Carolyn Baker’s book, Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse, offers a very strong dose of reality.
While Baker saves some of her most gasp-worthy assertions for the end of her book, it’s safe to say that there isn’t a page that doesn’t possess qualities similar to those of cod liver oil: it’s for our own good … if only there were something about it to enjoy!
Even the title doesn’t give the reader much wiggle room. For instance, the word “demise” – now that’s a toughy. It sounds so final. Is this the definition of “demise” Baker intends?
Though she fudges a good bit, Baker points out that Mayan mythology, which has been misunderstood by some to mean the end of the world in 2012, actually speaks of the end of a 26,000-year cycle. If you’ve ever heard the expression “out with the old, in with the new,” you know it means that change is an inevitable part of life. The author leans toward this less draconian interpretation throughout much, though not all, of her book.
Still, endings are always hard.
Endings require that we say good-bye to the familiar, cherished, and comfortable. In place of what’s dear to us, there’s an emptiness in the heart, a heaviness. This can come with an overwhelming sense of loss, what we call grief. Baker argues that while grief can be surmounted, never before has the likelihood existed that the entire human race will grieve simultaneously. The grief stage of our response to collapse could be the most difficult, particularly since collapse will unfold over time, rather than as a single event. It’s that passage of time, however, that will allow us to begin the very necessary transition to the next cycle.
Only then can we re-invest in living our lives, regardless of outcome, which profoundly facilitates responding to collapse with grounded, prudent preparation.
But that ”regardless of outcome” part sounds a bit superhuman.
One problem in getting people to accept the enormity of collapse is its lack of presence in most of our lives. Baker writes “as we witness the extinction of some two hundred species per day, as we watch the global economy and basic societal institutions crumbling.” But the reality is that hearing these sound bytes on the news for two minutes every few days isn’t the same thing as witnessing it. Witnessing, and bearing witness, requires a level of awareness and encounter that’s unavoidable when tragedy is in your midst. Unfortunately, too many of us are still only vaguely aware that something is wrong.
One step at a time
Recognizing the end of one kind of civilization and the transition to whatever will take its place needs to be done repeatedly, and in a great many ways.
Latecomers may be slow to join in. Those who awaken to our new reality sooner will have the advantage of resources that were at one time unavailable. At the same time, we must respond with patience to those who will scarcely have seen what was coming, and will therefore face this “demise” completely unprepared.
Others may have believed they knew what lay ahead, only to find that a dozen cans of beans in the basement won’t suffice. Even those who educated themselves and prepared for collapse will feel perplexed and anxious at times.
Will we face this alone?
Perhaps a good starting place for many will be a renewed desire for contact with the Infinite:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Difficulty in believing what’s happening to us may well be replaced by a profound need for something in which to believe.
At one point in Sacred Demise, Baker apologizes for referring to God. But given that she has the courage to write about the end of the world as we know it, and that we’ve joined her by reading about this tortuous subject, no apologies should be necessary. Non-believers know how to skip a paragraph or two.
Besides, the ways in which humankind are all the same – believers and non-believers alike – will never be more obvious than they will be as we navigate collapse together.
All together now
What are some of the ways Baker envisions human beings moving through transition while easing any trauma to self or community?
Meetings to discuss and address issues, concerns, problems and predicaments are a good starting point. Baker refers to these sessions as dialogue circles. Because of the value our culture has historically placed on independence, this could be a challenging step for many. That’s why communities that are a part of the Transition Towns movement will have a leg up on those that are made up of “friendly strangers (my own term).”
Other strategies that Baker recommends include the use of ceremonial symbols, in order to ease the transition from bitter disillusion to hesitant acceptance of the new; recognition of the role of elders during this transformation, and acceptance of their mentoring; family comfort sessions, in which children are invited to express their doubts and fears; collective prayer and thanksgiving; songs, stories, plays, and paintings that express the entire range of emotions being experienced; the planting and dedication of communal, perhaps memorial, gardens; the planting of trees, which requires faith in the future – these opportunities, and so many more besides, will allow us to bewail our fate while at the same time moving forward.
It pays to pay attention
Sadly, Baker chose to allude to a poorly written article called “The Planned Collapse of America” in Chapter 19. In wanting to know more about its author, I googled his name – Peter Chamberlin – and discovered that he’s a virulent anti-semite. Anyone wanting to verify this can check out Chamberlin’s poisonous ideas on his website. Writing as a Jewish American, I wish Baker had been more meticulous in her research. She makes a half-hearted effort to dissociate herself from Chamberlin’s point of view, but she has lowered her book’s credibility a notch by referring to his ideas, half-baked and otherwise.
Overall, I hesitate to give Baker’s book a wholesale recommendation, though there are reasons to believe some might find it thought provoking. Baker salts her book with gorgeous poetry, and the questions she suggests for further reflection are well considered. Baker has given us a real mixed bag. Read at your own risk.
–Vicki Lipski, Transition Voice