A picture of Rachel Carson with the text, "Rachel Carson says, 'Believe in Hope.' Time to celebrate the St. John's Lenten Eco-Pledge!"
Categories: Parish News

Can We Find Shalom in Pandemics – or Climate Change?

Forty-four days ago, 65 individuals and families from St. John’s began a journey together with St. John’s Lenten Eco-Pledge for Hope, sponsored by the Eco-Action Team. For 40 days we walked to errands, ate less meat, eschewed Amazon, turned down our home heat, or took other steps to live more gently.

Collectively, we took 595 Earth-saving actions. And together, we reduced our climate-damaging carbon emissions – not just by pounds, but by many tons.

We were buoyed by shared stories of success even as the coronavirus spread its fingers across our community, altering our lives with its invisible reach just a few weeks into our Lenten pledge season. Who could have guessed that our resolve to act on our pledges would be strengthened by this abominable virus, or that the pandemic could inspire new ways to be grateful for God’s blessings and each other.

The virus was already spreading along the West Coast as St. John’s prepared for Lent. On February 2nd, we all listened together from the pews and choir loft as Sari preached on “Calming the Storm” to launch the Pledge. He spoke about the intensifying storms, rapid extinctions, and the now 150,000 or more deaths each year attributed to a warming climate’s chaos.

Justice, he reminded us, is a state of biblical Shalom, where everyone is thriving and flourishing. He explained that we obstruct the Earth’s and humanity’s Shalom when we strive for contentment and convenience by over-buying, driving, flying and other Earth-stressing actions. What will it take, he asked, for us to decide that we can no longer sit on the sidelines as Christians?

On February 16th, St. John’s Eco-Action Team led the Adult Forum, to promote the Lenten Pledge. That same day, health officials in Washington State advised people to wash their hands to slow the virus’s spread.

Sixty-five of us joined the Lenten Pledge. As the weeks passed, we walked more and drove less. We tried new recipes and shut down our computers at night. Every Friday the pledge team offered a Crossroads article. Melanie Folstad speculated on what Jesus would drive (February 21) and Jay Mallin taught us how to cook without the meat (February 28). The week that Elly Sullivan empowered us with ideas to battle the global scourge of plastic waste (March 6) was the same week that Governor Hogan announced the first coronavirus cases in Maryland and declared a State of Emergency.

Many of us began working from home. Our pledges began to take on a new urgency, as the voluntary actions we were enjoying – walking more and buying less – became crucial steps to flatten the curve, or signals of empty store shelves and supply chains gone amuck. In Crossroads the third week of Lent, Pam Mercer wrote about her family’s adventure toward becoming greener (March 13). The following day marked Earth Overshoot Day, when our country’s demand for ecological resources exceeded what the Earth will regenerate this year.

As we reached Lent’s midpoint, cherry blossoms peaked on the National Mall, and Carolyn Peirce posted daily reminders of Nature’s Simple Gifts on Facebook. Tom Kerr interviewed Joe and Pat Cascio about their switch to solar energy (March 20). Jay Mallin reminded us of Sabbath practices that can heal as we “center down” (March 27). St. John’s held its first online Sunday service that fourth week of Lent. The U.S. coronavirus death toll topped 1,000 in the fifth week.

The final days of Lent found us complying with the Governor’s statewide order to stay at home. St. John’s folks connected by phone, Zoom, and Facebook, checking in on each other and feeling fresh gratitude for small blessings. Polly Vail offered a light-hearted take on mindful consumption (April 3). The Trump Administration rolled back Obama-era, climate-saving fuel efficiency standards for cars. Confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases reached 300,000.

In Lent’s last three days, reports from the Great Barrier Reef confirmed the most massive bleaching event ever recorded, a casualty of warming oceans. U.S. coronavirus deaths topped 10,000.

And yet we can still revel in sunshine and spring flowers as we move through a month that had been set aside for celebrating Earth Day’s 50th anniversary. We can still find so many ways to be grateful for a world that is unspeakably beautiful.

Our home-grown hero Rachel Carson, author of the world-changing book Silent Spring and inspiration for the first Earth Day, advised us to find fortitude in nature. “There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature, the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter,” she wrote.

The season of the virus will end. But the urgency of climate change will remain and continue to intensify, long after a vaccine emerges and well beyond the final days of our Lenten Pledge.

Can we be the Christians who create Shalom not only through our quarantine days and through Lent, but in the days that follow? Not only to help those suffering from the virus’s impacts, but to help heal a warming world near its breaking point?

The Lenten Pledge team will lead the Adult Forum (online) on April 19th. We’ll hear from climate justice expert Karen Bigelow from Bread for the World. And we’ll celebrate successes of the pledge and hear stories of struggles and victories from those who made the journey. Please join us!

Open your eyes, said Rachel Carson. Find God’s wonders around you, and ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”

Every Easter we find hope embodied in the resurrected Christ and held in the hearts and hands of each of us. Let’s continue well beyond Easter this hopeful, Shalom-building journey we’ve begun together, to heal this beautiful planet we share.

by Jane Houlihan, St. John’s parishioner