Divine Messaging

I walk through our fields. We have not had enough rain, so the grasses are all a bit stumpy for this time of year.  But the mix of maturing seed heads and dots of color from small flowers still form a pleasing mid-summer palate. As I pass by, a clique of adolescent bobolinks appears magically from the density, rising up together to perch on the tops of trees alongside the field. We have delayed haying this field for the benefit of the bobolink’s reproduction, so it is a welcome sight.

The seasons progress. Because we have lived here for 15 years, we know more or less what to expect. If you live and grow things here, you know the importance of flexibility. Heat, frost, drought, downpours. You watch, and listen, and learn, and then adapt to daily and seasonal changes.

And now, Covid. We stay home.  With a garden and good neighbors, it is easy to shelter in place every day of our lives, watching the changes around us.  And yes, I give thanks. Every. Single. Morning.

I am at a loss for how to respond to realities beyond our fields. America is living through three simultaneous pandemics, caused by an insidious virus, systemic racism, and an inability to see and adequately respond to the overarching reality of the climate crisis. The uncertainty is driving people crazy. The subsumed emotions are breaking out in violence. I feel all I can do is respond to one issue at a time, while reminding myself the interconnectedness of all three pandemics is the primary lesson to be learned by us all.

I read about a recent poll that found that a majority of Americans who believe in God think the pandemic is a divine message and that humanity needs to change the way it lives.

My initial reaction upon reading this was:  Whoa! Here we go again with the concept of a punishing god who chooses a pandemic as a way to teach us a lesson.   “Zap!”   “You have not kept your side of the covenant with respect to the earth. Let’s see how you feel after more than 18 million people get sick and more than half a million (and counting) die! Maybe then you will listen and change the way you live on this earth.”

This “zapper god” is not a god with whom I am familiar.

I want to make it clear that when I say that I think there IS a divine message arising from the pandemic, I am referring to a different sort of God.

The God I know is a creative force of love, intimately involved in all processes that make the planet work the way it does. There are ecological and medical processes:  causes, effects, correlations, relationships, effectively “divine messages” about how things work, that scientists, doctors and climatologists learn to read. For instance: If habitat loss forces proximity between humans and some other animals, viruses do and will continue to jump from one to the other. If the lungs of people of color are compromised due to poverty and the siting of polluting industries, the death rate by Covid will be at least twice that of white people. If the planet continues to be warmed due to excess carbon, there is a strong possibility for hurricanes and tornadoes of an above normal frequency and severity this year.

The “messaging” is in the scientific information about these relationships.

Many experts are becoming more adept at interpretation, but most of us are not as conversant at understanding the messages, and are particularly ignorant of appropriate responses.  Bright blue chicory and ivory white Queen Anne’s Lace speak simple beauty to me, but for First Peoples, they spoke a message of gifts – culinary and medicinal opportunities. Their response was one of humility and reciprocity: the plants were thanked and the humans were careful to not harvest too many.

So yes, the pandemic is a natural “divine message”.  (When all else fails, read the directions!)  And yes, human beings: if the pandemic has taught us nothing else, I hope it has taught us that the messages still apply to us. So, I hope we consider humility, love, and reciprocity toward each other and toward the non-human world when we make our decisions in response.

Tree sprouts and hockey sticks

Where do I start?

My first blog post arrives on my brand-new website right in the middle of a pandemic. How can I possibly say anything significant in this time? And do my readers-to-be really need something else to read online? 

Probably not.  But I am going to post anyway. I am 71, and have learned that Elder Time shines out a different facet of life.  And the connections between the climate crisis and the coronavirus are legion.

I will try hard to trend toward hope… 

Blessed with abundant space in which to roam, we are on one of our daily walks in our self-isolation…

Passing through the too-often-ignored field at the far end of our property, this:

I am instantly reminded of orderly social distancing (although the spacing of the sprouting trees is considerably less than six feet and reflects competition for resources, not threat of contagion). I chuckle to myself.

Like a laser, this coronavirus has pierced our consciousness, forcing us to pay attention to it, all the time!

It is a blunt, predicted reality, reflecting yet another facet of what we are learning – all too slowly – about how the human/planet interaction works when stressed. Reductions in habitat due to outright destruction, and climatic seasonal changes, combined with poverty, brought wild animals harboring viruses into the stomachs of hungry humans. One virus among billions crossed the species barrier into brand new territory, a human body without immunity, most likely with lungs compromised by air pollution due to the burning of fossil fuels.  

The rest is history – being written as I write. And we have no idea how it will all end.

It seems different, but there is no new reality here. Cause, effect. Just life playing out as usual as far as the planet’s systems are concerned.

Tragically, “business” also continues as usual in a political system that values profits over people. Scorning the medical science-based recommendations, saving the economy becomes more important than saving people.

I think about time passing:. Does it seem to move more slowly? Or frighteningly fast?

I am struck by the similarities of two “hockey stick” graphs.

On one, depicting the climate crisis, the time axis on the bottom is measured in years or decades.  On the other, depicting the spread of the coronavirus, the axis is in days or weeks.  The steepness of both graphs has one message: Do not be lulled into thinking that life is a steady state transaction.

“Everything must change!” climate activists have been shouting for decades.

And then, everything did change.  In just a couple of weeks.  (This is not what we had in mind.)

But here is where the hope comes in, fellow sojourners on planet earth:

The planet-wide response is jaw-dropping. In some cases, government officials (especially at the state level)are taking bold action at least as radical as any previously suggested by climate change activists. And then, regular people, from your neighbors to citizens of distant countries, are implored to take individual action to make a difference, and they do it!  Right away!

And despite our forced physical isolation, because of the huge virtual community (basically the whole world!), I feel more in community than ever. News reports (maybe too many), family and friends checking in, sharing of things to do while at home.  Lots of very funny videos going viral (!)  to help us through.

Yesterday I took a virtual tour of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and then watched a magnificent production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, shot in the Globe Theater in London. Even more inspiring, I can watch Italians, Spaniards, and Bostonians cheering for their health care workers, bus drivers delivering lunches to kids at home from school, children’s authors reading their books out loud to children on YouTube.

I can even go to church on Sunday.

There are also terrible things happening around the globe: health care workers without protection, older people dying alone, refugee camps just waiting for the virus to ransack their ranks. The inequalities and the social injustices are being intensified beyond what we thought possible.

There is anger, grief, fear.  How long? we wonder…..

But there is also an element of wonderful Spirit-led grace alongside that makes me smile and love the whole world despite my trembling soul. The mindful caring of others tempers my fear.

The global virus infection is symptomatic of the close relationship between the climate crisis and potential origins of pandemics. This one is unprecedently contagious. Which begs the question for me:  Is the together-in-the-world response contagious?  Can everything, from the realization of the severity of the problem to each doing our part, right now, be transmitted to addressing the global climate crisis?

I am a person of faith. I pray that this symptom of God alongside, forgiving our terrible transgressions on creation, spreading grace, comfort and love, stays with us.

For some of you, my new readers, it may simply be the wonderful human response in itself that will be, in effect, a sacred element that sustains you. 

Whatever.

Just stay safe.  Do your part. The earth rises tomorrow.