The earth is alive. Everything is enchanted. Those steeped in the framework of a western mind scoff at this claim. They discount an enchanted universe as a residual notion from a “primitive” era, with no place in our postmodern culture. Postmodernism has deconstructed the creation into scattered, orphaned, lifeless fragments without a coherent voice, without a song. The universe of the postmoderns lacks the lyrical and is void of melody and rhythm. Our ancestors experienced and knew the earth and sky as enchanted – in cantere, “in song.” The creation is a song!
This was not only an ancestral experience but also one that persisted through the magical and mystical medieval period, ending only with the so-called Age of Enlightenment, when rational men began to reduce the creation to mathematical formulae. Postmoderns reacted to the horrors of modernism by rejecting any claim that a coherent framework or formulae within the universe could exist, even one grounded in primal reality, in the primordial dust. The earth as in cantere briefly reemerged during the Romantic period, through the likes of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Goethe, but these advocates of an enchanted world were soon silenced by modernism and its vile postmodern offspring.
We live and move in the rusted wreckage of modernity. The infrastructure of modernity is always cracking and corroding and then, when its destructive purpose is served, its rickety frame is left standing as an eyesore, a blight. Empty cities. Discarded railroad tracks. Abandoned malls. Fading parking lots covering entire city blocks of empty pavement boiling in the August sun. Crumbling buildings with faded signs swaying on one hinge in the wind. Postmodernity made an embarrassing, laughable attempt to dismantle the corroded beams and turn them into “art,” but rusting metal, contorted into the shape of a lion on a well-manicured city park lawn is no substitute for the genuine enchantment of primal earth, flaming sun and rushing wind. Because the beautiful, enchanted order of a soulful, singing earth was rejected, we are now the victims of all sorts of disorders.
Look and listen closely, though, and you will discover the sun’s flames of fire are cooking up something as it melts the oily pavement. The wind is stirring up a rushing noise in the upper room of that abandoned warehouse. The moderns and postmoderns nearly silenced the song of the earth for a long, horrific season, but the muffled song of the earth continues to whisper in our souls. The song of the earth, though repressed to near inaudibility, is what has kept us all alive in this catastrophic age of civilization. The wind is beginning to blow, and its song is becoming louder and louder. The song of the earth has entered a season of crescendo. Perhaps we will survive to hear it joyfully singing again.
What is the source of this song? The song’s source is the Spirit, an earthen Spirit, the Mother Bird who hovers over the void, who breathes life into dry bones, who fills upper rooms with the roar and fire of life. The Spirit is the breath of the creation. The creation is enfleshed Spirit, the force behind our will to life. We are song, so we live. We live, so we are song.
If there is no song, there is no life, no reason to try, no reason to care. That is why the powers of the world seek to silence the song within you and deny the existence of the song’s source. The cruel atheists of totalitarianism were determined to silence the source, in order to direct their spiritually orphaned citizens to the Party and its supreme leader for their malevolent song, for their evil purpose. The peasant people of the earth, immersed in what was left of medieval countryside, were manipulated into trading the verdant, vibrant, colorful song of Spirit for the gray drab uniforms of totalitarianism and an existence entombed within concrete walls and barbed-wire fences.
Capitalism is no different in its attempt to reject and replace a world in cantare with the horrible racket of assembly lines, the deafening roar of engines, and the terrifying crash of bombs. The capitalists and their governments rip off mountaintops, pollute and pave over whole ecosystems, enslave generations of men, women and children, bomb villages and medicate entire populations to silence the song of the earth. Then they manufacture false but financially lucrative representations of the very earth they destroy. They drain enchanted swamplands to create magical kingdoms (and we pay money to visit them!). They decimate songbirds and give you iTunes. They silence the song of the earth at every turn, ripping out the mother’s tongue, extracting her vocal chords, and destroying the melodic species that chant her music.
If we are to find new life, we must rediscover that we are, according to the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, ben adam – sons (and daughters) of the earth. We are not consumers. We are not citizens. We are not employees. We are sons and daughters of the earth.
Nietzsche in all of his confused, atheistic ramblings landed for a moment upon an enduring piece of advice.
Remain faithful to the earth, my brothers [and sisters], with the power of your virtue. Let your gift-giving love and your knowledge serve the meaning of the earth. Thus I beg and beseech you. Do not let them fly away from earthly things and beat with their wings against eternal walls. Alas, there has always been so much virtue that has flown away. Lead back to the earth the virtue that flew away, as I do—back to the body, back to life, that it may give the earth a meaning, a human meaning.
“Remain faithful to the earth” is the timeless call for ben adam, because our source and very makeup are constituted of earth. Nietzsche rightly sought to turn his readers away from a distant sky-God to the earth. Where Nietzsche was misguided was in his pious certainty that the earth was devoid of the divine. Ironically, Nietzsche, in seeking to turn his readers’ gaze from God, turned them to that sacred place where God has always dwelt, the earth. Indeed, let us remain faithful to the earth, for it is there that we will rediscover the earthen Spirit.
Nietzsche was further misguided in casting “human meaning” as the meaning of the earth. We become fully human when we become fully earth, not the other way around. The Spirit dwells in the earth. By becoming fully earth we learn to sing the song of the earth. That is human meaning. Paul says as much in when writing to the Corinthians. “We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives…We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe” (2 Cor. 4:7,13).
The trees clap their hands. The mountains cry out. Rivers sing. Birds rejoice. Wolves howl. Tree frogs screech in symphony. June bugs hum in dissonant but enchanting tones. Ben adam has a song, too. Our clay pots, though ordinary to the flattened western mind, are living works of poetry. Rattle, make some noise, dance to the music. Live as if every inch of your body is enchanted, because it is. You are song and so is the earth from which you arose.