A Poem for your Friday

“The Heaven of Animals” by James L. Dickey

Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.

Address to the People’s Climate March

I devoted some time these past six weeks to helping organise a people’s climate march in Edinburgh. Given our research focus on how Christians and faith communities mobilise for action around climate change and other related ecological issues, this probably doesn’t come as a surprise. What did surprise many people, myself included, was the extent of the march (pictures here) that occurred last Sunday (21 Sep 2014). We had hoped for 200-300 and by most estimates, we had nearly 3000 people marching through the streets of Edinburgh committing themselves to action and calling on our nation’s leaders here in Scotland to address climate change in substantial ways. I gave a short speech to those gathered before we set off to march, and I offer the text of my speech here.


It’s great to see so many of you here! I’m really excited to see such a huge crowd here today – and our march and gathering here is a big part of an even bigger gathering that is going on today across the world. People’s Climate Marches are happening in over 1500 cities today, with over 2 million people marching. The UN meets this week for a global summit on climate change. This is the first of three summits, and we’re going to be marching in Edinburgh and across the world at all of them. We are here today because we all know that we have a problem. The consequences of climate change are now impossible to ignore, as human activity has pushed the atmospheric concentration of CO2 way past the danger zone of 350 parts per million. Atmosphere may be invisible, but climate change is not. Boats are sailing through the arctic in the summer now, and our weather has become chaotic and dangerous, as so many people in Britain experienced with flooding last year, and that was just a preview – island nations which have been subjected to a relentless barrage of superstorms – have begged the rest of the world to join them in taking action to avoid catastrophic climate change. Though we often talk about the big problems surrounding climate change, it isn’t just about big things, though the loss of public health and safety is a key concern. As our climate changes we grieve the loss of familiar and small things as well; birds, butterflies and frogs are disappearing at an alarming rate. My son Noah loves frogs, and as I see the world through his eyes with wonderment each day, I think, we have to stop this madness. We have to address climate change for his future. You see, I’m here today, not because of fear, but because of love. That great commandment to love your neighbour as yourself compels me to stop climate change for Noah’s future, for all the people who live in vulnerable areas, for the beautiful creatures and landscapes which are a gift entrusted to all of us. I’m here today because of love. So why haven’t we solved climate change? It isn’t invisble, and as Aaron will share with you in a few moments, we’ve known about it for decades. Our civilization has accomplished many astonishing things: we’ve eradicated polio and written the magna carta. But there are lobbyists who are working hard on behalf of fossil fuel companies to obstruct change because they stand to lose a lot of money. So even though our best scientists have helped heighten our awareness of climate change and our most skilled diplomats and policy makers are about to meet in the UN, this march, and all the other marches across the world are absolutely crucial. This march today demonstrates the strengthening of a movement, here in Edinburgh and across the world as we all join in marching to show our concern and solidarity on this issue. This movement is one which will provide us with a new opportunity to show our best side: to show our innovation on clean energy, to reclaim the beauty and joy of living simply, to remember the fun that comes when a whole city comes together. That is what we are starting here today, and this isn’t the end – we’re going to have a bigger march in nine months in December before the UN Climate Change conference in Lima, and even bigger again before the conference in Paris in 2015. We are all here today because we know that we are the solution to the problem of climate change. Marching today is just the start, as we will go home to organise and mobilise: join a group, start a group, speak to our neighbours, write letters, start a book club, write to and visit our MP’s, etc etc etc. Our standing here together shows our commitment to building a new society and it is a privilege for me to stand here with you today as we march through the centre of our Nation’s capitol.

When a surprising turn occurs

“It is pertinent to see that in a world of becoming this or that force-field can go through a long period of relative equilibrium, or even gradual progression as defined by standards extrapolated from that equilibrium. Much of social thought and political theory takes such periods as the base from which to define time and progress themselves, making the practitioners all the more disoriented when a surprising turn occurs, that is, when a period of intense disequilibrium issues in a new plateau that scrambles the old sense of progress and regress in this or that way. There may be long chrono-periods of relative stabilization in several zones that matter to human participants, but during a time of accelerated disequilibrium the ethico-politics of judgment through extrapolation from the recent past to the medium or distant future becomes rattled or breaks down. It is now time to modify old extrapolations of possibility and desirability. During such periods Kantian and neoKantian ideas of the universal are retrospectively shown to have been filled with more material from a historically specific mode of common sense than their carriers had imagined. The Augustinian-Kantian sense that human beings are unique agents in the world, while the rest of the world must be comprehended through non-agentic patterns of causality, may turn out to be one of them. To the extent this idea takes hold, established notions of the human science and morality become ripe candidates for reconstitution.”

WE Connolly, A World of Becoming (Duke UP, 2010), 150.

Fr Schmemann on Dying

This morning during Matins I had a “jolt of happiness,” of fullness of life, and at the same time the thought: I will have to die! But in such a fleeting breath of happiness, time usually “gathers” itself. In an instant, not only are all such breaths of happiness remembered but they are present and alive— that Holy Saturday in Paris when I was a young man—and many such “breaks.” It seems to me that eternity might be not the stopping of time, but precisely its resurrection and gathering. The fragmentation of time, its division, is the fall of eternity. Maybe the words of Christ are about time when He said: “… not to destroy anything but will raise it all on the last day.” The thirst for solitude, peace, freedom, is thirst for the liberation of time from cumbersome dead bodies, from hustle; thirst for the transformation of time into what it should be—the receptacle, the chalice of eternity. Liturgy is the conversion of time, its filling with eternity. There are two irreconcilable types of spirituality: one that strives to liberate man from time (Buddhism, Hinduism, Nirvana, etc.); the other that strives to liberate time. In genuine eternity, all is alive. The limit and the fullness: the whole of time, the whole of life is in each moment. But there is also the perpetual problem: What about the evil moments? Evil time? The terrible fear before dying of the drowning man, of the man falling from the tenth floor about to be crushed on the pavement? What about the tears of an abused child?

From The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann 1973—1983, p. 78. Cited in Gallaher, Chalice of eternity: an Orthodox theology of time, St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 57:1, 5-35 (2013).