Last week was the first week of Advent – in my tradition, the week of lighting a candle for Hope. This year has felt uniquely intense as I enter into Advent. Hope, even as headline after headline continues to warn us of the climate crisis. Just this past week alone – the week of Hope – we read:
EPA Rolls Back Coal Rule Despite Climate Change Warnings (CNN)
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Accelerate Like a ‘Speeding Freight Train’ in 2018 (NY Times)
Climate Change and Marine Mass Extinction (Science Magazine)
David Attenborough Warns Of ‘Collapse Of Civilizations’ At U.N. Climate Meeting (NPR)
The Climate Apocalypse is Now, and it’s Happening to You (Wired)
Hope? In the midst of literally the greatest crisis in the history of the planet? We are facing alarmingly strong odds of annihilation. Hope? Hope for what?
I sat in church last week during the first Sunday of Advent. We had lit our candle of Hope, and a teenage girl was reading from of the book of Luke:
There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the Earth, nations will be in anguish and chaos at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, fearful of what is coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads. New life, redemption, is drawing near.
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have come to pass. Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
As I listened to this young woman read these prophetic words, tears began to stream down my face. Because in the midst of this terrifying climate crisis, I felt understood by my faith ancestors. And, because I understood, all of a sudden, with great clarity, that Earth actually may need to die in order to live.
I have been preaching resurrection for years. I have written and spoken at length about our need, together, to face change, welcome grief, walk into the valley of the shadow. Once, I preached an entire sermon about compost as resurrection. Another time, I preached all about a theology of poop. I know – I know – that there is only one way through grief, only one way through what is coming, to reach the healing on the other side. And I know that New Life does not look like what we had before – resurrection is not resuscitation! And like Wesley, I believe that redemption comes for the whole Creation or no one at all.
But it hit me differently that day, as this young woman read her Magnificat to a small, faithful community trying to do its part. This young Mary, whose future very likely has been stolen by corporate greed and fossil fuel addiction, stood there and spoke this ancient wisdom: I know it’s scary. You are not alone. Lift up your head, and see the New Life that is breaking through.
The crucified Creation, including the millions of precious souls around the world suffering and dying from this apocalyptic sickness, is already birthing something new. Those living closest to the land – farthest from consumerism, modern technology, and oil-based economies – they may, in some ways, be the most vulnerable to the storms and droughts and fires and famines. But in other ways, these communities still practice the ancestor-honoring, nature connected, sustainable ways of life that those of us in so-called advanced societies have forgotten; practices that will see them through possible futures without electricity, indoor plumbing, gasoline, heating oil, hospitals, and all the other infrastructures we rely on daily for survival. If any humans survive such a total collapse, do we honestly think it will be those with the most money? Or technology?
So I sat there, in that sacred space, and I wept with deep gratitude for a tradition that speaks to my soul where I most need words of understanding, and yes, words of Hope. Because although we are not all called to die, I remembered anew that we must be willing to die. My society’s policies have spearheaded the race to devastation. Maybe my society needs to die, in order that the Earth might live. My heart broke as I let go of my attachment to survival in favor of liberation. I imagined a world without corporate oil greed driven politics, without slave labor and human trafficking, without the bone deep disease within our iron cage. As I let go of my fear of death, the profound joy of this resurrection vision brought fresh tears of gratitude as my soul blessed the humble and meek exalted, the hungry filled with good things.
Now, when I lift up my eyes to the hills, to the source of my help, it is the hills themselves that offer hope: this so-called devastation is Earth healing itself, and I trust it to know how. Although I will work with everything I have toward healing and resilience in my community, I now realize that I am willing to die if the redemption of the Creation requires it. This Advent, my source of Hope expanded to another realm – a peaceable kin-dom – that might not include me.
Will you break open your heart to this vision? Will you sing with me a new song?
Lift up your heads: behold, a Reign of Glory waits!
Fling wide the portals of your heart!
Make it a temple, set apart
From wrongful use for heaven’s employ,
Adorned with prayer and love and joy!
Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee recently earned her Ph.D. in social and ecological ethics from Boston University School of Theology. She continues to study intersections of ecofeminism, permaculture ethics, grief, and nature connection. She previously did graduate research on Alzheimer’s Disease and preventive research on Ovarian Cancer. She received a B.Sc. in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.A. in Molecular Biology from Harvard University, and an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology. She lives in central Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters, and enjoys gardening, canoeing, learning about medicinal and edible wild plants, and rewriting old hymns to make them more inclusive.