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Discovering Prayer in the Climate Movement

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Discovering Prayer in the Climate Movement

Ted Glick

O Great Spirit,
whose voice I hear in the winds
and whose breath gives life to all the world,
hear me.
I am small and weak.
I need your strength and wisdom.

Let me walk in beauty
and let my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made
and my ears grow sharp to hear your voice.

Make me wise so that I may understand the things
you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden
in every leaf and rock.
I seek strength not to be greater than my brother or sister
but to fight my greatest enemy, myself.
Make me always ready
to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes
So when life fades as the fading sunset
my spirit may come to you without shame.
              -Let Me Walk in Beauty, by Chief Yellow Lark

My family religious roots are deep. My father and both of my grandfathers were ministers in the Church of the Brethren. Growing up, I went to church every Sunday. For close to 20 years of my life in the 80’s and 90’s, I was a regular attendee and a member of the church council of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.

I’ve not been a regular churchgoer since then, but I haven’t lost my belief in the importance of the teachings and example of Jesus of Nazareth. I sometimes carry and read a pocket Bible when traveling, and one of my favorite books is God Makes the Rivers to Flow, Sacred Literature of the World, by Eknath Easwaran. Many times over the years since I accidentally discovered it, I have turned to its pages for help when my spirit has been down and I’ve been in need of inspiration. Chief Yellow Lark’s poem above is from this book.

Even with these spiritual beliefs and practices, I’ve never been much of a praying person. The one, very big exception is the long fasts that I have undertaken in past years, including three long fasts between 2007 and 2009 on the climate crisis. During those times without eating, I have come to appreciate Gandhi’s words, that “fasting is the sincerest form of prayer.”

But all of a sudden, again pretty much by accident, I have discovered the power of more traditional prayer as an important aspect of building a stronger climate movement.

Since the middle of last year, I have been involved in meetings and conference calls with people of faith who have been trying to bring forward a much more visible and demonstrative, faith-based voice on the issue of the climate crisis. Out of these meetings has emerged the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate (IMAC) network. And each week, when we have our regular conference calls, our meetings begin and end with a prayer. Without question, this practice helps to keep us all more humble, less ego-driven and more focused on figuring out how we can most effectively work together to preserve, in the words of a recent IMAC document, “what we variously call God's Creation, Mother Earth, or simply, Earth, our one and only home.”

Interfaith Moral Action on Climate believes that “our value-added lies in our ability to help catalyze a multi-faith movement during this critical election year that embodies the moral voice on this most urgent of issues. A moral voice is essential since scientific and economic arguments alone have not moved the United States to adequately address this deepening crisis. While other groups are also working on the moral dimensions of climate change, IMAC seeks to galvanize specific, focused and coordinated actions in Washington D.C. and throughout the nation during Earth week, April 21-27, and to use these as a launching pad for organizing a moral call to action on climate change leading up to the November elections.”

It has been encouraging and inspiring, if not always easy, to be part of the emergence of this important new voice as part of the climate movement. An impressive, broadly-based and growing range of organizations and leaders have endorsed and/or are actively involved with the efforts leading up to Earth week at the end of April. Methodist Sunday school teacher and 350.org leader Bill McKibben has just agreed to be with us in Washington, D.C. on April 24, Interfaith Moral Action on Climate’s primary day of action.

It’s easy, normal really, to often feel like there’s little chance that the human race is up to the challenge of turning things around in enough time to avoid catastrophic climate change. And yet, my participation in IMAC has led me to reflect on the saying, “all things are possible with God.”

Maybe the human race needs to experience, collectively, a sense of hopelessness about our future as we experience weather disaster after weather disaster, the latest for us in the U.S. being what is happening in the Midwest and South with massive and widespread tornadoes. Perhaps that hopelessness will lead to a recognition society-wide that to find the strength we need to bring about change, we need to tap a power much stronger than the fossil fuel industry or, in President Eisenhower’s words, the military-industrial complex.

We don’t know exactly when and how that mass sea change in understanding will take place. In the meantime, those of us who get it on how bad our situation is must continue to speak out and take action. Earth week in Washington, D.C. and around the country is a strategic time to do so.

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