I admire Greta Thunberg for her passion and commitment. I similarly admire a number of my students for their constant concern for the environment. This world we share, “this fragile earth, our island home,” as the BCP calls it, should not be mistreated.
And it is being mistreated, by all of us.
The more you know about that, the more you feel as Greta seems to feel, and as Aldo Leopold felt, like someone who “lives alone in a world full of wounds.” In his book, Round River, Leopold wrote that
“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise. The government tells us we need flood control and comes to straighten the creek in our pasture. The engineer on the job tells us the creek is now able to carry off more flood water, but in the process we lost our old willows where the cows switched flies in the noon shade, and where the owl hooted on a winter night. We lost the little marshy spot where our fringed gentians bloomed. Some engineers are beginning to have a feeling in their bones that the meanderings of a creek not only improve the landscape but are a necessary part of the hydrologic functioning. The ecologist sees clearly that for similar reasons we can get along with less channel improvement on Round River.” --Aldo Leopold, Round River, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993. p.165When we hear of a single wound, most of us offer to help mend the wound. Most of the people you meet are, after all, people of good will, people who love their friends and families and who want the best for their community.
When we start to hear of more wounds, we react differently, wondering what we can do to protect ourselves from being wounded.
And when we find that there are wounds everywhere, it’s overwhelming. Some people react by plunging into grief. Seeing that the world is in peril, they wonder why no one else sees the peril, or cares about it. The problem is immense, the resources to cope with the problem are few, and lamentation quickly becomes fragile despair.
Others enter a state of denial, or of resignation. That’s just how it is, they say. It’s the price we pay for progress, and we can’t go back. There is nothing we can do but move on and hope for better solutions in the future. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we might die.
Thing is, they’re both partly right.
The world is in peril. And the wounds are too many for any one of us to heal on our own today.
A liturgical calendar can help.
The Book of Ecclesiastes offers some helpful words: There is a time for everything under heaven. A time to heal, a time to rejoice, a time to mourn, a time to gather stones, and a time to cast stones away.
We need time dedicated to climate grief. This is like Lent, or Ramadan, or Yom Kippur, a time of fasting, of reflection on what we have done wrong, of repentance and turning away from our errors, of atonement. These are times for pausing to consider our lives and our connection with others. Lamentation of error is essential for learning to do better.
We also need time dedicated to hope. For every fast, there should be time for feasting. We need both the thin seedtime and the fat harvest. Just as we need to mourn our own ignorance and error, we need to celebrate the good things that are still worth seeking, striving for, and preserving.
Most people know the names of a few holidays. Few know the reasons for the holidays, or why they have lasted for so many centuries.
I’ll suggest that whatever tradition lies in your heritage or in the heritage of your community, take a little time to consider it. What rituals of fasting and feasting, of mourning and celebrating does it offer you? Religion is not without peril, of course, but it can also be a rich inheritance if you know what to do with it.
As you consider the liturgies you’ve inherited, remember that most ancient liturgical calendars follow the patterns of the heavens above. I don’t just mean that in some mystical sense (though there’s probably more there than we can easily grasp) but in the simplest sense: liturgical calendars follow days, weeks, months, and years.
It can be helpful to ask questions like these:
- How can I begin and end each day so that each day has a sense of being meaningful?
- How can we begin and end each week so that toil does not become the pattern of every waking moment?
- What are the times of year that give themselves to fasting and mourning, feasting and celebrating, so that we can meaningfully reflect together on the real wounds, and lament together over what we’ve done; and so that we can rejoice together convivially, eating, drinking, and being merry in the wounds that we have worked together to heal.