For the last few months I have been bumping into references to the importance of feeling the sadness caused by climate change. First Hannah Malcolm’s winning Theology Slam sermon (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GknXxsvqToU) grieved the loss of our familiar landscapes and the deaths and extinctions we are experiencing. Then Extinction Rebellion posted about ecological grief on FaceBook, and the Guardian published Rob Lowe’s article“I have felt hopelessness over climate change. Here is how we move past the immense grief” (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/09/i-have-felt-hopelessness-over-climate-change-here-is-how-we-move-past-the-immense-grief). Most recently I listened to an On Being interview with long-time environmental activist Joanna Macey (https://onbeing.org/programs/joanna-macy-a-wild-love-for-the-world/#transcript) on my morning run, who spoke of the power of grieving ecological disaster.
Having discovered the power of lamentation in our research on congregational trauma, these encouragements to cry the beloved country come as no surprise. Yet I was surprised. I was surprised that a tool so ancient and, in my mind, spiritually rooted has emerged so quickly. Then I remembered that lamentation has been a human activity from the beginning of recorded time. Over four thousand years ago ancient Sumerian cuneiform texts of lament were engraved on clay tablets and stored for safekeeping. The Sumerian poets lamented cities laid waste and the devastations of warfare.
Joanna Macy told how it was grief that got her into activism. She says:
… we are called to not run from the discomfort and not run from the grief or the feelings of outrage or even fear — and […] if we can be fearless, to be with our pain, it turns. It doesn’t stay static. It only doesn’t change if we refuse to look at it. But when we look at it, when we take it in our hands, when we can just be with it and keep breathing, then it turns. It turns to reveal its other face, and the other face of our pain for the world is our love for the world, our absolutely inseparable connectedness with all life.
Grief and hope are two sides of the same coin. We can only hold one as we embrace the other. Lamentation is rooted in love and opens the floodgates of possibility. We’ve seen this time after time in our teaching, as participants work with the lamentation form and uncover its power to clarify and to move. (John Swinton, Raging with Compassion, Eerdmans 2007, p. 128).
Cry, then, the beloved country. Lament death, destruction and fear. Then rise to the new day, with the power to do what needs to be done.
Carla A. Grosch-Miller