As has threaded through these blog posts and our social media presence, the hospitality on this pilgrimage has been incredible to the point of almost being overwhelming. The banks of our hearts have overflowed from the constant shower of kindnesses. We lug around an embarrassing abundance in our boxes that spill over with extra bread and apples. Trail angels appear with seltzer water and candy bars, toasted almonds and still-warm brownies. We meet Buddy, an area man slated to have the pipeline located a stone’s throw from his pillow, to discover that the Discount Oil truck that honked at us did so in welcome, specifically finding us on the road to greet us, passing us back and forth three times.
We are humbled by the gift of his witness and of herons in flight over icy rivers, of tonight’s cavernous sanctuary and of an organic camaraderie whose quality I cannot articulate. There have been few times in life when I have felt so thoroughly grateful.
And yet, our central intention in setting out on this pilgrimage was not to enjoy hospitality and welcome. Our walk is not meant as a bonding retreat for climate activists, nor as an occasion for personal spiritual revitalization. We have walked 129 miles thus far because we are moved by the bleak knowledge that the impacts of climate change are terrible beyond our imagining. As I write on this penultimate night of our pilgrimage, I wish to refocus upon this grief at loss to come.
This morning, one of our pilgrims brought fresh to our attention these impacts, the fierce images we have already seen in Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy that we would prefer not to remember. Clips of bodies floating in the streets and people stranded in their apartment buildings, unbearable scenes that will become more frequent as climate change continues.
Over a week ago, one pilgrim made a comment that has lodged itself inside my memory like a splinter under skin: “I feel like I am saying goodbye to the land.” Even if this pipeline is not built, this entire region will be nearly unrecognizable by the end of the century, as bark beetles infest forests and the syrup buckets disappear, as variable heat and cold wrack ecosystems and houses alike, as the forest is cleared for industrial land use intensification to bring agricultural production to pace with climate risks.
Debbie, a pilgrim who joined our walk today, quoted a friend about seeking to “see every thing as if it were the answer to a prayer.” The approach resonated with me as a spiritual-psychological trick of sorts, a thoughtful practice to bring one towards a more faithful walk with God. I can envision the prayer answered in the presence of the homeless man with his cup for change, on the bruised feet of a pilgrim needing moleskin, even with the gas pipeline proposed a neighbor’s backyard.
But when I contemplate this with regard to the surrealistic mindwarp that is climate change, I come up dry. What prayer could be answered by this invisible existential menace around the corner, the paradox of simple and complex that shatters common sense like a brick through a window, that breeds hostility and fear where we most need unity and courage? I grasp for an answer, but I can’t begin to conceive of what it might be – what prayer could climate change’s awful reality possibly answer? We did not choose this cup, and I don’t know that it can be made palatable.
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