Midweek Blog: Listening, Mourning, Connecting

The September issue of The Christian Century magazine had a monthly theme exploring the topic of the “Earth’s agency,” with a number of articles looking at various aspects of ecotheology.  This was a timely read to lead up into last weekend’s Fall Retreat and gave me plenty to reflect on as I wandered the woods of the retreat center or listened deeply to the sermon(s) that Creation was proclaiming to us during our Sunday worship service. 

One of the articles introduced me to a new word: solastalgia. It means an experience of emotional distress as a result of environmental change. I think many of us have experienced solastalgia as we have watched and experienced the world around us go through changes that feel so far outside our control that we feel helpless. I read this article as Hurricane Ian was making its way toward Florida. I remember the harrowing pictures of orange, smoke-filled skies as the result of wildfires from the past few years. I think of polar vortexes and heat waves.

The solastalgia I feel makes me wonder what is happening to this home we call Earth?

The author of that article, Andi Lloyd, invites readers to consider how we can mourn with the Earth, drawing on a verse from Hosea that says, “Therefore the land mourns and all who live on it languish.”  Lloyd argues that taking seriously the Earth’s mourning means acknowledging that the solastalgia we experience is wider than ourselves, that our shared grief is an invitation to learn from and with Creation in our interconnected yearning for liberation. 

A different article picked up on this idea and challenged readers to think differently about what it means to be created in the image of God. How might our religious communities be changed if we learned to recognize the image of God in trees and flowers, insects and reptiles, rocks and streams?  What kind of conversations might we have if we invited Creation to speak in our Bible studies and worship services?  The author of this second article, Katharine M. Preston, writes,

“The most miraculous part of Earth’s agency is not how she makes mountains rise and streams carve or how she responds to our carbon overload through heat waves and vortexes. It’s how she offers humans an invitation to intimacy, to experience her with awe, humility, gratitude, and joy, inviting a response from all our senses, our hearts and souls, not just our minds. Earth becoming, in beauty, offers us an opportunity to respond.” 

The worship service at Fall Retreat was shaped around the Wild Church Network tradition, and the centerpiece of our worship involved participants scattering among the retreat center grounds to spend 15 minutes beholding, listening, and conversing with Creation.  During this time, I was drawn to a small pond that was almost completely covered with some sort of growth, as if thousands of small green pieces of confetti covered the surface of the water. These tiny pieces of green swirled and flowed ever so slightly with the breeze, almost like one of those Magic Eye pictures. I spent much of my 15 minutes entranced by this subtle dance, lost in the constantly shifting patterns. 

Toward the end of the time, I noticed in the middle of one of these swirls there was a small head sticking out of the water looking in my direction. A turtle. How long had it been there, considering me as I considered the pond?  Maybe it too was listening patiently for Good News. As it watched me, maybe this turtle thought to itself how surprised it was to learn that even those odd human creatures can slow down sometimes. 

It is hard to put into human words what Good News was shared that morning between the pond and the turtle and I, but there was connection, there was deep listening, there was surprise and awe and reverence, and in all of it, there was God.