Scores of locations joined the Global Climate Strikes on Friday, September 20, and Friday, September 27, 2019, and PA IPL folks supported the events in so many ways. Meditations and services prepared the ground for vibrant youth-led events; a pair of rallies were set on the same day —noon and five— to catch the most passers-by; A Wake/Awake! For the Climate invited people to step boldly into a positive future. PA IPL folks brought a faithful presence, and shared faith practices and words as part of their witness, and those over thirty helped center and lift up youth in so many places and spaces.
Thank you for sharing your words and photos. There are a photos here on this page, but it’s worth browsing this album, too. Share Pennsylvania strike photos that are inspiring to you with us, and we’ll add them to the photo album.
The words You can watch video of Hadassa’s speech in Philadelphia. Dasi is the teenager who invited you all to join the strikes via our blog and newsletter. Her invitation was referenced and cited in the rich and inspiring Rosh Hashana 5780 sermon of Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, a member of the national Interfaith Power & Light Board, and a rabbi at Adat Shalom, a Maryland congregation that has taken huge steps to walk more lightly on the earth, and whose warm and generous welcome of our PA IPL cyclists is a trip highlight every year.
In Altoona, Greg Williams spoke about the ways in which his work with young children and becoming a grandfather have created a relationship with the future for him. He also spoke about the importance of gathering in community to do this hopeful work, and of finding others who are supported by a relationship with the Holy.
In Harrisburg, where youth gathered on the steps of the state Capitol, Behzad Zandieh spoke about the work in front of us, referencing Baha’i holy writing and principles.
In State College at noon, Revs. Ben Williams and Kate Heinzel used two voices to lead people into 1.5 minutes of silence in honor of the 1.5 degree celsius warming limit target. At 5:00 PM, Marali Kalra and Cricket Hunter did the same.
As you move forward from these events we invite you to meditate further on the roles of the generations. This piece from Grist Magazine invites each of our generations to be better ancestors, anchoring that idea in the author’s own experience of an heirloom. Might it ground an interesting conversation in your study group or community? Or perhaps around your Thanksgiving table?
One time…before there were any people walking around this valley there were bear people. They had an agreement with the salmon people. The salmon would come upriver every fall and the bears would acknowledge this and take what they needed. This is the way it was with everything. Everyone lived by certain agreements and courtesies.
But the salmon people and the bear people had made no agreement with the river. It had been overlooked. No one thought it was even necessary. Well, it was. One fall the river pulled itself back into the shore trees and wouldn’t let the salmon enter from the ocean. Whenever they would try, the river would pull back and leave the salmon stranded on the beach.
There was a long argument, a lot of talk. Finally the river let the salmon enter. But when the salmon got up into the country where the bears lived the river began to run in two directions at once, north on one side, south on the other, roaring, heaving, white water, and rolling big boulders up on the banks.
Then the river was suddenly still. The salmon were afraid to move. The bears were standing behind the trees, looking out. The river said in the middle of all this silence that there had to be an agreement. No one could just do something, whatever they wanted. You couldn’t just take someone for granted.
So for several days they spoke about it. The salmon said who they were and where they came from, and the bears spoke about what they did, what powers they had been given, and the river spoke about its agreement with the rain and the wind and the crayfish and so on. Everybody said what they needed and what they would give away.
Then a very odd thing happened—the river said it loved the salmon. No one had ever said anything like this before. No one had taken this chance. It was an honesty that pleased everyone. It made for a very deep agreement among them. Well they were able to reach an understanding about their obligations to each other and everyone went (their) way. This remains unchanged. Time has nothing to do with this. This is not a story. When you feel the river shuddering against your legs, you are feeling the presence of all these agreements.
— Barry Lopez “The Agreement”
Reading: “Earth Teach Me” from the Ute Indians
Earth teach me stillness as the grasses are stilled with light. Earth teach me suffering as old stones suffer with memory. Earth teach me humility as blossoms are humble with beginning. Earth teach me caring as the mother who secures her young. Earth teach me courage as the tree which stands alone. Earth teach me limitation as the ant which crawls on the ground. Earth teach me freedom as the eagle which soars in the sky. Earth teach me resignation as the leaves which die in the fall. Earth teach me regeneration as the seed which rises in the spring. Earth teach me to forget myself as melted snow forgets its life. Earth teach me to remember kindness as dry fields weep with rain.
—from the Ute Indians
Meditation: “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver
Look, the trees are turning their own bodies into pillars
of light, are giving off the rich fragrance of cinnamon and fulfillment,
the long tapers of cattails are bursting and floating away over the blue shoulders
of the ponds, and every pond, no matter what its name is, is
nameless now. Every year everything I have ever learned
in my lifetime leads back to this: the fires and the black river of loss whose other side
is salvation, whose meaning none of us will ever know. To live in this world
you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it
against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.
— Mary Oliver “In Blackwater Woods”
Reading: excerpts from “A Sand County Almanac,” Aldo Leopold, 1948
On a land ethic Perhaps the most serious obstacle impeding the evolution of a land ethic is the fact that our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than toward, an intense consciousness of land. Your true modern is separated from the land by many middlemen and by innumerable physical gadgets. He has no vital relation to it; to him it is the space between cities on which crops grow. Turn him loose for a day on the land, and if the spot does not happen to be a golf links or a “scenic” area, his is bored stiff. If crops could be raised by hydroponics instead of farming, it would suit him very well. Synthetic substitutes for wood, leather, wool, and other natural land products suit him better than the originals. In short, land is something he has “outgrown.”
The case for a land ethic would appear hopeless but for the minority which is in obvious revolt against these “modern” trends. The ‘key-log’ which must be moved to release the evolutionary process for an ethic is simply this: Quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.
The evolution of a land ethic is an intellectual as well as emotional process. Conservation is paved with good intentions which prove to be futile, or even dangerous, because they are devoid of critical understanding either of the land or of economic land-use. I think it is a truism that as the ethical frontier advances from the individual to the community, its intellectual content increases.
The mechanism of operation is the same for any ethic: social approbation for right actions; social disapproval for wrong actions. By and large, our present problem is one of attitudes and implements.”
— Aldo Leopold, excerpted from “A Sand County Almanac,” 1948
Sermon: Love Thy Nature
The Rev. Alison M. Cornish As I was meditating on the theme of today’s service, and the musical offerings and readings selected by the Green Sanctuary Committee, a vivid childhood experience came rushing back to me.
was perhaps 9 years old, visiting a zoo with my mother and some friends, and watching
a dolphin cavorting in a deep pool; sleek and lithe, moving through the water
the way I dreamed I, too, would love to – arcing up and slicing through the
clear waves it was making for itself.
a zoo worker talked about the animals.
Looking down into the water, I noticed some pennies at the bottom of the
pool – as is so common in fountains and ‘wishing pools.’
dug a penny out of my pocket, and tossed it into the pool, watching it flutter
down through the water. Suddenly the zoo
worker was yelling –at me – scolding me in front of everyone.
a stupid, dangerous thing to do he shouted.
That dolphin thinks you just threw some food, and is likely to choke on
what you just thoughtlessly threw in the water.
I felt myself turn red and hot. I was as embarrassed at being called out
in front of others as for having done something wrong. Others had done what I had – there were lots
of pennies on the bottom of the pool, but I was the one who got caught. I remember walking slowly away, tears brimming
and cheeks burning, and – perhaps the worst feeling of all – unable to undo
what I had done.
forward a few years. Now I’m an adolescent, again on a family outing, this time
at an aquarium. Again, we stopped to
watch the dolphins swimming about. No
zoo worker this time – instead, there was an interpretive panel mounted on the
railing by the pool, showing a picture of one of the aquarium’s dolphins taken during
an autopsy, its intestine filled with – pennies, made bright and shiny by the
animal’s stomach acid. The grisly display was clearly intended to stop people –
people like me – from throwing pennies into the dolphin’s pool. As I looked at the picture, my heart sank,
and my stomach twisted. This wasn’t ‘my’
dolphin – I hadn’t thrown a penny into this particular pool – but … it could
have been. It might have been.
tell you this not as a personal confession, or as a glimpse of me as a flawed
human being capable of making egregious mistakes, although it is both. This story rose into my consciousness – and
my conscience – in contemplating today’s theme – Love Thy Nature, I think, for a couple of reasons. The memory suggests to me a more apt name for
today’s service is ‘Love Thy Nature’2 – that is, ‘Love Thy Nature Squared’ – because there are really two
‘natures’ we need to love – the nature seen in that glorious dolphin – as well
as in the transient world Mary Oliver describes – and our own human nature –
us, the often exasperatingly wrongheaded beings we are. Love for these two ‘natures, are two
different tasks; but, I believe both are necessary and critical to our
survival, as well as the survival of those with whom we share this planet. And the stakes are high – for if we fail, we
stand to lose both ourselves, and this precious place we call Home.
morning’s reading from Aldo Leopold, written in 1948, is but one plea from a
long line of philosophers, conservationists, theologians, and yes, even
musicians, who decry the separation between humans and the natural world – and
the consequences of that separation. “Your true modern is separated from the
land by many middlemen and by innumerable physical gadgets…
have] no vital relation to it …” Leopold laments. “They paved paradise, and put up a parking
lot,” sings Joni Mitchell. Barbara
Kingsolver writes, “We have a habit of naming a new development for what we
just cut down and bulldozed – ‘Hidden Valley Condominiums’ – Whispering Pines
Resort.’” I imagine you, like me, are
sympathetic to their cries, and share their sadness of losing what we love – a
hallowed place, a habitat teeming with life.
Most of us would like to see more open land preserved from development –
most of us see real value in animal and plant species having unpolluted, undisturbed,
land to call their own, to live unfettered and free lives. And most of us are all too familiar with the
forces set on pushing ‘nature’ further away, to the edges of our towns, and our
consciousness. And, most of us are not
as connected to the world of nature as we could – or – should be.
moving to Philadelphia, my husband and I lived for 27 years on the east end of
Long Island. We were blessed to have a
house fronting directly on a saltwater creek, which led out to a bay, bordered
by a wildlife refuge, and a county park.
At this time of year, osprey would return from their winter homes in
Florida, their distinctive chirp announcing their presence. As the creek water warmed, so did the
turtles, who floated to the surface from their winter quarters in the mud. Geese hatched goslings in the reeds. We were surrounded by the rhythms and
cadences of nature because they were literally in our front yard.
in the city is an altogether different enterprise. Nature exists in the interstices – between
pavement and steel and the machinations of human invention. Tree roots explode through concrete
sidewalks. Birds nest in rowhouse gutters.
Cherry blossoms float down the river, swirling around plastic
I want to say is – while it was easy to be aware
of the natural world when it was everywhere around us, it was also frighteningly easy to take it for granted, to become
inured to its astonishing richness. Finding nature in the city is more like a
scavenger hunt – there if you look for it, precious and remarkable in its
tenacity. But here’s an uncomfortable
truth: in either place – surrounded by
close-by trees and water and marshland, or the carved-up gridded cityscape – to
truly be in touch with nature, and to allow nature to touch us, requires
acts of intentionality on our part.
Because whether we are habituated to its presence, or too busy to search
out its slim existence, it has become entirely possible to live out the daily
patterns of our human lives in ways that
touch – us to nature, and nature to us – simply does not happen.
about it – reaching for the shrink-wrapped chicken or fish in the grocery
store’s refrigerated case – do you remember it once breathed the same air we
do? What about that carton of almond beverage squeezed from nuts fed by California’s
water ‘borrowed’ from the future?
on a pair of jeans, do we think about the fabric’s fibers spun from countless
cotton bolls, grown and harvested under the relentless sun? The metals in the battery that powers my
smartphone – do I picture them mined in far-away Congo?
separation I’m describing may not look exactly like the mindlessness of my
penny tossed into the dolphin’s pool all those years ago; but the consequences
are similarly dire – though magnified by multitudes. When we have eyes only for the human-made
products of our world, it
is so easy to simply not even see the
rest of the world – the plants, animals, seeds, minerals; the rivers, salmon
and bears; the insects, soil and compost for next year’s crops. And
what we don’t see, we can’t love. And what we don’t love, we can’t save.
as there has been a steady flow of those who call out our separation from
nature, there has been another, more recent stream of thinking about the human
species’ place in the world: that it’s just a matter of time before the
conditions set in motion by the agricultural and industrial revolutions
manifest a world that is simply impossible for us to live in – and, so goes
this line of thought, the world will be better off without us. Without human activity that pollutes and
destroys, endangered species pushed to the edges of extinction will rebound,
habitats will be restored, and the natural order will be returned, as enemy
number one – us – fades away into history.
cannot analyze how realistic this scenario is – or isn’t. But I am sympathetic to those who are drawn
to it, and hold it. The condition of the
world is grim, and the cause of that
condition is us. We
drive the cars, cut down the trees, and build pipelines so oil and gas can snake
across the countryside. We destroy intentionally, and
unintentionally. We preference our own needs above the health of the air, water, and
soil needed by all that lives. Even if we wish it were different, we are
embedded in a system built on a foundation of ‘humans first,’ voraciously fed
by resources taken for our own needs.
will admit, there are days when I wish, fervently, that I was other than human,
just to separate myself from the species most responsible for this desecration
and destruction. But we – humans, that is – are here. And we have a
purpose in being here. To me, that
purpose is not to find new and creative ways to exploit and plunder the gifts
that surround us, and on which we and all life depend. Our call now is to claim and use the unique
gifts of our species – that which makes us special – to do what we can – and
must – that which no other species can.
dear friend, John Andrews, wrote beautifully about this, ruminating on why
humans are necessary:
We [humans] have subjective, conscious experience – the greenness of grass, the tinkle of bells, the smell of a rose, the pleasure of sex, the pain of torture, the joy of human bonding, the anguish of loss, the “aha” experience when we solve a difficult puzzle. Equally special, we are able to pursue goals that go beyond mere self-preservation.
People may differ on whether there are other beings that share our gifts of consciousness and purpose. … Do some of our cousins among the animals qualify? Perhaps dolphins create ballets and symphonies that we don’t yet appreciate… if there is any other class of purposeful, sentient beings you think might exist, [think now of] them …
Because the next thing I want you to do is imagine a universe in which there are no such beings. Such a world would be empty of meaning – no joy, no awe, no hope, no love.
In such a world – however vast, however complex, however charged with energy – nothing would matter. It is we – perhaps together with other beings of similar or greater capacity – who lend importance to events. We are indeed the measure of all things. We can comprehend the awesomeness of the cosmos, the delightful intricacy of a flower. We can transcend our selfish genes. We can seek, we can approach, we can even, perhaps, sometimes attain the true, the beautiful, and the good. Therein lies our dignity.
— John Andrews
description of the role of humans carrying the consciousness of creation
reminds me of the words of Annie Dillard found in our hymnal – “We are here to
abet creation and to witness to it, to notice each other’s beautiful face and
complex nature so that creation need not
play to an empty house.”
called out human’s unique role in being conscious; I would add to the “specialness”
of the human species – conscience. Again,
our knowledge may be limited, but as far as we know, we are the only species
that has a sense of moral awareness about right and wrong, of understanding
what is actually our responsibility, and the impulses that move us to act. This, too, is a special charge and position
of our species.
and conscience – these are the human endowments we must nurture and grow faster
than any other unique human quality. We
know enough about the interdependent nature of the world to know the web is in
tatters. We have collected abundant
information and developed plenty of technological expertise to solve the
problems we face. But without fully
developing human consciousness and conscience, we lack the strength and
fortitude to live up to our full humanness.
Consciousness, the direct experience of the awesomely beautiful and
complex world in which we live, leads us to love nature. Conscience, to enliven us so that we might
act for good, leads us to love ourselves.
We need generous helpings of both – consciousness and conscience – to love
our way into the times ahead.
The world is on the brink. We are facing the pressing reality of climate change, particularly the rising surface and ocean temperatures of our planet, Earth. The cause of that warming is clear: human activities, most especially the production and combustion of carbon-based fuels, as well as agricultural activities such as factory-farming of animals and clear-cutting of rainforests. The changes wrought by rising temperatures pose a risk to humans and the multitude of ecosystems of which we are a part, and on which we depend. Climate change is real. It is here, now – not someday ‘out there.’ The changes are now in motion.
do we do?
you know there are lots of pragmatic steps each and every one of us can – and
do – take every day. We recycle. We walk or bike. We use less paper, drink tap
water, pick up litter, and eat lower on the food chain. We bring our own bags, we
take the train. We know how to do these
there’s a whole lot of space between the aspiration of our 7th
principle and the practical steps we take each day. This is the space for growth for us, so we
can face the hard tasks before us.
is the space where we must show up as the curious, creative, empathetic – and
yes, flawed – humans we are, to ‘remember who we are, to remember how we can
live.’ This is the space where the
lessons ‘earth teaches us’ become our root tradition, our primary lessons upon
which all else can be built. This is the
space where ethics are crystallized, where “a thing is right when it tends to
preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community, [and] it
is wrong when it tends otherwise.” This
is the space where the astonishing beauty of nature can break our hearts, and
disturb our consciences, so we may begin again, in love.
I will be honest: this work is not for the faint-hearted. Nor can it be done alone. It may be odd to close a sermon with the hope we each feel our hearts sink, our stomachs twist. But this is how we will answer this clarion call of our times:
Come, be fully human. You are needed.
Benediction: Excerpts from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ Land Ethic
Whereas, we Adorers of the Blood of Christ believe creation is a revelation of God, we proclaim that:
As Adorers, we honor the sacredness of all creation; we cultivate a mystical consciousness that connects us to the Holy in all of life…
As students of Earth, we listen intently to Earth’s wisdom; we respect our interconnectedness and oneness with creation and learn what Earth needs to support life…
As prophets, we reverence Earth as a sanctuary where all life is protected; we strive to establish justice and right relationships so that all creation might thrive…
As advocates of Earth, we choose simple lifestyles that avoid excessive or harmful use of natural resources; we work in solidarity with all creation for a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
As companions with creation, we enjoy and share its bounty gently and reverently; we seek collaborators to help implement land use policies and practices that are in harmony with our bioregions and ecosystems.
As co-creators, we participate in God’s dream for Earth; we offer new visions and vistas that expand consciousness and encourage creative expression…
— The Adorers of the Blood of Christ The complete Land Ethic is downloadable here.
Sermon Cricket Eccleston Hunter, Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light
We have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten. We do forget. We are forgetting.
We are children of God.
Today I want to talk with
you about our forgetting, but also about remembering. About wisdom and practices that can lead us
back, in hope and by hope, in faith and by faith,
toward right relationship with ourselves, each other, and our world. I want to talk with you about peacemaking,
The world, it seems, is not so interested in
The world teaches us to
value worldly power. It values busy-ness
—doing and producing. The world teaches pride, and is full of
hubris. The world values independence,
unruffled-ness, imperviousness. The
world seeks immediate results, large and visible impacts. The world values the ability to get.
And the world tells us that
without those qualities — without pride, independence, imperviousness— we must
be insignificant: powerless, or naïve.
Yet if we hit pause, if we can stop the world’s messages for a moment, we
all have experiences that point to something else undeniably real — experiences
that show us the power not only in giving, but in receiving with grace and
gratitude; the power in connection and interdependence; the power in patience,
humility, and kindness. As people of
faith, we have those experiences. So do
others. We are all given that wisdom.
But thank God for the ways
that faith and religion can ground those experiences, and give them a toehold,
and a community. Thank God for the
stories, and the wisdom-of-old that sings the chorus, the melody that can help
our own verses, our own experiences rise into view. Thank God for those not-worldly messages telling
us that that quieter power is real and true and wise. And thank God for the practices that help us
return to it.
It is not a new thing for the world to say one thing,
and our hearts and souls and scriptures to say something else.
We just heard James speak of selfish ambition in opposition
to work done in a gentleness born of
wisdom — first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy
and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.
you noticed, that those quieter, purer messages have never vanished? While civilizations rise and fall, they weave
an unbroken thread. In the midst of enormous changes fueled by discovery and
invention they ripple by, whispering the same clear song. They’re still around. How powerful they must be. How elemental.
churches, I think, are in some ways more practiced in holding countercultural
values and carrying them into the world.
They may hold a more readily-accessible library of stories about being
in the world gently and powerfully choosing
not to bow to all of the world’s ways. “A harvest of righteousness is sown in
peace for those who make peace.”
as we know, peacemaking is not simply not-warring. Peacemaking is a creative and constant
practice. It is about being alert to
hatred, injury and despair so that we might sow love, healing, and hope. But the world will never put peacemaking on
your to do list.
there is another challenge: there is so much pain in the world, and we are but
a few people. How can we be enough?
How can we trust that we
are mustard seeds, that we will land on fertile ground? How can we trust that the rain will come –
just enough—and the sun will shine, and somehow, our tiny, roll-ly seed selves
can grow into a shrub! A shrub with
flowers to brighten the landscape! a place big enough for birds to rest, and nest,
and sing — to hatch new birds that will themselves fledge and scatter hymns and
songs past the next fields and beyond, farther than we will ever go?
These are important
stories. These are powerful stories. And
it is important that we keep sharing them with each other, drawing courage, and
Many of you know that my
work —my day job—focuses on climate change as a great moral challenge of our
time. Climate change is a problem of the
world, an enormous and knotty problem caused by humans being profligate, and
prodigal, a mess that seems to fold in on itself and cause more of the
same. It is not a surprise that many people
are responding in the ways the world knows how to respond: in fear and anger,
with imperatives and invectives, and by simply refusing to see pain so that we
don’t have to feel it.
But this disruption, this
messiness, this pain are also invitations to be part of great change.
We have forgotten who we are.
We are children of God, and
we are being invited to remember.
We are a part of the integral ecology of the word: the world and all who inhabit it. When we live in ways that cause harm, we suffer.
We suffer through
disconnection in our human community. We
suffer because of the ways imbalance and poor-use ripple, shake, and rend the
fabric of which we are a part, this bejeweled and beautiful web of
Do you know, we’ve been
doing this for so long, consuming the world, discarding people and places that
wise people have created new words for a pain that is not as easy to point to
as a broken leg, or a diseased lung.
Solostalgia is the word that a Dutch philosopher Glenn Albrecht created
in 2003 to describe the disconnection
and pain that leaves us feeling homesick for our own places and spaces while we
are in our own places and spaces.
The author Toni Morrisson created the word rememory, which her character in the novel Beloved uses to talk about traumas that are just beyond our graspable memories, but still very much with us and with our places.
I believe we also have
another capacity of rememory. A rememory
that can heal. I believe we have
rememories of connectedness, that those fleeting moments of recognition,
glimpses of vibrant and insistent Life and Love in places the world teaches us
we should not see them – I think those, too, are rememory – recognition and
recollection that begins just beyond our own selves. Memory of who we are when we are whole.
Climate change is a symptom
of our diseases of greed and inattention.
The antidote is connection, courageous attention, and and love. We must turn toward our rememories of the
whole. We must remember who we are.
Sabbath is bold and
powerful. It holds space for the stories we need— the stories we crave — so that we can hear them above
the ones amplified by money and consumptive culture. And it holds space for a
spirit of Creation, where our rememories of wholeness may lead.
Do you suppose that God had
the whole of Creation in mind at the start?
On the first day? Before the
first day? I don’t know. But we do
know that God paused at the end of each day. Each day!
and the story doesn’t suggest that it was just a quick pause, either, so
God could throw in a load of laundry, or answer the phone. No, in those pauses, God attended and
appreciated the work of the day. At the
end of each and every day of big and generous creation, God stopped. And God saw that it was good.
You may have noticed that we
didn’t read the whole Creation story. We
didn’t start with the dark and the void.
We didn’t read the whole story, because when we listen to the whole
thing, we hear only the doing – and then God made this! And that!
Then this! And that and that and
that! Our ears are not attuned to all the
rests, but they’re all there. So today,
we just read the sixth day, so we were less caught up in the doing, and we
could hear the rest, listen to it. God
took 6 mini-sabbaths of attention and appreciation before the big one at the
And on the seventh day God
I suspect “rest” may not be so helpful a word these
days. A sabbath is not just a stoppage
of work (though that is a rest). It
is not a collapse (that, too, is a rest when we’ve been overdoing it). A sabbath is not simply a time to pant our
way through to breathing normally (though, if we’re being honest, many of us
need a number of those pauses, too).
Yes, God set aside a day to
delight in God’s own Creation, in the fullness thereof.
But God did not wait until
the world was. Each day, God saw that it
was good. Do you re-remember?
Can we do that, on a small scale? Can we turn to Sabbaths big and small as a time to regard, with love? a time to attend? a time to look, and see and listen well, with open hearts. How glorious that could be. How powerful. How resonant. What a joyful discipline!
Let us remember: God created
us in God’s own image. Aren’t we, then,
also creative beings, capable of awe and wonder, inspiration and
We have jobs and lists
because people do need us, and we do need to do things. That’s true (though probably not nearly as true
as we think when we’re caught up in the middle of it all). Sabbath invites us to step out of our worlds
of task-y shoulds, out of
doing-to-accomplish, doing-to-achieve, and into spaces where we can open
ourselves to wisdom. A Sabbath practice invites
us to build those muscles so that we can do even our least-delightful tasks
with our whole selves: with attention, and love, and openness.
We can make spaces to move out of human doing and
into human being.
If you ever doubt that
attention is a kind of prayer, think of the impact of a tiny kindness, a poetic
notice, one time when something let you know that someone saw you, heard
you. Those moments can be rare, but they are beautiful, and we carry them. Attention and gratitude are like crystals
that are not large, but can catch, reflect, and scatter the Light, painting
rainbows in more places than we can find.
The words of the Bible often speak, as James did today of wisdom coming “down from above” perhaps because daily life and its chores were already so connected to the land, and the vast sky offered a different vision, a different view. In our time, though, so many of our lives skim over the surfaces, through the atmosphere at dizzying rates, pinging to and from satellites, that perhaps in our time we can seek God’s creative and creating voice, and find God’s fingerprints by looking down, listening inward, tapping into the other world wide web, the web of Creation, of which we are a part. It remembers who we are.
Did you know that if you plant a seed, no matter which way it lands, still the root grows down and the shoot grows up. It remembers who it is.
February on our hills. Have the trees
begun to blush with the redness of swelling buds? Do you know?
we make space, and give attention to those things that sometimes gift us with
of rememories of wholeness, we till the ground.
If we nourish our souls not only with scripture, and song in community, but
also by noticing with amazement and gratitude the ways that the world
stubbornly continues to create, as it was taught by the Creator, then — perhaps
then— we will hear whispered answers when we ask: and how can we be seeds?
How do we germinate, sprout, and grow?
How do we host the birdsongs?
So, yes, please doreduce your food waste. Use your dryer less. Walk, bike, carpool. Skip the single-use plastics. Switch to renewable electricity. Advocate for public policies that will help make bigger changes. Those things are important, and they do matter. Talk to people about the connections between climate change, our energy choices, and human displacement and migration, between climate disruption and war. Those conversations are powerful. But Sabbath, taken seriously, is revolutionary. It says: we choose interconnection over destruction. It says: the world is beautiful and amazing and enough. And we can see that it is good.
Let us pay attention, each of us, and all of us, to the pulse of Gods beloveds, to the heartbeats of Gods world, and all who live in it. Let us seek peace.
(People): We believe in one God, (Leader): who gave birth to the cosmos and to us, creating out of nothing but God’s own will a world of rocks, plants, and human longing; whose eyes will not fail to cry for it all.
We believe in one God, who redeems the waste of all things good, weaving, from the griefs of our freedom, new and unhoped-for things; whose mercy will not fail to heal it all.
We believe in one God, who lives among all people in all places calling us from our despair and sleep to live out Easter in our generation; whose love will not fail to hold us all.
Go in the peace of God, in whom there is no darkness, but the night shines as the day. May God renew your heart with quietness, your body with untroubled sleep; and may God waken you to use the gift of life with faith and joy.
Our scripture readings this morning are familiar; so familiar, in fact, that we might only half-listen to them, lulled into thinking ‘we’ve got this.’ The commandment to turn to, to love God with all your heart and all your soul, is ‘the big one,’ a basic tenet in both the Christian and Jewish faiths. And the story of the Good Samaritan embodies the other great commandment: to love one’s neighbor as oneself. But, not surprisingly when it comes to scripture, there’s more to these readings than meets the eye and ear. Both have compelling, and important, backstories that invite us to explore past what we think we know.
Our text from Deuteronomy comes from Moses’ farewell speech to the people of Israel. That alone should give us pause — the towering yet always human figure of Moses must find words to inspire his people to persevere knowing that he himself will not accompany them to the Promised Land. And, he must do so knowing what he does about these people who have been disobedient and faithless in the face of challenges, and may well act that way again. Their ravaged land lost, pushed into exile by political and economic upheaval, Moses calls them to a renewed spiritual obedience, reminding them ‘this is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.’ A few sentences after our selection, in the ultimate appeal to any human in any age, Moses exhorts, ‘choose life, so that you and your descendants may live!’ Moses’ message, the one that reverberates through the ages is this: when times are difficult, the temptation to turn away from God can be overwhelming. Yet a new beginning is always possible – when past failures are acknowledged and accepted; when we recognize that hopelessness is a symptom of losing faith in God; and when we renew our commitments to our covenant with God and God’s commandments.
The parable of the Good Samaritan also has a backstory. At a gathering of Jesus’ followers and disciples, a lawyer challenged Jesus: if I want eternal life, what do I have to do? Jesus makes the lawyer answer his own question: to the familiar love of God the lawyer adds and expands the requirement to love ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘You’re right!’ says Jesus. But the lawyer isn’t satisfied. Hmmm … says the lawyer, and just who is my neighbor? Jesus responds with a vivid tale of a traveler who has been brutally beaten on the infamously dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The first two passersby – a priest and a Levite – ignore the man’s plight, perhaps adhering to laws of purity connected with their roles and religious identities. It is the third traveler, a Samaritan – who the ancient world viewed as an unclean outcast – who stops and tends to the injured man (whose position and religious or ethnic identity we never know). The message is clear: mercy trumps boundaries constructed by rules and conventions. The Samaritan is moved by virtue of the humanity they share, and responds with compassion, even when it costs him financially and possibly in other ways hidden to us.
I’ve taken some time to sketch the backstories to our readings because it’s where I see how connected, our lives are to our spiritual ancestors. Humanity – all of us on this planet – we, too, are at a critical juncture – as the people of Israel were. Earth’s systems – on which we depend for our very lives – have been ravaged – and not by the powerlessness of God, but by the actions – and inactions – of us, a peoplewho have forgotten the moral order of life: to do no harm, to treat others as we ourselves would be treated. Indeed, we are living in times when despair and demoralization seem much closer to hand than the great commandment of loving God with all our heart and all our soul.
And, in the era of globalization, at a time when vast inequities exist between those who live side-by-side as well as between whole countries, the question of ‘who is my neighbor [and what is my ethical obligation to care for them]?’ is a very real question. When the massive carbon footprint of a citizen of the United States creates conditions that cause rising sea levels in Bangladesh, we must not only redefine ‘neighbor’ in terms of proximity, but in terms of the kind of actions required to tend neighbors in distress. All this in the face of the fact that we are just as human as those who chose not to offer care in the ancient parable – we are just as susceptible to our fears and the embedded stereotypes of our society.
What can easily be lost both in the historic texts and in our own times is the possibility that each individual – each of us – actually can impact circumstances that seem overwhelming in their enormity, or situations that call us to act selflessly in the face of danger. Stories and deeds that too often aren’t recorded, or recognized; yet every day, ordinary people, in the fullness of their humanity, make a difference. I am thinking here particularly of the countless individuals who rush to respond and tend to those affected by hurricanes, wildfires, floods, tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis – crises that destroy homes and habitat, end lives and steal away property. Literally thousands of ordinary people respond to those in need, regardless of traditional boundaries that typically keep us segregated. Neighbors and strangers feed one another, house each other, tend to bodies and spirits. Yes, we have also seen where this ethic has failed, in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans, Sandy in New York and New Jersey, Maria in Puerto Rico – where the underpinnings of racism, classism, and other ways of ‘othering’ have been revealed, along with a lessened sense of obligation, and mercy.
But having lived on Long Island when Superstorm Sandy hit, I saw firsthand how ordinary individuals responded, both in the immediate aftermath of the storm and during the long, drawn-out process of recovery that has taken literally years. Sometimes it was the smallest of gestures –as an example, in my own community – which sustained a much lighter blow than other areas – we discovered that emergency workers were being housed in tents even as nighttime temperatures plunged. After a supper of military meals-ready-to-eat, workers were sleeping in their trucks because they were warmer than the tents. Folks rallied to bring home-cooked meals and heaters for the tents to these workers far from their own homes who were working round the clock to restore power and rebuild our infrastructure. Such a small gesture, but one that grew understanding and connection, made the surreal real, tended to real people doing critical work.
I point to moments of crisis wrought by storms and fires because they are where the fundamental difference between two ways of being in this world – a world that is becoming more unstable in so many ways –make all the difference. We can either turn on one another, or toward each other. One leads us to more life; the other, more conflict and desolation.
I lift up stories of individuals responding to disasters because they are the embodiment of what we, at Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, see as the most important ways each of us can respond to the causes and effects of our changing climate: to join our individual voices and actions into a collective, strengthened and sustained by the hope we know through faith, and love – of God, and of one another.
The author and activist Paul Hawken, editor of Drawdown, writes:
Individuals cannot prevent the torching of Indonesia rainforests by corrupt palm oil corporations, or put an end to the bleaching and coral die-off of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. … Individuals cannot prevent the deliberate suppression and demonization of climate science and scientists by anonymous wealthy donors.
What individuals can do is become a movement … Movements change how we think and how we see the world, creating more evolved social norms. What was once accepted and thought to be normal – becomes unthinkable. What was marginalized or derided – becomes honored and respected. What was suppressed becomes recognized as a principle… Movements are dreams with feet and hands, hearts and voices.
What I hear in Hawken’s words is no less than ‘remaking the narrative’ —into a world where the action of a Samaritan is recognized as the norm, not the exception. Where despair of the future is countered by the turning of each of us toward a vision of hope — a hope grounded in a love of life.
All of this is possible not because we are required to be some kind of demigod or superhuman – but because we are called to enter into the fullness of our humanity. Hawken concludes:
We become human beings by working together and helping one another…
What it takes to reverse global warming is one person after another remembering who we truly are.
What we are is sometimes disheartened and lost. Who we are is sometimes the product of our cultures and times. What we also are is capable of enormous compassion and tenderness. Who we are is also brave and loving; and ready to choose life. The choice … is ours. The reward … is the beloved community of which we dream.
—Rev. Alison Cornish
July 22, 2018
Summit Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia
The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry audio link
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Try to Praise the Mutilated World by Adam Zagajewski text link Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
Thank you for your kind invitation to be with you this morning. When I visit faith communities in my role as Executive Director of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, I am often the only Unitarian Universalist in the room. So, it’s good to be ‘home.’ And to take advantage of being with fellow Unitarian Universalists, which gives a particular shape to a conversation about Care of our Common Home – as Pope Francis has spoken of it – and the challenges that come with climate change. There is a uniqueness, I believe, both in what Unitarian Universalists bring to the topic, and what the planetary challenge brings to Unitarian Universalism. In the end, perhaps there is an opportunity for transformation for all … for I know that is indeed a key aspect of our faith’s mission – to transform lives – ours, and those with whom we are in relationship.
I want to open my reflection this morning with a short reading. I’ll tell you who wrote it – and when it was written – after I read it! It’s from a sermon titled ‘Lessons from the Sierra Nevada’ –
I believe that if, on every Sunday morning before going to church, we could be lifted to a mountain-peak and see a horizon line of six hundred miles enfolding the copious splendor of the light on such a varied expanse; or if we could look upon a square mile of flowers representing all the species with which the Creative Spirit embroiders a zone; or if we could be made to realize the distance of the earth from the sun, the light of which travels every morning 12 millions of miles a minute to feed and bless us, and which the force of gravitation pervades without intermission to hold our globe calmly in its orbit and on its poise; if we could fairly perceive, through our outward senses, one or two features of the constant order and glory of nature, …our materialistic dullness would be broken, surprise and joy would be awakened, we should feel that we live amid the play of Infinite thought; and the devout spirit would be stimulated so potently that our hearts would naturally mount in praise and prayer.
OK, the fact that an entire paragraph is one sentence … as well as some of the word choices … should clue you in to the fact this wasn’t written recently. It’s an excerpt from an 1863 sermon written by Thomas Starr King – who was a minister in both the Unitarian and Universalist traditions long before our denominational merger.
What I hear King saying is that opening ourselves to the awesomeness and mystery and the teachings of this extraordinary planet on which we live – and upon which we depend – has the power to transform us. ‘…our materialistic dullness would be broken, surprise and joy would be awakened.’ To turn our heads and hearts so significantly that we will live in new and different ways.
What a different view of transformation this offers than what we’re fed as a daily diet by the ‘usual sources’ – a steady drumbeat of information, statistics, numbers, facts (fake and not) —not that I’m arguing against sketching reality as it really is. We need to face the facts, to know the reality of the state of our planetary home in a time of climate change. We need to understand the links to human activities: specifically that the combustion of fossil fuels for energy production, transportation and agriculture is causing the Earth’s atmosphere to heat up at a rapid rate, disrupting the planetary systems upon which we all depend for our very lives, and outstripping our —and other species’— ability to adapt.
But what’s as clear as these facts is that more, and more finely detailed, information has not, to date at least, led to a transformation of human behavior. In the words of Shirdi Sai Baba, an Indian yogic master, ‘You seek too much information and not enough transformation.’ Indeed, too much information can actually work against us – in powerful ways.
A few years ago, the Social Capital Project published a major study of American’s attitudes and worldviews, especially as related to the environment and climate change. Their report sought to go beyond the dualities of ‘believe/not believe’ and the polarities of liberal/conservative/
Republican/Democrat/Libertarian/Green. It was an investigation of values and demographics.
Perhaps at another time, we can try unpacking what language speaks best to whom when it comes to these issues. But tucked into a corner of the report, I found a too-brief section on the obstacles each of us face – no matter our demographic markers –in making our way to a path of mobilization and action – indeed, transformation – of taking on the very real crisis of climate change. See where you might land in these descriptions:
Environmental ‘fatalism’ – ‘It’s just too little, too late …’ Though we value – and take in – accurate information, you and I know that the news is not good. It’s extraordinary that so much information from far-flung parts of the world is so accessible to us – so we can watch ice melting in Antarctica, Indonesian rainforests burning, soaring temperatures in Phoenix, all in the flick of a TV remote. But to what end? Does it transform us … or shut us down?
And if all that news does manage to motivate rather than discourage, it’s easy to succumb to another kind of environmental ‘overload’ – the challenge is just too big and overwhelming.
What’s the most important thing to do? ‘Tell me again, switching light bulbs will help the planet … how?’
The authors of the study name other ways we resist transformation … and as I read these, I thought they are perhaps felt particularly keenly by folks most likely to be found in UU congregations.
There’s the specter of environmental ‘sainthood’ that haunts — a worry that, no matter what we do, ‘We’ll never be green enough.’ And then something the authors dub “environmental ‘cognition’” —it’s just plain too hard to wrap our minds around climate change because it isn’t a simple cause-and-effect problem. Environmentalism came of age in the era of pollution.
Then, something could be identified, targeted, and cleaned up — but how do you ‘clean up’ carbon?
And finally, the study points to “environmental ‘elitism.’” ‘Working on these issues is fine for those with money and time – or who are urban, or white, or professional … ’ But what about everyone who is facing the immediate and pressing problems of merely staying safe, employed, fed, insured, housed?
So, do any of these feel familiar?
In my work with PA IPL over the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve become convinced that the only way to overcome these obstacles is to start with oneself —because, as we know from countless sources, the only thing we can truly change is our own attitudes, behaviors, and actions.
Mindfulness is somewhat of a buzzword these days – but what I like about it in relation to working on climate change is that it offers us a way forward that we actually have control over.
Mindfulness is not some wimpy, weak response. Mindfulness is a discipline and also a call.
The bells of mindfulness are calling out to us, trying to wake us up, reminding us to look deeply at our impact on the planet. The bells of mindfulness are sounding. All over the Earth, we are experiencing floods, droughts, and massive wildfires. Sea ice is melting in the Artic and hurricanes and heat waves are killing thousands. The forests are fast disappearing, the deserts are growing, species are becoming extinct every day, and yet we continue to consume, ignoring the ringing bells. All of us know that our beautiful green planet is in danger. Our way of walking on the Earth has a great influence on animals and plants. Yet we act as if our daily lives have nothing to do with the condition of the world.
We are like sleepwalkers, not knowing what we are doing or where we are heading.
Whether we can wake up or not depends on whether we can walk mindfully on our Mother Earth. The future of all life, including our own, depends on our mindful steps.
So let us pause. Let us listen. May we hear the bells of mindfulness that are sounding all across our planet.
How do we ‘hear the bells of mindfulness’ —how do we wake up, and stay awake? The words of Thich Nhat Hahn call us to practices where we might ‘walk mindfully on the Earth.’ We are called to heal ourselves, and thus, our connection with Earth and all that live upon it.
Mindfulnessis an antidote to barriers to action, and we are badly in need of that!
Each conscious Earth-friendly act — composting, reusing, recycling, repairing, carpooling, eco-wise shopping, and conserving water and energy — is also an act of spiritual mindfulness. It is the degree of mindfulness that we bring to our most ordinary daily acts of sustainability that determines the sacredness of life. Indeed, it is mindfulness that transforms the mundane into the sacred. The recycling bins become daily rounds of Earth awareness, the water and energy saved prayers of gratitude, and the rides shared a collective offering to clean, fresh air… As an antidote to the addiction of consumerism, [mindful] stewardship heals the spiritual emptiness at the core of much of modern life. Ultimately, skillful stewardship is a blending of reverence with responsibility…
A blend of reverence with responsibility … as I UU, I say —where do I sign up?
How do we begin this shift, to see habits or hobbies or chores or must-dos or should-dos as acts of spiritual mindfulness?
Here’s my recipe for Individuals Who Want to Engage Climate Change on a Daily Basis as a Spiritual Practice of Mindfulness.
First, choose a practice. Choice is important! We are more likely to stick with something we choose than having it thrust upon us. Will it be conserving water? Composting? Picking up litter? Using public transit? Walking? Try it out — is it a good fit for you? Will you face it with grumbling and resentment, or engagement and curiosity? Can you do it with intention, as a routine (not just when you feel like it)? Does it hold the potential for new insights, learnings, ah ha moments? Is it joyful?
Now, think of ways you can spread your practice. How is it shareable, teachable, bloggable? Get the word out about what you’re doing, invite others along, or even help them find their own practices.
Most important (and do not skip this!): articulate —for yourself, and those around you, how your practice connects to climate change. What story can you tell about making — if not a dent, at least a nick — in your carbon footprint? What’s your personal role in making change happen by managing carbon in your own life?
Even as we engage in spiritual practices of mindfulness, we still need collective action through policy change, community efforts, and political will. But I am convinced those efforts are more likely to succeed if they emerge from personal commitments to practices. Why?
Practices … allow us to stay in touch with the challenge of climate change on a tangible, daily basis – so it doesn’t get abstract, or something we read about in the paper in far-off places, or times. It’s here. It’s now. It’s real. Just like our practice.
Practices … keeps us honest; because we are taking personal responsibility for the immense carbon footprint those of us in the U.S. have, using a huge percentage of the planet’s carbon budget.
Practices … empower us to speak authentically to policy makers and politicians —we can say ‘I’m doing what I can … I’m asking you to do what you can, too.’
Practices … build social values and norms. To take on a spiritual practice that connects us to Earth and its care and see it as just ‘what we do,’ not something unusual, has the potential to change the conversation with others who are casting about for what they can do.
Practices … wake us up, keep us aware, noticing the world around us, in all its glory and brokenness.
Ultimately, practices … inspire us to take on more, bigger, changes. Because as essential as they are, individual practices simply aren’t enough. They matter, they help — but in order to truly make a difference, we need to work together — as communities, and I would say particularly as communities of faith. Here I borrow some language of one of our own, Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams. In his book Transforming Liberalism, Adams spoke of several different themes of liberal religion —and in them, I find the grounding for congregations’ work on climate — and perhaps for Unitarian Universalists in particular.
Adams wrote that to be religious means having a particular world view that draws on certain root metaphors. For Unitarian Universalists, our worldview is embedded in our seventh principle, “we are a part of an interdependent web of all existence.” A part — not the whole — intimately and intricately connected to all of life. When we recognize this, we can become reflectors, and amplifiers, of this amazing Earth. We offer praise and thanksgiving for its beauty, as well as lament to address our distress at its desecration. To lift up the glory of the world as we have experienced, yes loved it, with joy and hope, this is no small thing, and desperately, hungrily needed. Gail Straub concludes her essay for Earth Day with these words:
Understanding that our destiny is forever linked with the fate of the Earth, that the health of our souls is inextricably related to the health of our planet, is at the heart of stewardship as a spiritual practice… Walking the path of stewardship, we take it one day at a time, just as we do with our spiritual practice. We aspire toward a fresh beginner’s mind as we compost, plant trees, shop with green values, conserve, recycle, reuse and repair… Gently, inexorably, both our spiritual practice and our stewardship are changing us, and changing the world.
May this moment in time — urgent, precious —
grant us an opening for transformation —
of ourselves, of one another, of Earth.
In the Midst of a World by Rebecca Parker text link In the midst of a world
marked by tragedy and beauty
there must be those
who bear witness
against unnecessary destruction
and who, with faith,
rise and lead
with grace and power.
There must be those who
and do not avoid seeing
what must be seen
of sorrow and outrage,
There must be those whose
grief troubles the water
while their voices sing
There must be those
rises with lovely energy
There must be those who
are restless for
respectful and loving
companionship among human beings,
whose presence invites people
to be themselves without fear.
There must be those
who gather with the congregation
of remembrance and compassion
draw water from
and walk the simple path
of love for neighbor.
There must be communities of people
who seek to do justice
love kindness and walk humbly with God,who call on the strength of
and bless life.
There must be
Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy;
Most celebrations of Earth Day tend toward the practical, or a simple celebration of the birth of our finall-visible spring, but the widespread celebration of Earth Day is in fact rooted in the conversation between awe and grief.
Awe inspired by the 1972 image of blue marble from Apollo 17 and collective grief came with the publication of Pennsylvanian Rachel Carson’s 1968 book Silent Spring, which engaged imagination to move readers to feel the deep grief of a future foretold by then-current action and inaction.
As faith communities, on Earth Day we are called to hold these things together —this awe and this grief— for without one, the other cannot be. If we did not love our Common Home and our neighbors, there would be no call for lament, and no need for action. But we do.
And so for us, Earth Day is not one-off birthday celebration, but rather can be a day to celebrate and commit ourselves to work —practical and joyful work, and prayerful and grief-tender work— with and for one another throughout the year. Some work we may take on as practical necessity, some we may take on as spiritual discipline, as a way of finding our way back into right relationship with neighbor and squirrel, stream and Source.
On this Earth day, let us seek, reveal, and feel connection with the earth and all who dwell therein. May we continue in determined and active hope.
Celebrate Earth Day with your faith community!
Earth Day is on Sunday, April 22, 2018. Read on for resources, and a really important poem.