Much of the western church is finally catching up with his idea of caring for the planet we call home but along with the responsibility to defend what remains we cannot ignore those already lost and those we are powerless to save
Droughts have pushed suicides in the Indian farm sector to epidemic levels and a temperature increase of just one degree during the growing season is linked to almost 70 new suicides a day.
How are we to rightly mourn loss the loss of human life perhaps on a scale not seen since the second world war? Or mourn the loss of our fellow creatures and the beauty and stability of the home that we share?
Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht has coined the term ‘solace-stalgia’ to express the feeling of home sickness while you are still at home – the grief created by seeing the place you love come under immediate assault.
In the early 2000’s he was researching the impacts of open cut coal mining in New South Wales and discovered that, along with the land and health impacts experienced by the communities around the mine, they were also experiencing a form of chronic distress triggered by changes to their home. He realised that all of us – no matter whether it’s a tree outside our bedroom window or our sense of our place in the world as a whole can experience a form of unnamed melancholy when places we love get destroyed. This is solace-stalgia – a home sickness for what is lost – and climate chaos will create unavoidable home sickness for all of us.
In ‘Mere Christianity’, CS Lewis identified a similar homesickness suggesting if we find in ourselves a desire for something that nothing in this world can satisfy the most probable explanation is that we were made for a different world. It is tempting to apply this logic to the climate crisis we face and indeed Lewis was right to identify such a desire but he was wrong to say we were made to another world. In fact the opposite is true. We intimately belong to the rest of creation. This is the world in which the image bearers of God reside. This is the world that God himself enters. This is the world that God himself died for. This is the world in which God himself was resurrected. This is the world whose renewal we seek. Solace-stalgia, homesickness in a dying world is not just a natural response the right response but the only response to the destruction of our home. It is not the pain of belonging to a different but the pain of belonging to this world that has gone desperately wrong. You see the church is not the last stop for a select few as we wait to leave a dying planet. We are called to be co- mourners with a groaning creation. For the people of God collective grief expresses our sorrow at sin and death. It is a sign of repentance and an acknowledgement of our finitude as creatures looking to our creator.
The Church and the wealthy western church in particular must therefore engage with solace-stalgia and recognise this solace-stalgic grief for what it is – the emptiness and decay that follows as a result of our sin. Now I I am not here to remind you to recycle more or fly less or eat less meat For once I am not going to ask you to respond to climate change with a list if things to do. Instead I am going to ask that you sit down amidst the grief you may already feel about our dying planet and mourn the brilliant beautiful lives both human and non human now extinguished by our violence and greed. Perhaps you can name them. Perhaps their names are known only to God. Either way they are worthy of your lament. And yet mourning is sterile without hope. The scriptures of the Jewish and Christian traditions have always expected the world as we know it to come to an end. But they have always longed for and testified to its renewal.
The environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion has already recognised the benefits of grief as a part of action and I believe that grief is a vital part of having vision for a renewed earth. Extinction Rebellion has called on its members to practice what they call the skill of broken heartedness.
I believe that as a church we must not be the last to recognize the wisdom of this collective grief. But instead we must seek opportunities to practice its right expression, discuss what those might be and also seek opportunities to speak hope in the face of death. In the words of Walter Bruggeman, “The prophetic tasks of the church are to speak truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial and speak hope in a society that lives in despair.”
We are a wounded people and we walk on a wounded earth… Are we willing and are we able to answer? .