In the wake of the People’s Climate March

About 400 people turned out Sunday for the Albuquerque, N.M., version (Connecting the Dots) of the People's Climate March. (Joan Brown)

The tears take me by surprise. “Perhaps Love,” a John Denver song on a radio as I head to a meeting, is unexpected. I do not have time now to cry. “I can have a good cry tonight in my bedroom,” I tell myself.

“Perhaps Love” was played at my mother Sarah’s funeral some years ago. In this moment the memory of Sarah converges with the fate of our Sister, Mother Earth, as St. Francis of Assisi names her. On this day the reality of the loss of that which I love most is poignant. I cannot escape the growing doomsday reports about human induced climate change effects on plants, creatures and beautiful and diverse brothers and sisters living in Africa, Bangladesh, island nations and here in New Mexico.

NASA just reported that last month was the warmest August globally since records began being kept in 1880. Over West Antarctica it was so hot NASA put in the color brown on the map to cover the 4°C to 8°C (7°F to over 14°F) anomalous warmth. The glaciers of West Antarctic ice sheet are in irreversible collapse.

John Denver wrote “Perhaps Love” during a separation that led to a divorce from his wife Annie. It seems the actions of the human family have been trying to divorce us from Earth for some time. Yet, we are intimately and irreversibly entwined with Earth, our OIKOS, our Home – much like these words:

Perhaps love is like a resting place, a shelter from the storm.
It exists to give you comfort, it is there to keep you warm.
And in those times of trouble when you are most alone,
the memory of love will bring you home.

Will the memory of loving God’s sacred creation, our Earth, bring us home as we read leaked information from the upcoming report November Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report? The news is grim or dire. Staying below the internationally agreed upon 3.6 degrees Farenheit (above preindustrial levels) seems unlikely. Resulting impacts will most likely include extreme weather like heat waves, flooding, drought and rising sea levels. The U.N. predicts such events will worsen violent conflicts and refugee problems, hinder efforts to grow more food and threaten public health.

A Kashmiri man clears silt and mud from a still partially flooded alley in a flood-affected area in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, Sept. 19. The hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been devastated by recent floods in northern Jammu and Kashmir state – the coldest region in the country – will have to face a very bleak winter, caution Catholic aid workers. (CNS photo/Farooq Khan, EPA)

Nearly ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean may be the reality before mid-century. Melting of Greenland’s ice sheet may contribute up to a 23-foot sea level rise. Sea level rise could impact 70 percent of the world’s coastlines this century. Abrupt and irreversible changes are likely, with the consequences of substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, and other effects.

But then, we have heard facts and calculated predictions before. We are already experiencing drought, fires, floods and refugees from violence, motivated in part by unprecedented weather events that lead to greater poverty and political unrest. What will move us and our leaders to action? Perhaps Love – identifying, picturing before us each day the beautiful and sacred Earth, the amazing family, friends and brothers and sisters around the planet – perhaps a groundswell of Love will move us and our leaders to difficult choices and policy actions.

Last week in the journal Science , two noted scientists from Cambridge and the University of California made an impassioned plea to stop the “ongoing abuse of the planet’s natural resources” and called upon religious leaders to help save the environment. “The transformational step may very well be a massive mobilization by the Vatican and other religions for collective action to safeguard the well-being of both humanity and the environment,” they wrote.  

Love of God, creation and neighbor is what motivated 400,000 people, many of them from all of the world’s religious traditions, to take to the streets Sunday, Sept. 21 in New York City for the People’s Climate March. People of faith delivered messages and petitions to the Sept. 23 U.N. meeting, which is one of many preparatory meetings leading to the Road to Paris and a binding international agreement on carbon emissions by December 2015.

As one of the coordinators for a Climate Pilgrimage: Connecting the Dots in Albuquerque, I marched with nearly 400 people. Santa Fe had hundreds gathered. Yet, the local media did not cover these citizen-led events nor the event in New York City. The lack of positive media to inspire and educate people about climate change points to the necessity of our work, especially as Catholics.

Mercy sisters join hundreds of thousands of demonstrators – and sisters – in the People's Climate March in New York Sept. 21. (CNS photo/Jim West)
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio participates in the People's Climate March in New York Sept. 21. DiCaprio and several representatives of Catholic groups and religious orders joined an estimated 310,000 environmental protesters urging global action to reduce carbon emissions that threaten the environment. (CNS photo/Peter Foley, EPA)

In New Mexico for the first time, people of faith, including Catholic agencies, took a major role in connecting the issue of climate change to poverty, immigration, refugees, food security, energy, water and national security. I was so pleased that some Knights of Columbus helped; my father was a Knight, and it is important for me that these good men continue to work for the future and the children.

In this work, the most often asked questions I receive are: “When it seems so hopeless, what gives you hope? Why do you do what you do?”

“Do we have a choice?” I usually reply.

Loving is the call of living. Our times require Holy, Active and Extravagant Loving inspired deep within our souls. Perhaps the question we need to ask, I think as I sit in my bedroom having a healing cry is: “Is the window or door of my soul large enough to allow Love to enter? Can my actions be directed by Love even when I am weary, doubting, disheartened and when the next steps require losing myself to extravagant and calculated, but sometimes foolish, sacrifices and vulnerable loving actions for life?”

Perhaps love is like a window, perhaps an open door.
It invites you to come closer, it wants to show you more.
And even if you lose yourself and don't know what to do,
the memory of love will see you through.

[Sr. Joan Brown,OSF, is a Franciscan sister from the Franciscan Sisters of Rochester, Minn., and executive director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light. She is a native Kansan and lives in Albuquerque where she may be reached at joan@nm-ipl.org].

Related - Why I'm going to the People's Climate March by Pat Siemen
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