Paula Anema Sohl
3 April 2016
John 20:19-31, Revelation 1:4,6-8
People of Faith Walking for the Climate
At the close of the Walk for the Climate Caminata, on the capitol steps in Salem on Monday morning, I read these words: We are people of various faith traditions or of no particular faith tradition, but we walked and biked in faith here to Salem with help from a bus with a sign saying “people of faith walking for the climate.”
We walked and biked to create community and to network with our partners throughout the state in the faith and hope that it’s not too late to take meaningful action on human contribution to climate change—it’s time to start keeping the carbon in the ground and transitioning to cleaner energy sources.
We walked and biked to celebrate the denial of the FERC permit to build the LNG pipeline through Southern Oregon and to bring honor to those who have struggled to prevent this project for years. We came to ask the governor to deny all state permits for fossil fuel export terminals and to help enact legislation to put a price on carbon.
We walked during holy week, the week Jesus walked to Jerusalem, the seat of power in his world— demonstrating a way of living that serves the needs of many rather than protecting the privilege of a few.
We were fed and healed and housed and had our feet washed. We sang together, prayed together, danced together, broke bread together, lit candles together, and fell in love with our warm and gracious hosts—people in faith communities and their local partners working together in defense of the environment, choosing cleaner energy, eating local food, and promoting sustainable practices.
We walked and biked through this beautiful state noticing the textures and smells and colors and the generous and blessed rain and realized that even when people keep silent the very rocks and stones sing out about the majesty of this world our home and sing to the glory of the Holy One.
We walked and biked inspired by the Jesus who knelt at the feet of his friends, silently washing their feet, who turned over the tables of the money changers because they had turned the home of the Holy One into a den of thieves, and who inhabited the in-between space between what is dead and what has not yet been resurrected.
We walked and biked in solidarity with Berta Cáceres, Nelson García and many people in Honduras whose lives have been threatened for their environmental activism and defense of the lands of rightful indigenous landowners and farmers. Cáceres and García this very month were murdered.. We demand with the people of Honduras a transparent investigation and an end to impunity. We proclaim that Berta didn’t die, she multiplied as the people throughout the world that she has inspired step into their responsibility and courage for advocacy and organizing.
We walked and biked to bring awareness to our own power to stand up together for the better world that is possible. Through this week we experimented with that world, living in loving community and sharing spiritual practices.
It was our experience of community that was most profound for many of us. We were roughly a band of 13 with some fluidity around the edges. Roughly half were young and half were oldish. Of the oldish ones, half were male and half female; some with religious affiliation, some without. The identity of that 13th person changed as individuals would come and go, join us for a day and leave, or leave and come back. And in the churches and towns that welcomed and hosted us, the community would expand with those who walked with us, brought us food, sat in circle with us to hear about our journey, and sometimes invited us into their homes.
In the book The Difference by Scott E. Page, he writes, “What each of us has to offer, What we can contribute to the vibrancy of our worlds, depends on our being different in some way…These differences aggregate into a collective ability that exceeds what we possess individually.” This was the magic of our little group, especially diverse intergenerationally, and the plans we made and the impact we had as a group each day, benefitted from the unique qualities and input of each person.
And just like in the reading from Revelation which foreshadows the letters that would be crafted to the angels of seven symbolic churches, we were hosted by seven churches, four of them UCC, two of them Methodist and one, Presbyterian. And it was clearly angels who greeted us at each stop.
Symbols are a way we can hold the immensity or surplus of meaning and find a handle or a piton to help us navigate. The symbolism in Revelation of numbers and spirits and churches and thrones came from a dreamlike experience of John on the island of Patmos and perhaps even he was only guessing at what it all really meant.
I think it was like that for Jesus’ followers as they tried to make sense of what had happened to them. Their beloved leader had been killed and they huddled together in fear in a locked house. The text from John says Jesus appeared among them and offered them peace, then breathed on them, gave them the Holy Spirit, and reminded them of their power to either release or hold on to offenses.
The verse says “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” The Greek words are aphiemi, to send away offenses and krateo, to hold fast to offenses. They were being reminded of their power to liberate.
Sharing breath, presence, inspiration, peace, spirit, and this cryptic lesson on liberation, they were fortified for their journey of what would come next. But the one who wasn’t present had a hard time believing. Thomas didn’t get it until he had had his own experience. And not just of seeing. He wanted tangible, hands-on evidence of the risen Christ and soon enough he had it.
Our journey to Salem for the climate was symbolic in many ways: we journeyed during holy week; we reflected each day on the holy week readings; we participated in a variety of Christian practices of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday; we modeled our walk after a Latin American Caminata; we walked to bring attention to an issue. Our journey was also deeply experiential: step by step, rainy day after rainy day, we entered into warm welcoming communities and had a hands-on glimpse of the world we are working for.
Here is what our organizing host, Joyce, in Cottage Grove wrote to us: “I hope the remainder of your walk went well. I thought of you and your group often and wondered where you were and how you were. Having the walkers/bikers in Cottage Grove was so heartwarming – to see and experience the dedication of the group, listen to your stories and feel like we’ve known you all forever…I thank you for including us in your walk for climate change. It was our privilege to have you join with us as we journeyed to Easter together.” And Robin in Corvallis wrote: “Such a joy to greet and spend time with all of you beautiful, inspiring people. Such a shame the Governor was too busy to share this experience or to hear your message of hope for a healthy climate.”
We don’t know exactly what it all meant, our walking and biking, being on the radio and in the paper, or who paid any attention at all. Although the governor did not arrange her schedule to meet with us, we did deliver several petitions to her office that we had gathered from the communities we visited.
But it was deeply moving to journey together, caring for and adjusting to the needs of each other, speaking out together, expressing ourselves through words and actions and the arts, purposing to make changes in our own lives, engaging deeply with the earth through the practice of walking and experiencing the elements, and receiving the hospitality of strangers.
And it was a miracle that there were these communities of people waiting to encircle us and share breath, presence, inspiration, peace, and spirit. It is a beautiful thing that churches still offer that kind of welcome and organizing potential for the issues of justice that we are called to address as we work to liberate our world from the oppressions of racism, sexism, imperialism, capitalism, and environmental degradation. .
There were no churches available to welcome us in Shady Cove or Myrtle Creek, but we were nourished and accompanied by Deb, Eliza, Joan and Trish in Shady Cove, and by Barbara and Gilbert and Randy in Milo along the Tiller Trail Highway.
I will finish today with letters to the seven churches who welcomed us:
To the angels of the church in Salem: You walked and biked with us through the capitol city carrying signs and sharing stories and stopping on the capitol steps with us to sing and shout together: “Berta didn’t die she multiplied.” You led us in Taize style worship where each of us kneeled to light a candle and explore “the space carved by loss” on Holy Saturday, “holding death and life in tension with each other, to experience that liminal place.” You shared music and joy with us to celebrate the pipeline permit denial and the state’s determination to stop burning coal. You brought together activists and organizers and artists into the church basement to find together the sustenance to continue the journey. You brought us food, took us to loving homes to shower and sleep, and blew bubbles with us on Easter morning—reminding us to use our breath to create lightness and joy rather than to blow out the light of Christ wherever we see it coming back to life. And after all the Easter excitement you welcomed our young people in helping to pack the lunches you give out to hungry people three days a week. And you joined us again on the capitol steps and in the rotunda to hear Jamel sing and see Miyk dance—learning about the arts in activism.
To the angels of the church in Corvallis: You walked with us too, and introduced us to the people who stand for peace in front of the courthouse every day for an hour since the bombing of Afghanistan began on October 17, 2001. You brought meals for us: all vegan, low carbon impact foods, with lots of tasty vegetables and local sustainable ingredients. You talked with our young people and quoted them in the local paper. You shared a good Friday service of Gregorian Chant, and invited us to leave our burdens behind symbolized by small rocks we left at the foot of the cross. All this while you were hosting a women’s overnight shelter and preparing for Easter. Practicing bagpipes and horns greeted us early on Saturday morning. Here John from Dufer joined us in our walk as well as Linda from Corvallis who walked across the entire country 30 years ago for nuclear disarmament. That took nine and a half months. She still dedicates her life to ending the nuclear danger and is sad that we continue to launch new nuclear industries and weapons even now.
To the angels of the church in Eugene: You walked with us through the threatening rain, found us vegetables and an extra bike, circled with us in the chapel to sing and hear our stories, You washed our feet and welcomed us into your community meal. You shared with us Maundy Thursday readings, music, and communion with hundreds of congregants. Then you snuggled us into loving homes for snacks and showers and new friendships and stories of others walking around the world for climate awareness.
To the angels of the church in Cottage Grove: You sent walkers and reporters and community radio journalists to join our walk into town through light rain. You networked with the local sustainability people who practice low impact living through rain catchment and solar power and tight insulation. You fed us well, added your artistry to our mural. and created with us a large circle of sharing and learning together. You joined us in prayers and songs and hope and delight for a livable future. You took us to welcoming homes for rest and relationship. Your local restaurants contributed to our breakfast at the “Healing Matrix” community gathering place as you launched us again on our way.
To the angels of the church in Roseburg: You met us at the courthouse steps for a vigil to honor the struggle for a fossil free future and celebrate small steps forward with the permit denial. You skipped your bible study to share a meal and a time of sharing with us. You fixed us an amazing breakfast while you were busy in the kitchen preparing lunches for meals on wheels clients, waited patiently while we herded all the cats for another morning of walking and led us through Roseburg’s beautiful parks. We stopped at your Umpqua Community College to honor and remember those killed there just 6 months before in a mass shooting and prayed for the love and patience to care for each young person as they develop and grow and learn to be resilient, prepared for creating lives in safe and nurturing communities free from threats of violence.
To the angels of the church in Medford: You introduced the paradigm of journeying down into the earth, connecting to the sacred feminine, calling it good that we would experience the dirt and the water and the air in our walking.You waved palms saying Hosanna, reminding us that word is about saving and reminding us we were walking to help save the earth and protect our future. You sent us off into the pouring rain with Diane and Alma Rosa and a blessing that said: Holy One, Creator and Redeemer of all that lives on this little planet…anoint them to practice in this holy week the intersection of spiritual discipline and prophetic witness. You sent us with lunch food that sustained us for 2 days.
To the angels of the church in Ashland: You greeted us as we completed our non-violence training and fed and encouraged us as the clouds began to gather. You drummed and sang with us and named your commitments to future generations that we would carry with us, walking on your behalf. You shared with us a litany straight from Padre Melo in Honduras saying: “We bless you, oh God of Life, for walking with your people…for freeing us from blind conformity and apathy that the rich and powerful would have us follow. They want us to keep quiet, to conform to the calamities. But you save us with your word, and your spirit fills us with strength to grow in struggle for freedom.” We also received a sung blessing from Rabbi David Zaslow while you touched us tenderly with your hands on our shoulders and arms, and we received a blessing of energy bars and water from our friends at Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church. We drummed and sang again: “We will walk with God my brothers and sisters” and we did. You held us throughout the week as we walked and biked, checking for photos and news of our journey. And now we are welcomed home where we wait together to see where our next journey will take us.