Showing up for Mother Earth when so much seems hopeless
Several weeks ago I had one of those bad days. Or, maybe it was an accumulation of a number of bad moments and days accumulated throughout a long, hot summer. Difficult moments that continue to sit in the pit of one's stomach even after prayer or meditation.
My bad day set in after an important meeting that did not end real well. The meeting addressed clean-up of a contaminated site at Los Alamos National Labs (LANL). The lab site was established in 1943 to implement the Manhattan project whose sole objective was to create a nuclear bomb.
LANL creates nuclear weapons along with decades of contamination that threatens the air, land and water of those downstream, including Santa Clara and San Ildefonso Pueblos. My sisters from the Pueblos, Amigos Bravos and Concerned Citizens, who are part of the citizen watch dog group Communities for Clean Water, accompanied me. We met with officials of the Department of Energy, LANL, New Mexico Environment Department and others who said they had no power to address some of our concerns for health of communities and Mother Earth.
The meeting did not meet expectations for clean-up. It was just another event in a hot summer of bad news. Scientists wrote reports about unprecedented heating of the planet. The Arctic Circle will offer ice-free passage to ships in the summer of 2017. We saw historic records of refugees reaching 65 million, a "multiplier effect." Many people faced droughts, lack of water, destroyed crops and then ensuing civil unrest that set them to flight from their beloved homelands.
Temperatures keep climbing with August capping a 16-month streak of record hot months. September is usually the month of lowest parts per million (ppm) of CO2 because the trees in the Northern Hemisphere are in fullness. However, this September we are at 401 ppm. Katharine Hayhoe, atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University said that while this shift may not seem significant it marks a threshold. "As a human, though, passing both the 400 ppm and (potentially) the 1°C threshold within such a short time period makes it clear we are already living in a different world. We have blown past targets that were being considered as viable when I entered graduate school. We have significantly reduced the options available to us in the future."
Presidential candidates either spoke little about the crisis or denied the existence of climate change. The prophetic voice of faith leaders did not jar through the silence even with the ink still wet on the papal encyclical "Laudato Sí: On Care of Our Common Home."
There is much that can lead to depression, even for a person rooted in spiritual practice and realistic hope. So, for a few days I wandered listless and then I decided to write a poem. Sometimes the creative act, which is a prayer in itself, touches the holy and unpredictable voice of mystery freeing the spirit, body and mind to continue our necessary work for all that we are called to Love.
In case you have felt a little depressed and wandering in the past months, I share this poem.
For hours, days, even months
in this high desert place
the storm has been brewing
steeping water in midnight blue-gray bellied clouds
pulsing a life of their own,
tempting, thundering, retreating,
leaving sultry night after night,
One Saturday evening
I walk my usual path.
Clouds hover overhead.
pierces, slices a pregnant sky,
slits cloud skin like a watermelon rind-
spits tentative heavy seed drops
that multiply rapidly,
break birth waters into
torrents of rain.
I watch, amazed, expectant, relieved.
The roof leaks drops of water onto the kitchen tile floor.
Mysterious tears flow from some deep place within.
My eyes transfix on the storm outside.
A deluge drowns the garden.
Zucchini cower beneath large umbrella leaves.
Tomatoes, beans, basil, kale, and lettuce
wonder whether to rejoice,
recoil in fear
or run — flee as refugees,
if only they could.
But no place is safe now
from drought or storm
or unprecedented weather events that beat consistently
upon the door of Our Common Home.
There is no new land to escape to.
There is no over there.
There is only here.
There is only this one precious place
where I can
scoop soil in my hands
smell earthy microbial life
squirming by the billions between my fleshy fingers.
There is only one sky where the loud kleer
of the red-shafted flicker announces
her landing on the hummingbird feeder
to feast upon little black ants.
There is only one Garden of Eden
where I a 60 year-old woman can
pluck mint leaves, figs, and plums
to share with my wide-eyed-three-year old friend, Mateo.
I stand in humble wonder.
Wonder at the immensity 2 small degrees temperature rise
makes in our changing climate
and imprints upon our souls.
Sunday dawns fresh breezes.
They breath in and out through my lace bedroom curtains.
I wake, walk, sit amidst
green pulsing vegetables.
My eyes meet the gaze of yellow orange squash blossoms.
Our eyes wink,
this morning after.
There will be many more nights, storms and sunrises.
the squash, flickers, ants,
neighbors down the street,
sisters in Bangladesh,
brothers in San Salvador,
will eat the stories of the storms
We will digest the sorrow and beauty
again and again
What else can we do
Love the world as deeply as we can?
[Sr. Joan Brown, OSF, is a Franciscan sister of the Rochester, Minnesota community. Her Kansas farm roots, our New Cosmic Story, Franciscanism and multi-cultural experiences in New Mexico inform her work as Executive Director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light.]