A New Story
This week, I’m leading a silent retreat in the prairies of eastern Iowa. Around these parts, if you see a prairie, it’s no accident: someone has cared enough to preserve it. In this case, an order of Catholic sisters followed God’s call and set up a beautiful retreat center with prairie pretty much as far as the eye can see.
During orientation, Sister Margaret told us that before John Deere’s plough, the prairie covered this landscape. My ancestors, used to the dense woods of the east coast, probably had no idea how vital and complex the prairie really is. The roots of prairie plants can extend down 10-12 feet. But the plough changed all that. It took an engineering feat of a mechanistic age to destroy an ecosystem thousands of years in the making. In Iowa, where the prairie used to cover 85%, a scant 0.1% remains.
While I sit on the front porch, taking in this microscopic slice of prairie, I think about the book on my lap. It’s called The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible. In it, Charles Eisenstein talks about what he calls the Story of Separation we’ve long been living under. In this old (and increasingly dying) story, human beings consider themselves fundamentally separate from each other, from God, and the natural world. He claims we cling to this old story not because it’s helpful—the prairie is, sadly, just one of its many victims. Neither do we cling to this old story because it’s true. It’s not.
It’s just, for so long in our culture, it’s the only story we’ve really trusted.
Except. Except that when I’m in places like this, not just with the sisters, but with my fellow contemplatives, I can feel the shift happening. More and more people are opting out of the Story of Separation. More and more people are devoting their lives to service, are questioning an economic system that privileges the already-wealthy. More and more people are meditating, praying, and allowing God to take a plough to their false and separate selves. More and more people see, feel, and want to respond to our mechanistic, messed-up way of treating the body of our earth, as well as our own earthly bodies.
This New Story, the Story of Interbeing, it takes time to emerge; but then, it has to, doesn’t it? In order to survive, much less flourish—the roots have to go deep.