“My brothers and sisters, let’s all build a new world [based in]
The Green, the Peace of the Forest, and
The Red, the Justice of the Fire.”
Padrinho Alfredo, the leader of Brazil’s Santo Daime church, received a hymn 8 years ago that contained those lines. In the year 2020, when some of the worst forest fires ever recorded burned through the western and southwestern US, and are still burning in California as I write this, these words have taken on new significance.
How can these fires be “just,” you might ask? A quick review of the history of New Mexico, where I live, shows that colonizing Europeans have been exploiting and pillaging this land for almost 500 years. Spanish sheep-grazing, French fur-trapping, and then American logging, cattle-grazing, mining, and now fracking are just the most obvious examples. There has also been steadily increasing development and urban sprawl, damming and polluting of already scarce water sources, and tragic mismanagement of our forests and watersheds. And this has all been malignantly enhanced by climate change, which, just in my own lifetime, has altered the climate, weather, and wildlife distribution in my state almost beyond recognition.
A similar history unites all the western and southwestern states in the US. Humans have been systematically stripping, poisoning, digging into and drying up the land out here for hundreds of years. How could it not be Just that it is now going up in Red flames? The real surprising thing is that we still have some intact, moderately healthy swaths of forest left, to keep grounding the Green, the Peace of the Forest.
So now, when we look into the future and think about planting good seeds, or weaving a new, regenerative tapestry, we need to take both realities, the Green and the Red, into account. To do our part in weaving a new world—one that will support ourselves and all of Nature in arriving at the next expression of Gaia’s natural equilibrium—we have to use both green and red threads.
What does that mean? One answer has to do with bringing the fire and water elements back into some kind of life-supporting balance. Fire, after all, is one of the essential building blocks of life on all levels. The fire from the sun, and the metabolic fire within the cells of all living beings, is what drives our ability to live, grow and thrive. Spiritually, our inner fire brings the energies of illumination, transformation, tempering and purification—all qualities that our soul needs. So, much as we might like to, we can’t meet one extreme with another. We can’t just excise all the red threads from our tapestry.
Our land-connected ancestors, wherever they lived, knew about the importance of keeping everything in balance. Equilibrium and stability have always been the central values of ancestral peoples’ material and spiritual lives. Another tragedy of the colonizing of the Americas was that the invading Europeans also stripped the land of spiritual nourishment by enslaving, forcibly converting, and often brutally murdering the indigenous peoples who were the land’s allies and caretakers. Thus, human-woven strands of sustainability and balance were cut away as the life-denying values of the currently-dominant culture—growth and profit—arrived.
We are endlessly fortunate to have a fairly intact ancestral culture here in north-central New Mexico. The Pueblo nations have been working spiritually since time immemorial to affirm and strengthen the people’s harmony with the land and with the forces and beings of nature. Each Pueblo has an annual calendar of dances that they perform for the land and waters, for the plants and creatures, and for everyone—Native, Hispanic or Anglo, resident or tourist—who wants to come to witness and receive the blessings of these beautiful ceremonies. (Due to Covid, no Pueblo has performed their dances since sometime last spring. Many people here believe that this lack is a major reason why we didn’t get our usual summer rains this year.)
And—all of us come from ancestral traditions that supported keeping the people and the land in a state of harmonious, dynamic equilibrium. This compass is still within us, even those of us who are removed from our indigeneity by 10 or 15 generations (still not many, when compared to the thousands of generations that all our ancestors lived in balance on the land.) So as we think about weaving a tapestry for a resilient future for all our descendants, human and non-human, we need to orient toward Gaia’s own equilibrium. We must let Her guide us as we work to balance the Green, the Peace of the Forest, and the Red, the Justice of the Fire, within us and in the world.