The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming, published two weeks ago, will help to shape my Lenten experience this year. In turn, I suspect my observance of Lent will color my reading of David Wallace-Wells’s blunt and lucid account of the present reality of climate change. My intention during Lent is to figure out every day what to give up or let go of to ensure time for a close reading of a chunk of this book along with a close reading of the Daily Office readings for that day and plenty of time for prayer.
“It is worse, much worse, than you think,” reads the first sentence of The Uninhabitable Earth.
“We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives.” We pray this confession in our Litany of Penitence as one of many particular faults. All of the sins we confess on Ash Wednesday have some bearing on the particular sin that most directly speaks to the subject of The Uninhabitable Earth:
For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,Accept our repentance, Lord.
Yesterday’s familiar Daily Office reading from John’s Gospel (John 1:1-18) reminded us of the reality of the Incarnation, the Word that came to live among us in our world of earth, air, fire, and water. While some forms of piety emphasize a heaven / earth dualism during Lent, the reality of our faith and of our lives is that we are part of the world God created and pronounced good, the same world so deeply loved by God that Jesus, God Incarnate, came to dwell here with us. Whether we can understand it, and even if we deny it, the laws of chemistry and physics and our past and present actions are resulting in big changes that have forever changed life on our planet. And whether we can understand it, and even if we deny it, God’s love for us and for all of creation, the love that we know through Jesus’s love, is with us as we respond to the huge challenges we face.
I’ve chosen to read The Uninhabitable Earth not despite the psychological and spiritual challenge of looking squarely at our present situation on this planet, but because of the enormity of that challenge. The temptation to look away is a true temptation, a temptation to sin. Our failure to acknowledge climate change as the central issue of our time — our practice of willful ignorance, of ignoring the very warm elephant in the room as we allow ourselves to be distracted by all sorts of craziness along with all sorts of other serious concerns that will only worsen as Earth’s temperatures soar — is more than an oversight. Our willful ignorance that results in human suffering and species extinction is a sin, and the only way to repent of willful ignorance is to seek knowledge.
I have no idea what I’ll encounter in the practice of reflecting on this latest summary of our perilous condition alongside our daily lectionary readings and Lenten prayers, but when any of us chooses a serious Lenten discipline, we have no idea what we will encounter in our chosen wilderness. By definition, the wilderness has no set paths to follow, no guarantees of what we will find.
In this age of global warming, we are all in the wilderness, all lost whether or not we realize it. Choosing a forty day interior wilderness journey that acknowledges our material situation seems appropriate to me this year. I’ll post some reports along the way if I find something worth sharing.