by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM September 22, 2019
Today I’m mourning the slow dying of some dear friends. Many years ago, I spent time in the Canadian Rockies and visited the Athabasca Glacier, part of the Columbia Icefield. At that time, the glacier covered over two miles and at its thickest measured 980 feet deep.
Unaware of that comforting statistic, I wanted reassurance of the solidness of the ice before I put a hesitant toe on it. When I finally did venture onto the glacier, I was struck dumb. It was as if I had suddenly been plugged in to an ancient story. Centuries of ice formation, the patient growing of crystal beauty, the journey of flow and retreat: all this was under my feet and I was shaken by a deep, familiar knowing of my place in the universe. I have been in love with my glacial friends ever since that profound experience and have followed the news of their relatives worldwide.
So imagine my distress when I learned of the death of the Okjökull glacier in Iceland this summer. “Ok”, as it is now known, was Iceland’s first glacier to disappear, falling victim to warming summers over the past two decades. To commemorate this significant loss and to underscore the imminent possibility of further glacial deaths, geologists, activists, and politicians hiked up to the area that Ok had once occupied and held a solemn funeral service. Children installed a memorial plaque to the glacier that reads:
“Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as glacier. In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and know what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”
Only we and future generations will know if we listened to the cry of our Earth and stepped up to preserve her. Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, makes a case for protecting all of our kin, including the great aquifers and glaciers. (38) We can no longer believe ourselves separate from and indifferent to the future of these dense bodies of glacial ice as well as the majestic mountain peaks, mysterious whales, and Amazon rainforests that are the lungs of our planet.
I’m reminded in this past week’s global Climate Strike of the central role of children and youth in returning us to right relationship with the family of creation. In mourning the death of Ok, children placed a plaque on her now invisible footprint. In the recent Climate Strike, students left their classes and swelled the streets of cities and towns worldwide to give voice to our Mother’s pain. I suspect young people, more recently birthed from the heart of God, might carry a fresher remembrance of all that’s cherished in that holy Heart. I suspect they intuitively know, without ever having stood on the Athabasca Glacier, that when you befriend someone, when you place yourself squarely in relationship to them, you must then give your life over to loving, praying, and acting on the beloved’s behalf.
May the mystics, the lovers of creation, the children and youth of our world continue to call us to live in the right relationship lifted up in Marilou Awiatka’s poem, “When Earth Becomes an ‘It’”:
When the people call Earth “Mother,”
they take with love
and with love give back
so that all may live.
When the people call Earth “it,”
they use her
consume her strength.
Then the people die.
Already the sun is hot
out of season.
Our Mother’s breast
is going dry.
She is taking all green
into her heart
and will not turn back
until we call her
by her name.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Hold in tenderness and prayer our Earth, our Mother.
Tell her what you cherish most about our Common Home.
Commit yourself to caretaking, and give thanks.
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