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Center for Action and Contemplation

What Is Our Task? Care and Hope.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

For theologian Sallie McFague (1933–2019), facing the truth of the world’s crises is the first step toward loving action and change.

Surely, the most difficult task facing us as we finally acknowledge our responsibility for planetary health is summed up in one small word: hope. Is it possible to have any? The more we learn of climate change—the apocalyptic future that awaits us unless we make deep, speedy changes in our use of fossil fuels—the more despairing we become…. It appears that we human beings do not have the will to live differently—justly and sustainably—to the degree necessary to save ourselves and our planet. The single most difficult obstacle to overcome is, then, our own lack of hope. The issue cannot be brushed aside. It is important to face the facts….

It will not be a world simply of less water, more heat, and fewer species of plants and animals; rather, it will be one of violent class wars over resources, the breakdown of civilization at all levels, and the end of certain facets of ordinary life that we have come to expect…. 

We must allow our imaginations to begin to live within the world that responsible science is telling us will be our fate unless drastic changes are made soon. We must do this so that we can acknowledge where our hope really resides—not with us, but in the power of love and renewal that lives within the universe, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God [and our cooperation with the Spirit].

McFague describes a faith-filled hope that grounds our engagement with a world on fire:

As we consider the basis for our hope, let us recall who God is. We must and can change our ways, live justly and sustainably on our planet, because of God, not because of ourselves. The hope we have lies in the radical transcendence of God…. God’s transcendence—God’s power of creative, redeeming, and sustaining love—is closer to us than we are to ourselves. God is the milieu, the source, of power and love in which our world, our fragile, deteriorating world, exists. The world is not left to fend for itself, nor is God “in addition” to anything, everything. Rather, God is the life, love, truth, goodness, and beauty that empower the universe and shine out from it….

Thus, “mysticism” is simply this awareness of God’s presence in and through and with everything for its well-being…. Curiously, this faith, not in ourselves, but in God, can free us to live lives of radical change. Perhaps it is the only thing that can. We do not rely on such hope as a way to escape personal responsibility—“Let God do it”—but rather this hope frees us from the pressure of outcomes so that we can add our best efforts to the task at hand.

Sallie McFague, A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), 168, 169, 171.

Image credit: Evgeniy Alyoshin, Firefighters putting out a fire (detail), Ukraine, 2022, photograph, public domain. Click here to enlarge image.

What does it look like to engage with the catastrophic fires that sweep through our world without becoming frenzied or frozen?

Story from Our Community:  

The idea of knowledge “on ice” or “on fire” is a wonderful metaphor for my own journey of metanoia, my spiritual change of heart. For many years, I lived with disabling fatigue and was rarely able to leave the house. Sixteen years ago, against all common sense, I went on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I went with blind trust, but still 99% “on ice.” There, I had my own personal Epiphany, and came home “on fire.” Since then, the messages of Medjugorje, Fr Richard’s writings, and my own exploration of the Enneagram have all helped to keep the fire burning. I am profoundly grateful to be living in this time of unveiling. I hope the fire never goes out. —Ann S.

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