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Listen to Your Mother:
Native American Thoughts on
Mother Earth on Mother's Day
by Evan Pritchard
Delivered on May 11th, 2003
We have all heard the expression, "Listen to your mother." There is good wisdom in that. Mothers care about us, in ways we can't understand. That's good enough reason to listen to what they're trying to say. They have special status because they were picked by the universe to bring us into being, even if only to test our humility. If the day you were born or the sign you were born under has significance in your life, it is certainly possible that the mother that spirit chose for you is no accident. I believe that for many people, there is salvation in a mother's love, as it is a reflection of God's grace, who loves us all. I believe that all salvation is based on God's love, and comes in many forms. Later in this sermon I will attempt to show how the mother earth loves us as well and is trying to save us from destruction. I've been talking for years about taking better care of the earth, but now I realize it's a better strategy to talk about how the earth takes care of us, so people see the enlightened self-interest in taking care of Her.
at the Reservoir Methodist Church,
Posted by Permission
My mother's mother's mother-that's a lot of mothering energy times three-was a Wampanoag woman named Rebecca Davis, who was born on a former Indian reservation named Wah Tuppa, which, without looking it up, seems to me to mean "Good Whaling Place." Her family ran a whaling business in the old days, a traditional Wampanoag occupation dating back a thousand years. They were close to the earth, as was she. That reservation is now Westport, Mass. Rebecca, who was born a Quaker, as were many Native Americans of New England at that time, married a great Methodist minister named Alexander Hamilton. Rebecca was spiritually gifted, as was her husband. They were both like an extra set of parents to all the parrisioners, and Rebecca was everyone's mother. Her son Willis followed in his father's footsteps and became the minister of that same church, the Wesley Memorial Methodist Church of Old Orchard, which is something like this one, only rather large, but no less charming. She was also the mother of my Grammy Violet, who grew up under the pressure of being a PK (Preacher's kid). (She learned to be very proper as a young lady, then married a Micmac Indian.) Rebecca sat in the front row during the church services and used Indian Sign Language to tell her husband when he was getting boring or going on too long.
Like mothers everywhere, she worried about all her children. One Sunday she noticed that two elderly members of the congregation, a crippled man and his wife, were missing, and it worried her because they were very devout and never missed a service. She prayed, or meditated on this, and realized they were in trouble, and began a long series of hand signals to her husband, telling him that these two people were in some kind of accident, and that she was going to pray for them. It was 10:45 AM on the clock. Now, Alexander was used to seeing short signals, like "cut it short," or "explain more," or "speak louder;" but now here were whole sentences! He translated them quickly. Alexander was in full tilt of of a long, well-crafted sermon, but cut his speech short and asked the congregation to pray, supposedly for other reasons, but it was really so he could pray for the missing couple as well.
As it turns out, that man and his wife overturned their car on the railroad tracks on the way to the church. The man's wife was pinned under the car, and a train was due to charge through shortly after the hour. Talk about the power of prayer. Somehow God gave the crippled man the strength to lift up the car and save his wife who was able to pull herself out. They were able to get help, and soon the police arrived to move the car (this was about 1909, I believe, so it was probably one of those early touring cars) and to get the couple to safety.
After a few minutes, Alexander went on with his sermon. When the police inspected the car they reported that the clock on the dashboard had broken at exactly 10:45. I have no doubt that Rebecca's prayers had something to do with saving that couple.
That church has always been the site of many miraculous events. When I was eight years old I attended my Aunt Kay's wedding there. She was the granddaughter of Rebecca Davis and Alexander Hamilton. Naturally the wedding was held there. While my mother was busy with the other adults, I was playing alone in the gutter, sifting through the gravel dust and pouring it on my black suit and brushing it off, you know, things little boys do when their mothers aren't there to worry about them. There in the dust I found a little gold ring, and I brushed it off. A lady walked by and I said, "Look what I found!" I thought it might have been from a crackerjack box. The woman gasped and grabbed it from my hand. "Where did you get that? That's the wedding ring! The service has been delayed for a half hour because the wedding ring was lost. EVERYONE is looking for it! Let me have it!" So I gave her the ring, and my Aunt Kay is still married to that man Bob, who lost the ring. Kay is now the mother of two, and has forgiven me for everything I've done since, because I saved her marriage even before it started, but I really think it was the spirit of Rebecca Davis looking over us all as always, and worrying about us, that made me find that ring.
Once, not long after that wedding, a young friend of my brothers came over and was chatting, talking about how much his mother worried about him, and how she always seemed to know what shenanigans he was up to. He exclaimed, "Mothers are like that, yeah they are!"
In roundtable discussion on the subject of mothers, it was noted how mothers of all persuasions seem to have a way of knowing what you're up to even when you're not there. They know when you've been naughty, even when all clues are covered up. They know when you're in love, they know when you're too sick to go out and play. They know when you're not really sick, but don't want to go to school, and later on, know when you're not really in love any more. As the young visitor spouted out concerning his thesis on matronly behavior, "Mothers are like that, yeah they are!" That handy expression took root immediately in our family, and has fit a variety of uses.
When you won't listen to anyone's good advice, your mother can kick your butt like no one else. When you are in trouble and no one else will help you, sometimes mothers will suddenly find the strength to help you. Mothers are like that yeah they are.
What mothers have is the ability to love us unconditionally. They don't necessarily use it, but they have the ability. They can say "on the count of three, jump through this flaming hoop," and mean it. But the unconditional love is still there, off line as it were. So whatever they say, we should at least listen.
As all theologens know there is only one true source of absolute, unconditional love….(pause)…grandma!!! They don't have accountability! So they can indulge us no matter what. But seriously, the purest form of love comes directly from God, the Great Mystery, The Creator. In Micmac we call it Geezoolgh. It has no gender, so it is not a non-mother, and therefore not non-female. The word has been translated as the sun of love. It is an all-loving being, and the first of its creations we speak of is the Grandfather Sun, and the second we speak of is the Grandmother Earth, Mahamaygo, and her daughter, whom we call Mother Earth, which is this beautiful green surface that we see, Oot-sit-ga-moo.
The sun in the sky brings us all life. If the sun went away for a long time (which it did for part of this winter) all life would die and wither. Instead it shines on us, its light gives us plants and animals eat the plants, and some of us eat both. The sun's love and warmth comes from God, and the mother earth's love comes from the sun. Mother Earth nurtures us, brings us food, shelter, medicine, clothing, rest, everything. All medicines come from mother earth. We are just so far away from the process, so divided, we forget and continue to despoil the earth. Mother earth also gives us love through animals.
Animals have a lot of love, and now there's something called Animal Therapy. But it's not new. I've met a lot of really lonely people who call out for help, and most of them look to pets for unconditional love, and they get it. Sometimes, it's their salvation.
There is a book called Drawing the Line by Steven Weiss which shows how loving and intelligent some animals really are. If we can't get the spiritual salvation through love which comes directly from God, we can get some of it through God's own Creations. Of course, most people get their love and salvation through other people, and this is appropriate, since we are all family. But we can also get it through nature. Some people's lives have apparently been saved by pigs, dogs, horses, etc. emotionally as well as physically. God works through whatever channels are open.
Remember, all medicines come from the earth. I'm sure we all agree on this. But I also want to say what may not be so obvious, that wisdom, guidance and knowledge come from Mother Earth as well. In the Algonquin world, we look for signs from God in nature. In Algonquin we have a word for those miraculous turns of events we call "signs." The word is "Keegaynolaywoagan" which means "signs from God through Nature." Literally it means "The Universe is showing you something wonderful." Which it is, but most of the time we don't listen. So listen to your mother! You know how your mother often communicated with you through non-verbal means, leaving that shirt on your bed, or leaving medicine out for you that you should take, or leaving you a sandwich, so forth. That's the way Mother Earth communicates with us as well, silently. We need to listen with our eyes as well as our ears.
For the most part, these signs from Mother Nature come to us through animals. When I was younger I was told by "Indians" that animals could leave us signs to tell us what we should do, and I thought that was the stupidest thing I ever heard. It wasn't scientific.
However, the latest tests on animal intelligence, especially those controversial ones involving several primates and a female human named Dr. Patterson, have shown that not only are animals as intelligent as human children, but they are at times quite psychic, and telepathic. All this time they've been sending us perfectly clear messages, but we haven't heard them. They were trying to tell us of the future, because they are closer to our common mother, and they are trying to help us. Dr. Patterson's primates were able to tell her of fires the moment they broke out, several miles away, on the other side of a mountain, and also foretell the future. It was also revealed through her experiments that the great apes are terrible gossips oh by the way.
Of course the Micmac have known about this secret motherlode of future information for literally thousands of years, and a few still try to communicate with the eagles, the bears, the whales, the moose, etc. and people still make fun of them for trying. But science is finally starting to catch up! These experiments have also found that these higher primates also tire quickly of nouns, verbs, etc, and immediately turn to metaphor, nicknames, and slang, like many Native American languages do. Their name for Dr. Patterson was "lipstick." It fascinated them that she wore lipstick, because it was unnatural.
We have a song "Yo ho yo ho yo honday…" which was originally a lullaby. It tells the baby that the eagle will hear the prayers of the little one and take them to the Creator. The next morning, it will return with the answers. It's a beautiful song, which Micmac mothers still sing to their children. Algonquin mothers worry about their children too. Mothers are like that yeah they are.
I have in my hand a dreamcatcher made by a Munsee Indian, a Native New Yorker who still lives near here. Native moms used to place these near the cradle to catch all the bad dreams in the spider's web, so only the good dreams come through. That's how strong a mother's love is. The trees of the mother earth filter our polluted air, and the soil filters our polluted water, but only reasonable amounts of it. There's a limit. I handed one of these to Manhattan Boro President Virginia Field, soon after 9-11, and she grabbed it gladly and said, "Thanks, we need all the help we can get!" She was mothering all New York City, worrying about us! Mothers are like that, yeah they are.
All races at one time had shamans who were able to go into a trance or altered state and communicate with the eagle, bear, moose, or whale, and get messages about what they should do. As part of Micmac tradition, I often had prayed to the bear spirit for protection and strength. I will never forget the night I heard a noise outside my door at 3 AM, someone going through my garbage. I flung open the door and found myself face to face with a huge wild mother black bear, going for the fishheads in my garbage, the trash can leaned over, with her hands inside it. She looked at me deferringly and placed the can back upright and carefully turned around and ran across my lawn like thunder. Zoo bears seldom look directly at you. They're faking it. But not wild ones. They look at you as an equal, if you're lucky. I'll never forget the beauty and intelligence and love in that wild bear's eyes. I thought, "Where can I find people eyes like that?"
Actually I have, but for the most part, I found them in mental institutions. They belonged to people that society had given up on. That untamed animal consciousness is not welcomed in our mechanistic society.
But I learned that the Micmacs were right again. There was a message in what the bear was doing, a personal one for me, and also I learned the Micmacs were right in saying that the mother earth loves us all, and can pass that on through nature's creatures if we listen! Most of us don't know how to listen.
She has been telling us to get our act together in millions of ways, in the way the whales beach themselves, in the way that the ozone layer is breaking up, in the strange long winters, in the frog problem, in the way that more children are being born with birth defects. Lyme disease is an environmental disease, and everyone is getting it. Like the silent hand signals from Rebecca Davis, mother earth is silently trying to warn us of danger. Something is wrong, but we haven't learned her language. She has been telling us that we must return to the ways of nature, respect nature, and each other, or there is going to be trouble. She loves us very much, so she keeps trying to spare us, to save us from ourselves, which is what mothers, and God, try to do, but ultimately, there's going to be the switch.
The Micmac call it "Nipeesba'an," which is the spanking rod or branch, ie the switch. It hangs on the wall, and the mother (or father) says, "I don't want to have to use the….. NEE pees ba'an!" Then everyone behaves. But if one won't listen, the mother uses it for sound effects, like a clap of thunder in the night. She whaps it against the wall. We listen, and stop doing bad, selfish things. But there's always one in every family that just won't listen to their mother and so will be punished and they'll cry.
In the world stage there are also one or two that just won't listen, and they are going to get a spanking, and they will be an example for the rest of us. The prophecies of practically every Native American nation foretell of a time when the people stop listening to the earth and are punished. Its not that the Mother will stop loving us, its just that we didn't listen to all her other warnings, and there are no options left. Mother doesn't like to see her children fight with each other. She says, "I don't want to have to come down there!"
Our Mother earth loves us very much and has given us everything that the Creator invested in her. That love is everywhere. If you are angry, go to the woods and the trees will absorb your anger and cool you down. If you seek wisdom, go to the wilderness, like Jesus, Buddha, or Mohammed, did. If you seek peace, go to the woods; its right there waiting for you. If you seek solace, if you seek understanding, if you seek love, go to the woods. The Mother has more love for us than anyone can imagine, and in that love may be our salvation as a race. Cause mothers are like that, yeah they are.
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