for each other than the stuff we accumulate.

And then, I realize my embarrassment about my food offerings this evening only detracts from my vow. The food itself does not make me a vow-breaker! The grapes from far away and the over packaged products are beautiful offerings of this planet, the result of the work of unknown and unseen workers who deserve to live well off the work they do, and taste better with a side of gratitude than guilt. For today, that will work. Tomorrow, I shall see where the vow leads me.