Last Tuesday, Americans voted into office a Presidential candidate who has embraced fossil fuels, called climate change a hoax, and vowed to withdraw from the Paris agreement.

Bishop Doug Fisher, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Bishop Jim Hazelwood, & Bishop Alan Gates. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas
Bishop Doug Fisher, Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Fr. Richard F. Reidy, & Bishop Alan Gates share a laugh. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

Yesterday, five days later, Christians from across Massachusetts gathered on a hillside to reaffirm our dedication to restoring God’s creation. Led by five of the top Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders in our Commonwealth, we prayed and sang under an open sky as the afternoon sun cast long shadows across the woodlands and fields. Heifer Farm in central Massachusetts is the perfect spot for an outdoor prayer service, not only because the location is inherently beautiful, but also because the mission of Heifer International – to end poverty and hunger through sustainable community development – so closely aligns with our mission as Christians to respond to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.

After listening to readings from the Book of Genesis, Meister Eckhart, and Wendell Berry, and after confessing our alienation from the Earth and receiving an assurance of God’s pardon, we listened as Christina Leano, a leader in the Global Catholic Climate Movement, read “A Christian prayer in union with creation,” from Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.

Fred Small leads singing, with Christina Leano, Bishop Jim Hazelwood, and MACUCC Conference Minister Jim Antal. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas
Rev. Fred Small leads singing, with Christina Leano, Bishop Jim Hazelwood, and Rev. Dr. Jim Antal. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

 

Then it was time to renew our individual commitment to the Earth and to make our own personal pledge. I stepped to the microphone. Here is what I said.


“O Lord, seize us with your power and light, help us to protect all life…”

These words of Pope Francis express our deep yearning, as people of faith, to safeguard the world that God entrusted to our care. We didn’t choose the date for this prayer service because it was the first Sunday after a long and painful election process. We chose it because it happened to be the date when top Christian leaders from across Massachusetts were available to come. But I can’t think of a better day to reaffirm our steadfast commitment as Christians to be reconcilers and justice-seekers, people who are willing to take action, just as Noah did, to protect life on this planet.

Gathered in prayer, "We Are the Earth: Public Prayer for the Planet." Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas
Gathered in prayer, “We Are the Earth: Public Prayer for the Planet.” Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

I know that many of us feel tired and shaken to the bone. Yet here we are – sturdy, resilient souls sitting outside on a hillside on a November afternoon, in the company of five leaders of the Churches in Massachusetts: Bishop Doug Fisher (Episcopal Diocese of Western Mass.); Bishop Alan Gates (Episcopal Diocese of Mass.); Jim Antal (Conference Minister and President, Mass. Conference, United Church of Christ); Bishop Jim Hazelwood (New England Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America); and Fr. Richard Reidy (Vicar General, Catholic Diocese of Worcester), who is representing Bishop Robert McManus, away in Baltimore for the annual Fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

We represent different branches of the Jesus Movement, but we are united in a single Christian mission. We are here to say that we know who we are: people made in the image and likeness of God; people sent out into the world to bear witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ. We are not willing to settle for a world ruined by catastrophic climate change. We are not willing to stand by and let the seas rise and let the ice caps melt and let people’s homes and livelihoods be destroyed by extreme storms. We are not willing to keep burning fossil fuels at present rates, to let “business as usual” run its course and to leave a ruined world to our children.

Explaining the pledge. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas
Explaining the pledge. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

We are here because we know we live in precarious times. The word “precarious” derives from the word for “prayer,” so first and foremost we are here to pray, to feel God’s presence and to seek God’s guidance. After the flood, God made a covenant with every living creature for all time, and put a rainbow in the sky as a sign of God’s unfailing love for all creation. When we act and advocate in service of God’s creation – when we hold in our hearts the future generations who are counting on us to leave them a habitable world – we do so in the presence and power of a divine love that will never let us go.

Today we have an opportunity to respond to God’s covenant. In a moment I will invite each of us to make a pledge, to make a commitment to stand up and stand together to protect God’s creation and to address climate change. We’ve created a pledge card to help you organize your thoughts about what you might feel led to do.

In a time when our country is so deeply divided, we intend to keep listening to each other. And we intend to keep listening to the Earth. As my husband, Robert Jonas, likes to say, “The critters are looking to you, and they are hoping for the best.”


Bishop Doug Fisher makes his pledge. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas
Bishop Doug Fisher makes his pledge. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

After the homily, pledge cards with green ribbons were distributed to the congregation. Four religious leaders rose from their seats and took a stand at each corner of the congregation to express their support. Making promises is not easy when you intend to keep them.

I began the ceremony by reading the opening statement of the pledge: We are the Earth…I am the Earth…What I do matters…This is what I am called to commit to now.

Bishop Alan Gates read the section on prayer:
I pledge to Pray… I will pray for the earth, for humanity, and for guidance in my own life and practice so that I live more gently on the earth. In particular, I pledge to….

Here he said aloud his own commitment regarding communal prayer. He pledged to encourage congregations in the Diocese of Massachusetts to include the additional question in our Baptismal Covenant that General Convention recently authorized for trial use. Whenever Episcopalians renew our baptismal vows – the vows that express our commitment to follow Jesus – we are now invited to name and accept a crucial aspect of our mission, our responsibility as baptized Christians to care for God’s creation. We are asked: “Will you cherish the wondrous works of God, and protect the beauty and integrity of all creation?” And we answer: “I will, with God’s help.”

Then followed a period of silence, as members of the congregation reflected on their own commitment to pray for the Earth.

Rev. Dr. Jim Antal makes his pledge. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas
Rev. Dr. Jim Antal makes his pledge. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

Bishop Jim Hazelwood read the section on learning:
I pledge to Learn… I will learn more about creation care, about the climate crisis, and about how my choices make a difference in my life, my community and the world. In particular, I pledge to

Here he pledged to read a book about the climate crisis – and there are many fine options to choose from, such as Bill McKibben’s Eaarth and Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. In the silence that followed, the congregation bent over their pledge cards, jotting down their own commitments to learn.

Then Bishop Doug Fisher read the section on action:
I pledge to Act… I will make changes in my own life to reduce my carbon footprint and to conserve natural resources. I will work in my community to join or create local opportunities to care for the earth.   In particular, I pledge to

He commented that he drives 35,000 miles in the course of a year, and he pledged to get a hybrid car. He also pledged to encourage and support the churches in our diocese to go green. Again, in the silence, we reflected on the actions that we felt led to take.

Jim Antal read the final section, on advocacy:
I pledge to Advocate… I will participate in the civic and political process, and will vote and advocate in places of power for policies that protect and restore the earth. In particular, I pledge to…

Tying green ribbons to each others' wrists as a sign of our commitment. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas
The Rev. Marsha Hoecker and a friend tying green ribbons to each others’ wrists as a sign of personal commitment. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

In a ringing voice, Jim proclaimed his commitment to “hold elected leaders accountable when they fail to protect God’s creation by educating our congregations, unifying our members’ voices and mobilizing our bodies in ways that neither the legislators nor the media can ignore.”

In the ensuing silence, we made our own personal commitment to advocacy. The full pledge card (which includes ideas for different ways to Pray, Learn, Act, and Advocate) can be viewed and downloaded here.

At the end of the pledge ceremony, we turned to someone nearby and asked the person to tie a green ribbon around our wrist to help us remember our commitment. I found this small moment especially touching. It is difficult to change course, difficult to keep our word, difficult to lay aside patterns of thoughtless greed and waste. Just as we need someone’s help to tie a green ribbon around our wrist, so we need each others’ strong assistance and fierce encouragement if we’re going to change our ways as individuals and as a society. At the end of the service, led by Fred Small we joined hands and sang the rousing anthem, “The Tide Is Rising.”

Holding hands and singing, with Rev. Andrea Ayvazian and Rev. Dr. Jim Antal in foreground. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas
Holding hands and singing, with Rev. Andrea Ayvazian and Rev. Dr. Jim Antal in foreground. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

Ten days ago, just a week before the election, I attended and spoke at a conference in Washington, D.C., on building human resilience for the climate crisis. Some of the strategies I learned at that conference seem eminently useful not only in a time of climate crisis but also in a time of profound social and political uncertainty. As Bob Doppelt, the lead conference organizer, explains in his book, Transformational Resilience: How Building Human Resilience to Climate Disruption Can Safeguard Society and Increase Wellbeing, we can develop two basic skills or “building blocks” that help us cope with adversity and use adversity as a catalyst to learn, grow, and increase well-being:

• “presencing” practices, such as mindfulness meditation, that ground us and stabilize our nervous system; and

•  “purposing” practices that tap into the core values we want to live by.

Our task is to practice these skills and to build resilient communities – sturdy networks of relationship, communication, and trust that can withstand trauma and adversity.

"Supermoon" rising over Heifer Farm, the closest full moon in 68 years -- look for the next one in 2034. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas
“Supermoon” rising over Heifer Farm, the closest full moon in 68 years — look for the next one in 2034. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

It seems to me that yesterday’s prayer service, We Are The Earth, bears all the hallmarks of encouraging emotional and spiritual resilience: we practiced the presence of God as we sang and prayed, calming our minds and opening our hearts; we tapped into our deep purpose as Christians, as we made our pledge commitments to follow a God of love; and we strengthened our bonds of community through our laughter, hugs, and tears.

Yes, we live in precarious times. That’s why we intend to keep praying, to take every action we can to restore our beloved human and Earth communities, and to do so in community, leaving no one out.

 

With only a few days left before the Presidential election, the city of Washington, D.C., is humming with anxiety.

The taxi driver from Ethiopia asks, “Have you voted already?”

View from the terrace of the American Psychological Association toward the U.S. Capitol Building. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

Two people jog toward me in a park north of the Capitol, deep in conversation. As they pass, I hear one of them say, with alarm, “….and the difference is only 3%!”

My friend, an environmental lawyer with the Interior Department, meets us at the restaurant, pulls off her jacket, takes her seat, and bursts out, “Make me feel better about the election!”

Now would be a good moment to talk about stress. As Kelly McConagil points out in “How You Can Find the Good in a Nasty Election Cycle,” many Americans are experiencing not just everyday stress, but moral distress, “that potent combination of moral outrage, worrying about harm that may be done, and feeling powerless to do anything about it.”

The election cycle is one source of our collective sense of stress. Another is climate change. Of course, the two stressors are linked, since the outcome of Tuesday’s election will determine whether or not our next President pulls out of the Paris Agreement and effectively puts an end to global efforts to prevent runaway climate change.

The topic of stress and resilience is what brought me to D.C. as one of the panelists at a two-day conference on “Building Human Resilience for Climate Change.” Held on November 3-4 at the headquarters of the National Psychological Association in Washington, D.C., the conference was organized by International Transformational Resilience Coalition (ITRC). ITRC was launched in 2014, and is now a network composed of hundreds of mental health, faith, youth, and educational leaders that are focused on the need to prepare human beings to cope constructively with the psychological, spiritual, and psycho-social impacts of climate change. Even more ambitiously, ITRC seeks to help people “use climate adversities as transformational catalysts to learn, grow, and increase well-being.” ITRC recognizes that trauma lies ahead of us, as global average temperatures rise toward 2˚ Centigrade (3.4˚ Fahrenheit).  Much suffering can be prevented if we address the risks proactively.

A slide from the presentation by Dr. Jeff Stiefel, U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security
A slide from the presentation by Dr. Jeff Stiefel, U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security

As you might expect – given the topic – the conference was intense, and addressed a range of challenging questions. How does climate disruption affect our mental health? What are the psychological impacts of flooding, droughts, extreme weather events, and rising temperatures? Where do we see “secondary trauma” associated with climate change, such as “moral distress,” “compassion fatigue,” helplessness, hopelessness, and burnout? How does climate disruption affect a community’s social health, contributing to a rise in aggression, crime, and violence? What is the difference between “disaster-preparedness” and “resilience”? What practices and policies help communities to foster robust social support networks? What skills help us to develop our personal resilience, our capacity as individuals to bounce back – and even grow – in the face of acute or chronic trauma?

In one of the afternoon workshops, I was a panelist alongside two other faith leaders – Hugh G. Bryne (who teaches meditation and works with people to cultivate mindfulness in daily life with the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW), and is cofounder of the Mindfulness Training Institute of Washington) and Imam Saffet Abid Catovic (who is a fellow at GreenFaith, Co-chair and founder of the Green Muslims of New Jersey, and a founding board member of the Global Muslim Climate Network). Moderated by Mark C. Johnson (who is Executive Director, The Center and Library for the Bible and Social Justice), the panel gave each of us a chance to reflect on the ways that the doctrines and practices of our faith contribute to building human resilience to climate change.

Mark Johnson, Imam Saffeta Catovic, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, & Hugh G. Bryne. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas
Mark Johnson, Imam Saffeta Catovic, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, & Hugh G. Bryne. Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas

In my remarks I gave a brief summary of my three-part “framework of the heart” for spiritual resilience, and I mentioned my article on the roles that faith communities can play in addressing the climate crisis.

I was touched by the eager participation of members of the audience in the Q & A that followed. As one person exclaimed, climate change is the biggest pastoral and existential issue we’ve ever faced. She’s right. Her comment made me think of children who fear they have no future; of young adults who decide not to have children because they don’t want to bring new beings into such a world; of the elders who have confided to me that they’re glad to be old – they won’t have to endure what’s coming.

If post-traumatic stress disorder is real, so is “pre-traumatic stress disorder.”  We’re living in it. That is what forensic psychiatrist (and one of the speakers at the conference) Lise Van Susteren said in an interview with Esquire last July, “When the End of Human Civilization Is Your Day Job.”  Knowing that we can expect climate disasters in the years ahead makes us frightened, sad, and angry; we feel unsettled and obsessed.

A slide from the presentation by Dr. Anita Chandra, Director, RAND Justice, Infrastructure and Environment Program
A slide from the presentation by Dr. Anita Chandra, Director, RAND Justice, Infrastructure and Environment Program

I’m not going to spin you a cheery story that in fact all is well in the world outside us or in the world within us. It’s not. That’s why it is so important to develop initiatives that build resilience on a personal and societal level. I look forward to seeing how faith communities can lead the way.

In the meantime, I wish my readers a deep sense of ease, the kind of ease that comes from facing reality as it is, while keeping an open heart. In a stressful time, we can always take a good, deep breath and become present to the here and now (Ah! This breath!).

We can carry out actions that reflect our values. (If you read this before November 8 and haven’t yet done so, please vote on Tuesday.)

And we can renew our sense of purpose. My spirits lift whenever I read the note that my mother wrote out by hand and pinned to her bulletin board: Whenever you despair for the world, stop and ask yourself: What kind of world am I creating?

Asking – and answering – that question is an essential ingredient in every good recipe for resilience.


For more information about ITRC, contact: tr@trig-cl.org