Advent is about waiting in hope. This time of year, the days are short in the northern hemisphere. Along with the darkness from the longer nights, we have days like today in Nebraska when clouds and fog make even the daytime darker than usual. Some days, new snow or thick fog makes everything seem quieter than normal. Advent calls us to an inward spiritual observance of what we might be experiencing outwardly and physically; Advent calls us to look for signs of hope, pieces of light sparkling in the midst of spiritual darkness, and to enter into spiritual quiet so we can listen for the sound of good news.
In the Advent I Green Sprouts post three years ago, Doing the math in hope, I told about hearing Bill McKibben speak in Omaha as part of his Do the Math tour. McKibben’s primary message that night was this:
It’s simple math: we can burn less than 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C of warming — anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth. The only problem? Fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatons in their reserves, five times the safe amount. And they’re planning to burn it all — unless we rise up to stop them.
McKibben went on to talk about the then new campaign for institutions to divest from the fossil fuel industry as a way for people to help address what our political leaders had been unwilling to address with any significant action. Divesting was one way of doing everything we can to change the trajectory of climate change by keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Divestment wouldn’t solve the problem, but it might be enough of a push to make a difference.
Bill McKibben also said our precarious situation, while very discouraging, was also exciting because we were getting “nearer to the heart of things”. In that 2012 Advent I post, this was my reflection on the idea of getting nearer to the heart of things:
And we are indeed down to what is essential to survival; we are down to questions of meaning and questions about our priorities; we are down to questions about where our hearts lie when we face the finitude not only of our own lives but of our biosphere, our planet, and the way of life it has supported. Our search for hope in this seemingly hopeless situation leads us to a place of repentance and conversion: Are we willing to do what it takes to make hope possible?
I left Bill McKibben’s presentation thinking that the Episcopal Church needed to divest from fossil fuels, and a few months later found that other Episcopalians were thinking the same thing. We did not expect divestment to come easily. We were going forward from a position of hope and faith, knowing that we were doing what we needed to do even if we failed in our efforts. In the end, everything came together at this year’s General Convention to make it happen.
After the General Convention of the Episcopal Church voted to divest major funds from fossil fuels and reinvest in clean energy this summer, it seemed to me that choosing to divest “was both a sign of our hope and a catalyst for future hope”.
As I think about hope this Advent, I wonder at how quickly our efforts bore fruit. I give thanks that this small piece of the work before us went well. And I go back to the Advent questions I asked three years ago in light of the discouraging facts about climate change and what it will take for us to ensure a sustainable future for humankind: Where do our hearts lie? How do we hope when everything seems dark? Can we set aside lesser priorities of personal convenience and comfort in order to do what needs to be done for the greater common good both close to home and in corners of the globe about which we know very little?
These 21st century questions are timeless Advent questions; the journey of the heart we take to repent and turn ourselves and the world around is an Advent journey.
The beginning of this Advent season brings us to the important climate talks in Paris. There are good reasons to think that the best we can realistically expect from these talks are promises to limit future greenhouse gas emissions significantly but not enough to do more than delay the catastrophe. In everyday terms, we might say this is “the best we can hope for”.
But there is also genuine hope. Genuine hope sees the darkness for what it is, but looks and listens for light and good news. There is genuine hope that hearts and minds will change, that the voices of the activists outside the talks will be heard, that the voice of the poorest people in the world will somehow be heard among these leaders of the nations, and that the voices of the oceans and the birds and endangered plants and animals will count for something. And there is genuine hope that if our leaders fail us yet again, we will find other ways to ensure that fossil fuels stay in the ground.
Pray for those gathered in Paris, that may have wisdom and courage and the ability to understand deeply what they are doing this week. Pray for those of us not gathered there, that we continue to speak and act in ways that bring genuine hope. Pray for hope and in hope.