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Psalm 92: 2-16; First Corinthians 15:54-58
Teilhard de Chardin is traveling by mule train through the hill country of Western China on his way to find more evidence in the fossil record of ancient human life. This is 1927. And he looks up at what he calls “the stupid, wicked deforestation” the landscape has suffered at the hands of the people there, so that all the soil now washes away in the rains, and it breaks his heart, he says. It’s “heart-breaking to see,” and I think of the dread I keep feeling, even now that the pandemic seems to have eased again, maybe for good. I think of the anxiety we all feel, about the starving children in Afghanistan, and the sudden war in the Ukraine, and underneath all these other dreads, the dread we always feel about climate change and the slow, inexorable–“the stupid, wicked”—destruction of precious earth. How helpless we all feel. How this all seems inevitable, irreversible.
But then Teilhard makes a quiet move in his mind, a remarkable move. He feels, he says, “oddly indifferent to this devastation”—not, I think, in the sense of not caring and not being committed to doing all he can to reverse the devastation, but “indifferent” in the Ignatian sense, in the sense of seeing beyond even these environmental catastrophes to a still deeper love and creativity and life in nature and in us. It’s a quiet move, as I say, and yet it’s helped me the last few days:
Huge cracks appear on all sides, down which the storms carry torrents of stones and earth . . . But, basically, I feel oddly indifferent to this devastation. My interest has wandered so much further afield, even when I am most absorbed in geology. It is the Other that I now seek, the Thing across the gap, the Thing on the other side. Is this no more than an effect of age? Or have I really broken through some barrier?
Letters from a Traveller
As someone growing older, I am struck by Teilhard’s question about the detachment that can come with age, but even more, I am struck by the idea that even now, when the effects of climate change are so inescapable, are global, are everywhere, they are not really everywhere finally because the earth is not all there is and this moment is not the only moment and matter, which Teilhard loved and gloried in, too, but matter is not all there is. There is Spirit. Always there is the Spirit, and the Spirit is always moving through our world and all the worlds and through every atom in all the galaxies to some fulfillment in our Lord Jesus Christ—a cosmic movement, the movement of the Cosmic Christ, who nonetheless is present in every ordinary moment of our daily lives.
“Brothers and sisters,” Saint Paul says in the first Letter to the Corinthians, the epistle for this Sunday: “when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility,” then “death is swallowed up in victory.”
The other day I talked with a young woman who is in chronic pain after a botched surgery. It’s very, very hard. There doesn’t seem to be anything anyone can do, and it’s driving her to despair.
But at one point in our conversation she lit up talking about her dog, her new rescue dog, who was, she said, waiting for her out in the car.
And so as I was walking her out to her car, I asked if I could meet her dog, and when she opened up the back, this sweet little black and white border came up to me, very shyly, bowing her head so I could pet her.
The sweetest dog.
And as soon as I touched her, as soon as I stroked her fur, out there, on that rare sunny day, I could feel a little surge of energy coming through her and into me. A little flash of joy. Of light. I was smiling and this young woman was smiling. The sun was shining.
Something from that little dog entered into me, entered into us.
“It is good to give thanks to the LORD,” the psalmist proclaims in Psalm 92, the psalm for this Sunday, “to sing praise to your name, Most High / to proclaim your kindness at dawn / and your faithfulness throughout the night.”