On this Earth Day, as the dire impacts of a global pandemic are being felt, the human world is reeling, not unlike the non-human world has been reeling for some time now. In the 50 years since the original Earth Day, much progress has surely been made and should be celebrated. And yet, we are becoming increasingly aware that a warming planet is already causing unprecedented harm, and the future looks even bleaker. I join others around the globe in feeling what can only rightly be called despair.
How do we cope with brokenheartedness, anxiety and despondency as we acknowledge present-day suffering and know in our hearts that this could only be the beginning?
My mind wanders back to a class I took — Journey Through the Psalms — at Wesley Seminary with Dr. Denise Dombkowski Hopkins. Dr. Hopkins had a particular affinity for the lament psalms, which make up a full third of the psalter. She had lost a brother early in her adult life to drowning, and the lament psalms allowed her a vital expression of her confusion, anger and loss.
While we rarely hear the lament psalms in our churches and synagogues, Hopkins impressed upon us that “complaining in faith to God,” as priest and scholar Roland Murphy puts it, is an essential step to moving through, and eventually beyond, grief. The psalmists understood the importance of taking our despair to God in raw, angry, gritty personal language:
I am weary with my moaning;
Every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping. (Psalm 6:6)
We might ask, however, why we should allow ourselves this moment of personal mourning in the midst of the important work that needs to be done to heal our planet. The activist and sage, Joanna Macy, teaches that the danger of unexpressed and unexperienced grief is that it will numb us into inaction. We must move into and through this difficult place, if we are to move forward. We must feel the impacts of the harm we have done. Then, we act. We act with new insights into what is at stake, a new appreciation of the suffering that is and might be. And, we act with renewed energy and focus.
Grief is essential. If we are to thrive, we move through it and beyond it. As Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in her provocative book, Braiding Sweetgrass: “It is not enough to weep for our lost landscapes; we have to put our hands in the earth to make ourselves whole again.”