In these these days when many of us are gripped by paralyzing despair as we come to terms with the election as President of a racist, sexist bigot who has created a climate of fear and promises to undo much of the progressive legislation of the past fifty years, I find it appropriate to reiterate an insight that has sustained me through many years of sadness and disappointment about the state of our world.
“Hope is not to be found in optimism so much as in a primal understanding of what matters most.” In other words, the reason for hope is not to be found in the knowledge or rational calculation that our efforts will succeed in saving life on earth but rather in the conviction or inner knowing that it is right to try.
This thought was liberating for me. Like many others, I have spent quite a bit of time wondering whether anything I can do could make enough difference to save the earth. In light of the enormity and different kinds of problems we face, no action that I could imagine taking seemed like it would make a difference.
What I learned is that I do not have to know whether or not my efforts combined with those of others will actually end up saving the earth. What I do need to know is that it feels profoundly right to me to make whatever efforts I can to help others and to protect life. Since then, the energy I once wasted in trying to know what cannot be known anyway—the future—has been freed up to do what I can do. I no longer ask: Will it be enough? I feel grateful that I am in a position to do something, and ask instead: what more can I do? No one of us can do everything. We all need to find something we can do.
It now seems to me that the question of optimism or pessimism about the fate of the earth is the wrong question. What if all our efforts to save the earth come to nothing? The assumption implicit in this question is that if in the next fifty years we have not ended war, and if in a hundred or two hundred or five hundred years the earth is so poisoned or degraded that it cannot sustain human life and the diversity of life, then all of our efforts to save life on this planet will have been in vain.
But this, I now see, is not the right question. Even if we knew for certain that in two hundred years there would be absolutely no more life on earth, would it be reasonable to say that all of our efforts to save it were futile? Yes, if the end result is our only concern. But if we look at the process rather than the end result, it makes no sense to say that our efforts to preserve and enhance life come to nothing.
If one child is helped and goes on to help others, that is something. If even one life is saved, that is something. And the truth is that we really cannot know the long-term consequences of any action we take. One small act could be the one that turns the tide.
The reason for hope is the creative process of life itself. If human beings have created many of the problems that limit and threaten the possibilities of life on this earth, then we have the capacity to solve them as well. The way we use our creative freedom will help to determine the fate of life on earth.
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Carol P. Christ’s new book written with Judith Plaskow is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. They are co-editors of Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. Carol wrote the first Goddess feminist theology, Rebirth of the Goddess and the process feminist theology, She Who Changes.
Listen to Judith and Carol’s first interview on the book on Northern Spirit Radio and their second on WATER. Carol and Judith will be speaking about their new book at a public lecture on November 21 in San Antonio.
Carol P. Christ leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. Join the 2017 spring and fall tours now and save $150.