With no extraordinary power


At the start of the UN COP27 climate summit today, the Secretary General António Guterres warns humanity that “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator,” he says to the world leaders gathered in Egypt. We must “co-operate or perish.”

Cooperate or perish. There seems to be a human capacity to cooperate in the immediate and local. I watch my two grandsons quibble over a prized toy, yet should one of them be hurt, something larger than cooperation manifests. I might differ with my neighbour about the value of an old apple tree he would like me to cut down, but should one of us get stuck in a snowbank or leave our car lights on, we are neighbours first. And I delight in the wonderful and varied ways our college community collaborates to share prayers, concerns, create a welcoming space for everyone, and support one another in the struggles of coursework and time management. We can put aside differences, even big ones, for the sake of caring. And time and again we hear stories in the news of compassionate and generous responses, little heroisms or big ones, in the face of immediate pain, danger, or suffering.

Yet cooperation is not something we seem to do well as human beings on the larger scale—addressing the big and seemingly insurmountable issues of climate crisis, economic injustice, or racism. If we are able to do small things well, when we see the problem up close, how is it that we have such a hard time with the big stakes issues, the ones on which the whole future of our planet depends? How do we turn small acts of justice and compassion into a global force for change? This question might also be asked this way, “How do we continue to act with justice and compassion, and also hope, in the face of that which seems outside our power to change and beyond our capacity to grasp?”

This week, I am reading All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis (Ayanna Elizabeth Johnson & Katharine K. Wilkinson, Eds.) The book’s epigraph is an excerpt from the poem Natural Resources by one of my favourite American poets, Adrienne Rich:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed.
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

Rich’s poem reminds me that we human beings have no extraordinary power. We are earth creatures, small, fragile, sometimes terrified. To live faithfully in these times, we need to remember not how great and powerful we are, but how very human (humus, humble) we must be.  As Christians, we cast our lot with the one whose weakness and broken body showed us the face of God. This perversity of God, to show up in our lives as the one who is vulnerable, hurting, broken by injustice. Age after age this is how God meets us at the threshold. Thus, foolish ones that we are, we cast our lot with those who seek healing amid brokenness, love in the face of death, compassion amid fear, hope in these difficult days.

Alyson Huntly

This message was written by Alyson Huntly for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.