Friday, November 26, 2010

"As in those days before the flood..."

Advent 1A

Friday morning there was an interesting juxtaposition of news headlines with a small bit of the Gospel lesson for the First Sunday in Advent. The lesson is Matthew 24: 36-44. As Jesus talks about the need to be ready at all times for the return of the Son of Man, he compares the time when the Son of Man returns to the days of Noah: “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” 

While Noah built the ark and made the other preparations God told him to make, other people went about their business as if nothing unusual were about to happen. Jesus says they were oblivious to the situation until it was too late, until the flood had come and swept them away.

Friday morning’s New York Times had a front-page story about residents of Norfolk, Virginia, trying to deal with rising seas. Even as residents try to address the specific problems with rising water in their own neighborhoods, many of them also realize that their needs are only a small piece of much bigger problems as the world gets warmer and sea levels rise.

Other recent news stories reported similar concerns in a variety of location: southern Florida, Alexandria, Egypt and the Nile Delta , the Galveston Bay region,  and the Bahamas.  Nebraska’s lack of coastlines doesn’t insulate us from the effects of sea level rise, as the economic consequences and population shifts will be felt everywhere. And the climate changes that are causing the rise in sea levels will have other, more direct effects on Nebraska.

On some level, all of these stories indicate that there seems to be some increase in awareness of what we are facing. But on another, deeper, level, there seems to be as little awareness as Jesus says there was when Noah was building the ark. This week's "Black Friday" shopping glut seemed to contrast the headlines. We will know that we are really beginning to understand what is happening when we act like people who are awake and prepared, when we begin to make significant changes to mitigate climate change and consciously adapt to the changes that are unstoppable.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

For the beauty of the earth...

Happy Thanksgiving! Just around the time the Christmas shopping industry calls us to notice what we don’t have and to focus on things we really, really want, the national Thanksgiving holiday calls us to step away from our usual Thursday routines and focus on gratitude for what we already have.  The practice of gratitude is a basic spiritual practice; far from being the focus of one day each year, it’s an important part of daily spiritual discipline for many of us.

About half a century ago, before adults worried about whether children had what Richard Louv has termed nature-deficit disorder, my most constant experiences of gratitude came through nearly daily experiences of nature. Our church and Sunday school made little explicit connection between this and the things we talked about on Sundays; one of the few revelations of the connection was in the hymn “For the beauty of the earth” that happened to be one of our regular Sunday school songs. Here’s a lovely version of it:

Gratitude is basic to spiritual practice because it’s intertwined with love, hope, and faith. Thanking God for something brings us to an awareness of our love for God and for the things for which we are grateful; finding the gifts for which we are grateful helps us see bright spots of hope in any situation; and acknowledging the good things God has provided for us gives us faith in God’s goodness and love for us. Love, hope, and faith give us a good foundation for doing the work God calls us to do, including the essential and enormous work of restoring a sustainable environment on our planet.

It’s difficult to look at the harm we have done to the earth and at the big effort and change in priorities it will take for the course of things like climate change and plastic pollution of the oceans to be changed for the better. Giving ourselves time to notice and appreciate the wonders of God’s creation is a good antidote to the temptation of despair; gratitude is as essential a piece of this work as is the willingness to look at the problems we face.

Happy Thanksgiving! Many daily returns of the spirit of the day!