The fire inside

Originally published at

Arctic air has been streaming south all week, holding us in its grip.  My husband bursts through the back door, his eyes sparkling.  He pulls off his hat, stamps snow off his boots, and rubs his hands, barely containing his glee.  The sun has only just risen, but already he’s been wandering outside for nearly an hour, taking photos of fox and wild turkey tracks.  It’s like old-time winters in Wisconsin, he tells me; it’s exhilarating to trudge through snow and to feel the wind’s sting.

In this corner of New England we revel in the cold, the glint of sunshine on fields of snow, the pleasure of returning to a warm house.  But we live in more than the immediacy of the present moment — we live in the big picture, too.  Scientists tell us that the sudden cold snap we’ve been experiencing across much of the U.S. is not just another old-fashioned winter, but actually something new.  Because the Arctic is rapidly warming, frigid air that once circulated mostly at the pole has broken free and is flowing south.  Journalists offer different images for these so-called “sudden stratospheric warming events”: it’s like someone leaving the refrigerator door open; it’s like the collapse of a fence that used to hold the cold air in. 1

I will never grasp the intricacies of physics or meteorology, but I know enough to know that climate change is real and that the loss of Arctic sea ice because of a heating planet may account for this week’s deep freeze further south.  An increasingly unstable climate makes different parts of the world undergo extreme storms, droughts and floods, record heat waves and unusual bouts of cold weather.  No wonder global warming is sometimes dubbed “global weirding.” 

I gaze for a while at an animation of how temperatures have been fluctuating at the polar stratosphere over the past few weeks.  I ponder the complicated movement of red areas (warm temperatures) and blue (cold), trying to make sense of the patterns.  I feel like a first-year medical student peering haplessly into a patient’s throbbing lungs and heart: what the heck is going on here, and how in the world can I help? 

And then I turn in prayer to an icon of Christ bending down to hold the world in his loving arms.  I will never fathom the love of God, but I know that God’s love embraces all Creation.  I will never be a doctor, but I know that everyone can be a healer. 

So I take myself out into the cold.  Along with a dozen other hardy souls, I brave a stiff wind and 16 degree temperatures to stand in front of an Exxon/Mobil gas station on a busy highway.  We hold up signs to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, and we wave at the drivers who honk back in support.  Small protests like ours are erupting all over the country as people mobilize to stop Big Oil from throwing our climate into chaos.  On Sunday, February 17, tens of thousands of people are expected to converge on Washington, DC, in what we hope will be the biggest push for climate action that this country has ever seen.

It takes a fire inside to send a person out into the cold.  My husband wanders alone outside with his camera to revel in beauty and to bring back images of God’s Creation: bare twigs and frozen pond, fox tracks and gleaming snow.  I stand outside in a rally on a city street to bear witness to the God whose beauty fills the earth and whose justice calls us to protect the fox, the wild turkey, the snow, and the refugee scrambling for safety from a super-storm. 

Baby, it’s cold outside, but the fires of love burn bright.

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