This weekend I participated in my first protest. Spurred on by the recent controversy over Exxon Mobil’s “sustained deception campaign” aiming to conceal the truth about climate change, 350 Vermont organized a mass action on the State House lawn in Montpelier. More than a hundred people gathered together to march through the downtown streets in protest of the fossil fuel industry. There were signs, chants, a very diversified marching percussion band, and a whole lot of spirit and soul. My friend and I were right up front with “Clean Water” signs, and followed along in the chants of, “clean water, fresh air, no new fracking anywhere” and “whose side are you, whose side are you on?”
The energy was palpable, and the protest was definitely very “Vermont”. A police car led the way, there were meditation cushions and blankets set aside for those who wished to protest quietly, and a cider press and chili waiting for everyone back at the wooden “frack tower”. It was very civil, and the sense of community was evident.
In thinking about the reasons why I was drawn to this event, I realized how important systems thinking is in bridging gaps. The majority of my attention, studies, and work is focused on food and agriculture, and my knowledge about fracking and fossil fuels comes from basic geological studies in undergrad, and from major events in the news. Though I didn’t know the exact details about the pipeline proposal that would run from Canada through Vermont (other than it would be transporting frack gas), I still felt like I had every right to chant and march along with those directly impacted by fracking fields, fossil fuel extraction, corporate abuse of power, and the like. Any why do I feel I have this right? Because we all do. We are all impacted.
These are issues that touch all of our lives, no matter our occupation, faith, experience, or knowledge. Energy is part of the system. Food is part of the system. Community action is part of the system. We are a part of the system – the way we eat, travel, work, study, and live impacts each other and our shared global ecosystem. And thinking in this way, can lead to not only more comprehensive action bringing a diversified group to the table and letting as many voices be heard, but also enables those voices who think they are unrelated or distant from the cause to feel included. Openness, inclusion, acceptance, action, and support. Participatory justice. Now, that’s a working system.
“We should treat our minds, that is, ourselves, as innocent and ingenuous children, whose guardians we are, and be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust on their attention. Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.. Knowledge does not come to us by details, but in flashes of light from heaven.” – Thoreau
After the march, we gathered around the wooden “frack tower” as an eulogy was shared of a woman who lived a life inspired and led by the fight for justice and the right to civil disobedience. While listening to the elders share beautiful testimonies to her life and to the causes of our days, I felt the air thin. This space we had carved out for ourselves in the middle of the street, obstructing traffic but supporting justice, had become sacred. It was a space to freely express, share, laugh, cry, and hope for a better tomorrow. While thinking about all these things, I turned my head towards the sun.
As I looked back down, I saw in front of me some beautiful dread-locked hair and the profile of a kind and familiar face. I called out her name, and tears began to form in my eyes as she turned around and I was met with my old roommate from a high school I had left years ago. Our embrace said all that needed to be said, and we smiled and held hands briefly before returning to the sacred spaces of life that we had carved out for ourselves.
“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2
I am (often) guilty of questioning my purpose and path in life, but moments of happenstance, powerful fellowship, and a lasting feeling of the spirit demonstrate that His purpose reigns true and supreme. We can only hope for precious glimpses and signs of where our paths will lead, while faithfully following all along the way.
This past weekend I went on retreat with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (WRJ), my new church home here in Vermont. We spent the day at Ohana Camp on Lake Fairlee. The setting could not have been more beautiful – 70 degrees and sunny, a clear view of the glistening lake, autumn leaves turning all shades of fire and fall, spacious wooden cabins, and a bounty of wildflower arrangements leftover from a wedding the day before. The aim of the retreat was to gather together to share ideas, desires, and possibilities for the year going forward, all under the theme “Imagine!”
God can do anything you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. Ephesians 3:20
What was shared were open and honest desires for connection, engagement, service, and a deepening of the faith individually, as well as collectively. I suspect these are things many of us, of all different beliefs, wish for. These were wishes for more group service trips, formation and collective studies, and ways to share and learn from one another. Ecological, social, and communal concerns were also shared, giving hints of the powerful actions and meaningful work waiting to begin. One of the most powerful parts of the day for me, was the reading of Seed by Judy Sorum Brown, especially these verses –
And certainties at once,
Genetic maps of trees,
Small promissory notes of
That’s yet to come
Size and shape
Still bearing no resemblance
To the vast and branching tree
They later will become.
The poem goes on to analogize our own visions and dreams to the seed, full of promise and a potential already laid out that we will never know until it comes to fruition. Thoughts that were shared were, “a seed is beautiful, but it must rot and become ugly before fully forming”; “the seed came from a mature plant, so there is a new beginning formed from a mature foundation”; “the production of the seed hinges on the way in which it is cared for, nourished, and supported”; “there are a diversity of seeds, and though we may sow many, not all will germinate”. These powerful reflections reiterated how deeply the human existence is intertwined with creation. Our lives, visions, and desires must be cared for with great attention and love. At the same time, we must leave room for faith, for nature to run its course.
I shared some visions and ideas that I had for the community, drawing on my experience with the Sisters of St. Mary’s Convent, All Saints’ Chapel in Sewanee, and Christ Church in Raleigh, but I left with a deeper individual longing for understanding. The spaces we create in order to share these ideas and learn from one another, I think, make us acutely aware that we are at once alone but also together. We alone know the totality of our conscious experiences, but we cannot know what will happen when they converge with the experiences of others. It is this mystery that brings back visions of the seed, who not knowing its destined path, follows through nature’s course of interactions and relationships, to create something beautiful. Much like we did that Sunday on Lake Fairlee.