Seeking Guidance from the Saints at COP21 | Sojourners

Seeking Guidance from the Saints at COP21

Ukrainian Global Climate March on the eve of the COP21 summit.
Ukrainian Global Climate March on the eve of the COP21 summit. Furyk Nazar /

It was not so long ago that the cobblestones of Paris were red with blood. November 2015: terrorism. 1940: WWII. 1914: WWI. 1871: Prussians (post Napoleon). 1789: Revolution. One could keep going: 1479 – Joan of Arc.

With such a history in mind, and with politicians screaming “crusades” not so far away, it is no small thing to witness thousands upon thousands of people gathered to sit at tables with laptops and coffee and microphones and to talk to one another, countries who have warred with one another and taken one another’s trees and lakes and minerals. Here are 190 countries – not counting the many indigenous nations still unrecognized but many of which are still present.

And now, after climate pilgrims walked from Rome to Paris, and after thousands upon thousands of people have marched in New York and Lima and Paris, and after decades of scientists have shouted warnings to the very regimes that rely upon science and technology to fuel economic growth, and after some of the biggest businesses have agreed that this is a pressing concern, now we may actually be on the edge of something that could make a difference.

I am here as a “religious” person — to uphold the moral dimension, to remind people that this is not about national interest (economic control) so much as it is about all of humanity.

Today, at least, I have also fallen into the black hole that is the well-established confusion of such gatherings: My meetings have not materialized, the coffee is very expensive and not so appealing, and I have a headache.

In this amazingly imperfect condition, I found myself drawn to the delegations’ countries’ rooms. Surrounded by black suits holding print-outs of the possible drafts, I am reminded of the history of various church councils and biblical discussions where learned men labored over the phrases of what we now call sacred texts and what were, for many of them, not so different from binding documents. Religio: to bind together.

And so in a space that feels as artificial as any conference center, I knelt down next to a pale yellow cushion and began to pray. While my work with climate change has taken me increasingly towards the indigenous peoples of the world, here, in this context, I called to mind the saints of this, the old country.

Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th century mystical activist whose visions from God led popes and kings to listen to her voice, spoke of a ‘greening energy’ that was in all beings at the center of the cosmos. (In her visions, the cosmos was shaped like an egg.) She called upon the rulers of her day to listen to the moistness of the earth, that they would be in touch with the vitality of a living God who called them to act justly

Dorothee Soelle, the German feminist theologian and activist, wrote The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, which broke ground in tracing the importance of joy, community, nature, and silence in the lives of those saints who not only retreated from the world but actively worked within it.

St Ignatius of Loyola navigated the structure of the church well enough to secure resources to establish a new community of monks who practiced simplicity, poverty, and service.

St Francis of Assisi, as Pope Francis reminds us, praised “brother sun and sister earth” and understood that to praise god was to praise creation. “The rich must live simply so that the poor may simply live.”

Thomas Merton and Alice Walker and the many other American mystics have always known that gardens are better to most forms of polluting industries and that inequality is never close to God’s heart.

Oh, saints of Ireland and saints of France; saints of England and saints of Germany: saints of Europe and saints of your descendants in Australia and New Zealand and Canada and the United States: Come now and stand by the shoulders of those who may well have forgotten your names. Put your hands on them, oh you who are long dead, and guide them to help those who have yet to be born. Don’t let them turn away from the light. Help them listen to the voices of the poor and the small places both within their own countries and overseas. Open their eyes that they may see, and that the sight be one that can bring gentleness to all. Be with the people, who would greatly benefit from a strong agreement.

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