Replenishing Hope: Faith & Healing in a Time of Climate Change
By Peeka Trenkle
The environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis and requires us to have a change of heart. With so much devastating news about fires, earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and the extinction of hundreds of life forms every day, it would be impossible to feel optimistic about the future. Yet hope is not the same as optimism.
Hope is a theological virtue that is concerned with the future. It is not a feeling. And, unlike optimism, hope is not based in the assumption that all will work out as we want it to, but that we are willing to live in ways that will meet whatever comes with courage and vision and for the benefit of those who come after us. Hope, as the anticipation of the good, does not come easily but requires a discipline: we must choose to have hope.
There are three theological virtues that are central to a spiritual life: faith, hope and love. Faith has to do with what has been true for us, what has supported us, what we put our trust in. In this way faith is about the past. Most people in the industrialized world over the last century have put far more trust in science than in God; much more trust in an invisible ‘they’ who will figure out our problems than in an understanding of the ways in which the natural world sustains us and provides for us. We must ask ourselves what we are faithful to now.
Hope is the highest expression of the human spirit. It is creative. All self-development, ambition, desire, all the plans we make in life are future oriented and depend on hope. Without a future oriented vision, we naturally fall into despair. Hope involves a leap into something beyond our known reality, beyond our current life, beyond what we can control, beyond science or even reason. It involves living fully into this time believing that our small part matters.
These are difficult times. The news is awful. The environment – our home – is deteriorating and we are to blame. Climate change and its repercussions have been insidious and slow in manifesting but now this culminating moment demands that we live differently. What are we being called to? Might it be that this situation now is the way in which we find our commonality and come together for the purpose of living sustainably on the planet?
We need positive visions of the future. And this is where theological questions can help us: What is our place on the earth, or in the cosmos? What is our purpose? Where are we headed? What are our responsibilities to other creatures and to future generations? And the experience of hope must find its place in a story that is true. We are called to recognize that consumerism is an illness and that, like any addiction, it requires a spiritual attitude in order to heal.
Through the last few centuries of scientific inquiry, we have come to understand so many of the intricacies of the natural world but not our place in it. How are we meant to relate to the natural world without commodifying or romanticizing it? Despite the terrible news about the environment, life is still happening everywhere in the world in every moment: in the in-breaking of new life through birth, germination, spawning, sprouting, budding, hatching, the great advance of human life at a rate of over 15,000 births per hour worldwide. This is miraculous.
Yet we have created a world that is out of synch with the natural world. We have sped up. We drive, we take airplanes, we have instant foods, next-day deliveries, high-speed internet. Speed has become central to how we live. But the pace of nature is slow. It will take a certain amount of time for a seed to sprout. Trees come into bud according to the seasons, even still. Animals gestate their offspring according to how much food is available and what the weather is like. All of nature expresses a wisdom and a set of natural laws that operate in their own timing. And we are not abiding by these.
How can we live today in ways that are sustainable, participating in life-affirming disciplines, consuming less, working in our communities, facing into this difficult time, committing firmly to the good, with hope for the healing of the world. Our task is to envision a future that is neither worst case scenario physical destruction nor other-worldly miraculous intervention from God, but a future in which we participate in a redemptive process as one part of the living cosmos.
And what is it that awakens life, that allows a seed to hold tight in a dormant state, holding a potential within itself until the right conditions allow it to thrust roots down into the soil and push up into the light? Perhaps we are those seeds that are holding potential for the future. Perhaps these are the right conditions and it is time.
Which brings us to the third theological virtue: Love. Of the three, love is about the present. Love, like hope, is not an emotion but a movement of the will. A willingness to will the good of another, the longing for what is not present, the joy of appreciating what is good. Love doesn’t deny suffering but meets it with healing and reconciliation.
We will likely not avoid further huge environmental crises. We will not be able to convince those who are in denial that anything needs to change. But our love of future generations demands that we devote ourselves anyway.
Peeka Trenkle holds a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in NYC. With 40 years of experience as an intuitive healer, herbalist, and homeopathic consultant, her deep interest lies in the integration of spiritual and physical healing, and how our relationship with the natural world affects our well-being.