Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Heat and Snow

Most of Nebraska is snow-covered and very cold today. Every county except for the Panhandle has some sort of winter weather alert, and many counties are under blizzard warnings. Earlier in the day, before the wind picked up, I went outside to see what it was like. Everything was very quiet, as few people were out and about and the snow muffled whatever sounds there were. All I heard was some birdsong. There were juncos under my feeder and in the bushes around our yard, a pair of cardinals with their feathers fluffed out for warmth, and a nuthatch walking up and down the trunk of our hackberry tree.

No doubt when people watch the news this evening and see some story about the climate conference in Copenhagen, they will remark – some jokingly and some very seriously – that there doesn’t seem to be much global warming going on. Global warming, of course, refers to the worldwide climate; we know that general warming might indeed result in colder than normal weather for some locales. This is why some people prefer the term ‘climate change’. But what we really need to keep in mind is that climate scientists look at overall trends. Just as one child with short stature doesn’t disprove the observation that American children today are taller than children were in my generation, a cold week, month, or season doesn’t disprove the observation that global temperatures are rising.

At the Copenhagen climate conference today, Michel Jarraud, the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, said that so far – nine years into the decade, that is – 2000-2009 is the warmest decade on record. The BBC account of his remarks includes a video clip in which Mr. Jarraud emphasizes the importance of taking action now.

Also from today’s conference , the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, says he is optimistic that a “robust” agreement can be reached at this month’s conference. His hopeful outlook is echoed in a lovely reflection written by Sr. Joan Brown, OSF, who talks about this conference as a light of hope in the darkness this Advent season. Sr. Joan Brown, the Director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, is in Copenhagen as an observer with other people of faith, bringing a moral and spiritual presence to the talks. She is writing a series of reflections from Copenhagen, available here on the Interfaith Power and Light website.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent 2: Wilderness, Joy, and Light

Today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 3: 1-6 , begins by placing the story of John the Baptist in a very specific time: the fifteenth year of the Emperor Tiberius. It’s further anchored in time by information about other rulers in power at the time – Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanius – and the high priests Annas and Caiphas. When it comes to place, the passage is much more vague: “the word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness”. It goes on to tell us that this part of the wilderness is the region around the Jordan River, it doesn’t get any more specific than that. This is, after all, a true wilderness, a place without roads or place names.

What’s going on with Tiberius and Herod and all the rest is less important in the wilderness than it is in the villages and towns. Perhaps that’s why John was in the wilderness: away from all the activity and historical concerns, he could hear God’s voice and become prepared for his prophetic role in the life of Jesus, a role that eventually took him out of his wilderness obscurity and brought him squarely to the attention of Herod.

Throughout the Gospels, there are times when Jesus goes out of the towns and villages to get away and pray. He doesn’t stay there forever, but comes back refreshed and ready to resume his work. There is the temporal element of Sabbath in this, but also a spatial element. Getting away, going into the wilderness, is a spiritual necessity. Having wilderness of some sort, places where we can get away from lights and the noise of machinery, places where our feet can touch the ground instead of concrete, where we see things in natural light, and where we can hear the sounds of birds and insects, of the wind and water is not a luxury. We know now that such places are necessary to the health of our planet, and especially important to the health of our atmosphere. Today’s lesson reminds us that wilderness is also necessary to our spiritual health, to our being whole human beings who desire to be in relationship with God.

Our parish’s Christmas Eve children’s pageant will be based this year on the Godly Play curriculum. During each of the Sundays of Advent, the children are presenting one of the four pieces of the pageant. This morning’s Godly Play story was about the Holy Family. Joseph talked about feeling the weight of his responsibilities, and Mary said she thought the baby would be born soon and admitted to feeling worried. Then the angel appeared, a very confident angel whose words brooked no dissent: “Don’t be afraid, but be joyful!”

This is also the message the angels will bring to the shepherds, and that an angel will give to the women who go to the tomb after the crucifixion. It’s a message that can keep us from despair as we work to heal the damage we humans have done to our planet: Don’t do this work out of fear, but out of joy in God’s wonderful creation. When we stay focused on the wonder and beauty of creation, we have both motivation for doing the work and nourishment for our souls.

A story today from Associate Press writer Arthur Max shines a light of hope into the gloom that seemed to surround the Copenhagen climate talks as expectations were lowered and the U.S. Senate failed to get a climate bill passed before the talks. The story, " UN says climate finale may have happy ending” notes several recent developments that indicate that the nations will be able to reach agreements that will allow us to keep global warming under control. One of the very hopeful signs is that President Obama is now planning to attend the conference at its end, when other heads of state will be present to help decide on any agreements, instead of at the conference’s beginning. This indicates that there is some sense that there may indeed be something substantive for heads of state to consider as the conference is ending.

It seems especially fitting to find signs of hope during this season of Advent, as we prepare to welcome the Christ and “let heaven and nature sing”!