Call it Candlemas or the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple or even, as most people in the United States do, Groundhog Day, this day midway between winter and spring marks a subtle turning of the seasons. Even this year, when Candlemas finds most of Nebraska snow-covered and frigid, there is a noticeable difference in the slant of the sunlight and the length of days that helps us know in our bones that spring is on its way.
This day on the church calendar offers rich stories and prayers for reflection. And even though the church’s texts for the day have no immediate connection to concerns for caring for the planet or its people and other creatures, a subtle connection is there. [See Candlemas Light from 2011 about hope, or Mother Nature and Her Groundhogs from 2013 about embracing truth.] I wonder whether these texts connect in a nearly hidden way to caring for the earth because some old European calendars considered this the beginning of spring, but it's more likely that it is another instance where the Gospel message heard in our world points us to caring for all living things.
Today’s Eucharistic reading for the Presentation of Our Lord (Luke 2:22-40) tells the story of Mary and Joseph taking the infant Jesus to the temple. Simeon recognizes Jesus as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” and blesses him, and Anna begins to praise God and talk about the child.
This year Daily Prayer for All Seasons from the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has introduced me to a Denise Levertov poem called Candlemas. (Read the poem here.) Speaking of Simeon, Denise Levertov wrote:
of faith he drew on,
towards deep night.
Deep faith like Simeon’s offers a place to ground ourselves as we face the effects of climate change, which are both unfolding around us in our time and yet nearly beyond our imagination. Awareness of what is happening as our world warms can result in hopelessness as we are already past the point of no return even if we continue to work to mitigate warming and its effects. This hopelessness slides easily into cynicism, a feeling that there is nothing to be done and, hence, no reason to do anything significant to try to change things. On the other hand, some people handle the situation by embracing false hope, either denying in thought and/or actions that anything is happening at all or supposing that a few changes here and there — but nothing that changes our way of life very much — will be sufficient to keep everything much as it is now. (False hope is the coinage of greenwashing and of political crumbs thrown to environmentalists.)
Deep faith offers an alternative to both cynicism and false hope. Deep faith turns to the darkness, the “deep night”; deep faith sees the darkness and acknowledges it. But instead of turning away from the darkness or being swallowed by it, deep faith makes us able us to stare into the darkness and yet be illumined. It makes it possible for us to shed some of that light into the darkness around us.
Deep faith tells us that our prayers and our actions have some profound meaning, that our efforts are worth something even if we don’t get the results for which we fervently pray. Deep faith assures us that God is good and all will be well even when we can’t envision what “all will be well” could mean in a rapidly warming world.
Deep faith sustained Mary after Simeon told her, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” It can be our sustenance in 2015 and in the years ahead. Tending to our souls, to growing our faith deeper, is essential to the church’s response to environmental degradation.