It has been said that God created humanity with two eyes and two ears, but only one voice, because it was God’s intent that we listen and observe more than we speak. Sometimes we do that well, and other times not so well. Now is the time for God’s people to see and hear what the people who are directly impacted by the oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico have to say.
We need to listen to those whose lives have been forever changed, whose livelihoods have been lost, whose future is uncertain. Before we act—or react, as the case may be—we need to slow down and hear what the local church has to say. They are the ones who can tell us how we can serve them best.
At Sojourners, we have already begun to hear from many of our friends in the Gulf. The pain in the words that they write to us is palpable. They describe how the grief they are feeling as they see the coastline awash with oil is akin to the death of a loved one. Indeed, the psychological toll that this crisis is exacting is a seemingly untold story. There is deep anxiety about the loss of wetlands that are the first line of defense during hurricane season. There is anger at what an apparent lack of regulation or care for creation has caused. And there is deep fear that this is only the beginning of this devastating event.
Too often we rush in where angels fear to tread. It’s a natural instinct: We are socialized to do something in the midst of crisis, often before we have learned what the right thing to do is. But to delay action long enough to listen is not to ignore or disregard the disaster—it is a necessary step to help us act in solidarity with and at the direction of people in the affected communities.
Our friends tell us that they are holding their breath—some almost literally, from fear of breathing air that has become highly toxic from oil, and many more figuratively, as they live in fear of what another Katrina-strength storm might bring.
But even in the midst of grief and pain, there have been requests for action. We have been asked to advocate to Congress for increased regulation and to ensure that local residents and businesses receive the compensation that they need to survive. We’ve been asked to ask you, our readers and friends, to make lifestyle choices and changes that will reduce our need for fossil fuels and end our addiction to oil. We have been asked to pray that God will, in God’s infinite mercy, forgive us our sins—including the sin of not having regulated ourselves environmentally or economically—and heal our earth. In short, we must do all that we can, and pray for God to do what only God can.
It’s an “Ezekiel” model of prophetic advocacy. Before Ezekiel could prophesy, God instructed him to simply be with the people in order to understand them. If we truly want to minister to those affected, we need to listen, really listen, to their pain and understand their needs.
I have to believe God is grieving for what is happening to our planet and for the multitude of ways, both large and small, that we are contributing to its destruction.
We need to be listening for God’s voice in the midst of this as well. God may not be in the wind or the storm, as the prophet Elijah expected, and God may not be apparent in the gushing of oil into the waters of the world. But God may be heard in the still, small voice—the voice of children, the voice of mothers, the voice of those most vulnerable. We have to stop “doing” long enough, and we have to listen and observe closely enough, that we do not miss it.
It will be then, and only then, that we will be able to discern what God and God’s people are calling us to do.
Rev. Jennifer Hope Kottler is director of policy and advocacy at Sojourners.