THE PRESENCE OF THE SACRED
An interview with Sr. Priscilla Solomon, CSJ
By Kathy VanLoon
Priscilla Solomon (right) and her sister Eva Solomon, both members of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, at a First Nations gathering in the early 1990s. Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Sr. Priscilla Solomon is an Ojibway woman and a Roman Catholic Sister of St. Joseph of Sault Ste. Marie. She is the coordinator of the Faith and Justice ministry in her congregation. She spoke to Scarboro Missions about faith and ecology.
Scarboro Missions: How do you see the presence of God in creation?
To me the presence of the Sacred the one I call God permeates and sustains the Earth and all its creatures as well as the entire cosmos. It is a presence of love and compassion, a personal presence, a life-giving Spirit presence. God is present in parts of creation that others might think are inanimate. For example, God is present in the rocks. There is a principle of existence of being to the rocks. This is God's sustaining presence in that part of creation.
What does creation reveal to us about the nature of God?
Much, including God's beauty. The beauty of creation is beyond our comprehension. No two sunsets are exactly the same. Each one is a revelation of God, of the unlimitedness of God's beauty and goodness. God is continuously revealed in the beauty around us. Throughout the entire process of development of the universe, God was present. The beauty was there when human beings were not there to notice and to reflect on it.
Trees from the moment of their creation have reflected God's strength and steadiness. They reflect God's presence and diversity. But what part of creation could say to God, "Thank you for the tree, for the beauty of the tree"? Humans can look at the rest of creation and thank God. But can a tree do that? Does a tree not do that simply by being a tree?
Humans assume that we are the self-reflective consciousness of the Earth, but we may be somewhat presumptuous. We have never been able to find out if any other being reflects God's consciousness in some way.
But from our perspective we can say that we recognize the beauty and in our recognition we acknowledge the beauty and goodness of the Creator.
What does Aboriginal spirituality teach us?
A key teaching is that we have a responsibility to the rest of creation that is an element of my faith that I see myself as interconnected with all of creation as well as with the Creator. The web of life the circle of life is interconnected. If we look at all of creation in terms of circles, there are many circles, but they are all interconnected.
Another key ecological teaching is that in my relationship to any part of creation, I recognize the Spirit that is there. So as I look out my window at a beautiful tree, I recognize the spirit of being in the tree. Traditionally in Aboriginal spirituality, hunters talked to the moose or the deer before they killed it, and apologized for having to take its life. Sometimes they prayed that the animal would present itself for food. The idea of the totem for protection was that the animal would offer itself when the person was in a time of need. So, among all parts of creation there is a dependency upon each other and a willingness to give of oneself and a willingness to care for each other.
What is meant by the Seventh Generation Prophecy?
Part of the reality of the indigenous worldview is that nobody tries to speak for the whole group, so there are different explanations of the Seventh Generation prophecy. What I share with you is from my perspective.
For Aboriginal peoples, there is a way to be in creation so that we impact others only in good ways. As well, we recognize that the impact of our actions lasts for a long period of time, which is named as seven generations.
Seven generations ago, people were concerned enough about the creation around them that there is still creation here for us today. They were concerned enough about family matters that those family connections are still in our families today. So the Seventh Generation Prophecy has to do with looking forward to and taking responsibility for the next seven generations. What my ancestors did seven generations ago I am responsible for doing in my generation. I am responsible for passing on the teachings and the gifts that I, and the people of my generation, have received. I have a responsibility not only for enjoying them and using them in a good way, but for not overusing or destroying them. If I am responsible in this way, these gifts will be here for the next seven generations.
We are all linked through time and generations. There is a web of interconnections, interrelationships, in the present moment that spreads not only globally and cosmically across the present, but also back into the past and forward into the future. Life moves in a cyclic pattern. However, it does not just keep repeating itself there are experiences that we come back to, but life moves forward. Life transforms.
How do you understand the ecological destruction that is taking place today?
I think we assault nature because we have difficulty perceiving ourselves as an intimate part of nature. This comes out of a long-standing perspective that we are in charge of, superior to, or have the capacity to act upon nature. We do not see that in doing so we are acting upon ourselves and our own existence.
As an Ojibway woman, I often heard my father say that we are the caretakers of creation we do not own the Earth. There is tremendous truth in that. But how do I understand the word "caretaker"?
To speak of myself as a caretaker of the Earth is to speak as one who cares for the Earth because I am intimately connected, dependent upon and sustained by the Earth. There is love and a sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of the Earth. The Aboriginal spiritual way recognizes that everything is gift from the Creator. We have been given a gift and we must love and care for this gift.
How can we reconnect with nature, with the presence of God in creation?
All the activities we get involved with, the concerns we have, or the issues we try to deal with can pull us out of connectedness with the Earth the living being that sustains us. I could stay at my computer all day accomplishing a lot of things and staying connected with people to provide information. But that is very different from being connected by going outdoors, or by sitting on the rocks beside a lake and being present to the lake. As I connect with the water, or the trees, or walk on the ground, I am connecting with living beings.
I celebrate creation when I sit quietly in its midst and acknowledge its presence. As I receive life from it, there is an inner celebration, an experience of joy, an experience of awareness of the beauty, a desire to turn to the Creator. That is celebration.
Kathy VanLoon is editor of Scarboro Missions magazine.