Reverence, resistance and the climate crisis

Our little piece of the planet. View of the Holyoke Range from Mt. Pollux in South Amherst. Rebecca Reid

For the Gazette

Friday, May 05, 2017

Suppose you deeply loved this planet and were also deeply concerned for its future. And suppose you wanted to hold an event to give voice to those feelings. What would you call it?

Let’s say it was a large, outdoor, interfaith festival of music and prayer to celebrate the Earth. Let’s say you had everything planned — a date: Sunday, June 11. A time: 2 p.m. A place: a big open tent behind Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton.

Let’s say you had a clear vision for the event: a family-friendly gathering for everyone who loves the Earth and wants to come together for one hour to pray and sing, to acknowledge our fears and concerns about the planet’s health — especially its climate — and to strengthen our spirits as we work for a more just and sustainable future.

Let’s say you had lined up two excellent guest speakers: the mighty Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, Associate Minister for Ecological Justice at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston, and Jay O’Hara, the Quaker activist featured on Democracy Now!, who was arrested in 2013 when he used a lobster boat to prevent delivery of 40,000 tons of coal.

Let’s say you had attracted plenty of local talent to help lead the service: faith leaders from a variety of traditions and a diverse group of local musicians.

In fact, all of that was set up. Nearly everything was in place. Only one thing remained: deciding what to call the event. For a while, that riddle beset us, the event’s organizers. We chewed on possible names, trading ideas. Eventually, two words emerged: reverence and resistance.

Why reverence? Because we hope to cultivate in ourselves and in each other a deep respect for Earth and all its inhabitants, human and other-than-human. Because we want to remember that the land is holy, the water is holy, the air is holy and life itself is a precious gift. Because we recognize that society too often treats people (especially poor people and people of color) — and the whole natural world — as if they were objects to dominate and exploit, instead of beings with intrinsic dignity and worth. Because we live in a society that too often pretends that human beings are separate from the web of life, not accountable to any law higher than the supposed laws of economics, and without a purpose greater than grabbing for riches, status and power.

Reverence takes many forms. We are reverent when we walk the Earth mindfully, blessing it with every step. We are reverent when we pay attention to the beauty, mystery and suffering in the world around us. We are reverent when we reduce our carbon footprint, walk and bike more often, or ditch the dryer and hang our laundry on a line. We are reverent when we try to encounter each person, each creature, each moment, with sincere interest and an open heart. We are reverent when we refrain from speaking harshly or with contempt, for reverence teaches us compassion.

Reverence is a stance of the spirit and a conscious practice: We intend to honor each other and the Earth. We intend to treat each other and the world around us with kindness and respect.

Why resistance? Because people of faith have a long history of rising up against injustice and speaking out against policies and practices that oppress, abuse or cause harm. Because when we put our beliefs into action and stand in direct opposition to an unjust status quo, we follow in the footsteps of prophets and leaders of every spiritual tradition. Because we refuse to stand idly by while political powers ramp up their efforts to devastate the Earth. Because we live in a climate emergency: Unless we rapidly reduce consumption of fossil fuels and make a swift, bold transition to clean, renewable sources of energy like sun and wind, we will leave a ruined and possibly uninhabitable world to our children and their children.

Resistance takes many forms. We resist climate catastrophe when we risk arrest and take non-violent action to stop new pipelines; when we lobby for a fair and rising tax on carbon; when we urge colleges and other nonprofits to divest from fossil fuels. We resist climate catastrophe when we support our local land trusts and farms, plant trees and community gardens, and reuse, recycle, share what we have and buy less stuff. We resist climate catastrophe when we march and join rallies, engage in public fasts and prayer vigils, contact politicians, vote and even run for office ourselves — all for the sake of directing society away from the cliff of continuing business as usual and toward a more sustainable path.

Resistance is a stance of the spirit and a conscious practice: We intend to protect each other and the Earth. We intend to stand up for life over death, for love over hate.

Our planning group eventually came up with a name for the event. We’re calling it “Public Prayers for the Planet: Reverence and Resistance.” On June 11, we hope to strengthen the religious and spiritual movement to avert climate catastrophe and to protect the web of life. We hope you’ll join us.

The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas of Northampton serves as Missioner for Creation Care in both the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and the Mass. Conference, United Church of Christ. Her website is RevivingCreation.org.

Earth Matters, written by staff and associates of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment at 525 South Pleasant St., Amherst, appears every other week in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. For more information, call 413-256-6006, or write to us.

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