Some time ago, I was asked to contribute some thoughts on how the Day of Prayer and Reflection began. Here are some reflections:
How do we measure loss and our responsibility for loss? How, when what is being lost is the world we grew up in, and the world every generation of humans has known, do we begin to account for the depth of our loss? And how, when so much of our daily lives drives further losses—when every flick of a light switch brings on more destruction—do we begin to live righteously?
The climate collapse—global warming—the climate crisis—the meltdown: the time we live in, made by us and inherited by generations of our children, is shot through with losses. There are the obvious vanishings: the thousands of species (estimated, not long ago, at as many as half of those living) that are at risk, the glaciers gone, the rivers now drying, the forests (including, perhaps, the Amazon) going brown and dead. There are the small diminishings: the end of maple syrup in Vermont, the way summer in the deep south grows ever more unbearable, the whisper of rising waves eating away the beaches of
California. And there are the avulsive losses, the ones that leave us hollow: the drowning of New Orleans, the smashing waves that splintered the Gulf Coast, the lid of hot air that killed tens of thousands in Europe.
These are small reflections of the losses to come. We think of the tens of millions of refugees from the new storms and the rising waters, the spreading deserts, the shifting seasons, the ever-growing burden on the poorest people in the world. Not for ten years, or even a century of disruption, but for thousands of years: the signature of these decades of gross overconsumption will be written across the lives of our children and their children’s children. Their inheritance is loss.
We have, so far, proven able to only haltingly see this. With oil company dollars pouring into the government and onto the airwaves, Americans, in particular, have been misled, deceived into not seeing even the scientific grounding of this present crisis until a great deal of damage had already been done. But the problem is not just one of scientific vision: it is one of moral vision. We have lacked the moral vision to see our responsibility for what we have done and the need to change our lives.
Social change does not begin with policy solutions and white papers. It begins and is driven by a recognition of the demands of justice and of conscience. For us to address global warming, we must first understand our place in the destruction and disruption of the creation and of the billions of human lives that depend upon the order of things. That moment of moral vision is what allows us to go on, oblivious to the suffering we cause.
We find our epiphanies where we look for them. The Day of Prayer and Reflection is an effort to create the space needed for vision. The generation now on college campuses is the first that will become adults in the world we are making. The Day offers them a chance to begin or continue the long conversation of conscience that we must have about this world and how we can still create something better, as stewards and as people of conscience. It adds another voice of witness to the growing chorus for change and, we hope, will be the impetus for ongoing efforts among the campus clergy to address this deeply important issue for the communities they serve. It also, perhaps, can offer us some solace in the face of unbearable loss.