Climate Change

The Turning

As fall reaches its peak here in Sewanee, we’re grateful to CRE contributor Rachel Taber-Hamilton for allowing us to repost this lovely reflection from her blog, Greening Spirit.

Autumn Equinox Sunrise, View of the Mainland from My Home on Whidbey Island

With the turning of the year towards autumn, I experience an annual time of reflection and stillness that can seem to be at odds with an accompanying desire to get outside and take long hikes on woodland trails. I feel simultaneously nostalgic and energized. I see beauty in the amber tones of turning leaves and hear beauty in the rustle of song birds seeking shelter in the thicket as the nights become colder. I believe that I am most at home in autumn, which is to say that I feel closest to Creation and most at peace with the cosmos during this season. Perhaps the dynamic of restfulness and restlessness has something to do with ancestral instincts that humans share with other animals – urged to move with the energy of migration to a secure place for settling in for winter (the time for long stories and sacred teachings in my Indigenous culture).

The competing desires to be both inside my home in a cozy space by a hearth and outside in nature exploring new trails on new adventures every autumn is perhaps when I identify most with Hobbits. One of my favorite poems since childhood is by J.R.R. Tolkien and is entitled “I Sit beside the Fire and Think”. In the first book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring), Tolkien includes the poem as a song by hobbit Bilbo Baggins who sings it softly in the elf realm of Rivendell on the evening (of December 24th) before the fellowship sets out upon their quest to destroy the One Ring of enthralling power. The poem is a contemplative piece, sung by the aging hobbit recalling past events and ends in anticipation of hearing returning friends:

I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies in summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamer in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring that I shall ever see.
For still there are so many things that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think of people long ago,
and people who will see a world that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet and voices at the door.

In many ways, I believe that the Abrahamic faiths overall and the Episcopal Church specifically are experiencing a particular turning of time, a passing away of how things were and the emergence of how things need to become if we are willing to make the journey together. I recognize that there are Episcopalians who are grieving the loss of the type of church community that may have once been familiar to them. Yet, with every General Convention resolution that causes the church to expand our liturgies, our language, our music, our models of leadership, our ministries, and our ways of being the church – there are those who are feeling more welcomed, more able to find spiritual support and shelter from the cold of a wintery world.

The adventure we are invited to pursue requires the courage to challenge whatever keeps us from the experience of being loved, valued, and seen/heard. Jesus knew that making technical changes in how society and religion function is the easier part of the transformation he sought; he understood that the harder part is the turning of the human heart. He spent his ministry and his life changing his world one relationship at a time – no exceptions. While Christianity became a tool of empire beginning with Constantine I, Christ’s essential teachings to love God and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self remain our best and true heritage. Whatever ideas, theologies, and attitudes that would test Christ’s two commandments are also a test of leadership. The history of Western Civilization used Christianity like the One Ring in striving to bend all human will towards the purpose of fulfilling the commercial greed of European empires during the Age of Discovery and colonialism.

The last two generations of humanity have experienced a collective global turning in light of climate science illuminating our human impact on the Earth and in light of an increasing distrust in patriarchal authority structures that are supported by claims of faith or God’s will (the narrative of colonialism on every continent “discovered” by European venture capitalists). The past sixty years of American history are hallmarked by the environmental movement, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, the women’s rights movement, and space exploration – social experiences that enhanced our human understanding of the vulnerability of our planet and the deep desire of all people in our nation and around the world to live without the threat of violence and oppression.

Like Tolkien’s fellowship in the Lord of the Rings, confronting the forces that harm us all requires a mutual commitment among the diverse peoples who inhabit our world. The global interconnectedness of human communities overlays the environmental connectedness of the living systems upon which our species relies, from agriculture to rain forests and from song birds to whales. Our understanding of and commitment to reparative relationships needs to include the development of a theological understanding that comprehends creation as sacred, as having intrinsic value and deserving of our respect. The imperial and colonial worldview is turning its gaze towards the heavens in more ways than one as old ideologies that inform harmful ways of relating to other people and the environment continue to be challenged by the new physical and social realties in which we find ourselves.

Diversity, creativity, and relationality are fundamental to the full nature of the universe and of the God in whose image we are made. The power of Christ’s resurrection was not a one-time moment relegated to history in days gone by. Rather, resurrection is the present and ongoing creative force of the God who has promised to make all things new. We ought not to be surprised, then, when our traditions adapt to reflect the beauty of diverse cultures, when our language needs to expand, when our liturgies need to grow beyond the covers of the hymnal and prayer book, when congregations and dioceses need to reimagine their identity and re-vision their ministry, when leadership needs to bring balance to people’s hearts and not only to financial accounts.

The journey of fellowship and challenge towards changing the world we live in and growing evermore authentically into faithful followers of Christ relies upon our willingness and ability to support one another in difficult moments as well as to celebrate together that we are on the journey at all. The turning of our faith tradition from operating as a force of domination into a force of liberation (as Christ intended) is the ongoing task of our time. One relationship at a time, hearts are turned by love like autumn leaves, in reflective acknowledgement of what has been and in faithful anticipation of the new life that is yet to be for all of us. In this turning time, may we reflect and take action, which is the very nature of prayer. How lovely then to ponder autumn as Creation at prayer.

Published by Andrew Thompson

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