Chasing the Wind: A Moment for Immodest Hope
David R. Weiss – September 28, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #42 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com
Our hopes were so modest. They shouldn’t have been. We don’t have time for modest hope any more. But it wasn’t until I saw the brightly colored streamers chasing the wind in the afternoon breeze that I realized something special was in the air.
Last winter Tracy (co-conspirator with me in climate work at our church) and I began asking how we might bring more folks at our church into active conversation around climate issues. We set our sights on two modest ideas. Host a round of informal conversations around Transition Movement ideas and then aim to do a book study on a climate-related theme over the summer.
In May seven of us met for three hour-long sessions reading, reflecting, and discussing ideas central to the Transition Town Movement. We used a “reflection circle” group process to shape conversation to include everyone and guide us to the depths of our reactions. This process intentionally paces and restrains initial sharing. We went around the circle twice. The first time each person simply shared a single idea or sentence—in their own words or directly from the reading. Nothing more. The second time each person could add 2-3 sentences to their own initial sharing or to someone else’s opening comment. Again, only these few sentences, around the whole circle, with no “cross-talk” out of turn.
The wisdom in this process is that it creates space for quieter voices, softens the enthusiasm of louder voices, prioritizes listening over speaking, and invites the most compelling ideas forward at the start. After these rounds of slow, paced sharing we opened up for broader conversation, now in random order, but still attending to all voices in the room. The conversations were always rich, at times piercingly so. When these three sessions ended we turned attention to the summer book group.
Several from our initial group joined the book study as well; others stepped back due to schedule conflicts; and a few fresh faces stepped forward. There were again seven of us as we set out into Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. Although originally slotted for four 55-minute sessions, Tracy and I felt we needed more and longer sessions. On our first evening we proposed six 75-minute sessions as a way to honor the depth of the book, the weight of the topic, and provide time for fuller conversation. Our group unanimously agreed; they were hungry for hope. A good first sign.
Active Hope is grounded in Joanna Macy’s teaching, “The Work That Reconnects,” developed over her decades of spirit-rooted activism. (Macy grew up Christian and later became Buddhist. Her work hearkens to a Moreness to Reality, a Generous Energy upholding life itself.) Focused on reconnecting ourselves to the web of life, Macy and Johnstone explore how reconnecting to ourselves, one another, our sibling creatures, and a near mystical sense of life itself (and doing so across time and space) joins us to an energy that can steady us in tumult and even empower us to live with active hope. They name four “movements” to The Work That Reconnects. We begin by coming from gratitude, then move on to honoring our pain for the world’s pain, seeing with new eyes, and finally to going forth. Each movement has a peculiar wisdom and gift. Altogether they form a dynamo that generates active hope.
That brief description falls far short of the power of the book—especially when read and processed in community. Which is what we did. Over the course of July and August we made our way through the book—using a modified reflection circle process to guide our conversation. We also utilized many of the exercises offered within the book, which Tracy and I often adapted to our specific context.
Thinking back to our first evening, I doubt any of us fully anticipated the journey ahead. Hungry for hope, yes. But our expectations were so modest, if only because we didn’t know each other or the material well enough to set them any higher. Already our second session brought palpable anguish into the room—voices broke and eyes teared—as we honored the pain in our souls over the present and future suffering wrought by climate chaos. We hadn’t expected to dive so deep into vulnerability … authenticity … communal anguish. But we did. And the promise of Active Hope held true: the power to move forward comes not by avoiding such anguish, but by embracing it honestly and with others.
By mid-August, as we neared the end of our study, we began to ask, What’s next? This question is one aspect of attentive listening in the going forth movement: you listen to the world to ask where your rising energy might be called. It was also an expression of our sincere wish to see the active hope growing within our group find an ongoing purpose that might keep us moving forward together. Still using our reflective circle process, we considered many ideas about how our group’s energy might move outward into our congregation and beyond. We dreamed some big dreams—some of which might indeed come to pass months or even years into the future. But we also entertained one smaller whimsy that seemed ready—ripe—for our investment.
When I suggested that we might use our spiritual heritage to offer some form of worship service in solidarity with and as a complement to the Global Youth Climate Strike coming up the following month it sparked interest throughout our group. More than this, it called forth the multitude of our gifts. Thus, upon ending our book study on August 21, in just one month we pooled imaginations, ideas, energy, and skills to craft an entire service: A Sacred Circle for Our Climate.
There are a lot of moving parts to a liturgy—especially when you’re creating it from scratch. From imagining the chairs arranged in a circle on the lawn, to symbols for the four elements, to publicity, liturgical actions, music, songs, hospitality, and more. We were a whirlwind of ideas, bouncing off each other and racing off in different directions. Watching the flurry of email activity and the energy in our few meetings, I knew our Sacred Circle had real potential. But our timeframe was so short we never put all the pieces together until the Friday evening of the Sacred Circle itself.
So it wasn’t until then that I sensed what might be. The bulletins were printed. Locally grown apples (freshly washed) and locally baked bread (festively laid out in baskets) were set up for hospitality afterwards. Musicians would be warming up soon, and the sound system was on the way. Outside, the chairs were set in a circle, the altar built of nature pieces at the center, and the colorful streamers representing the four elements—blues (water), green-brown (earth), silver-purple (air), and orange-yellow (fire)—chasing the wind in the afternoon’s sunlit breeze. We’d read about emergent energy in Active Hope—disparate swirls of intention crisscrossing and building up to more than merely the sum of their parts. Here on the lawn, this was emergent energy in action. And about to burst.
The service went exceptionally well. Most everything happened when and how it was supposed to. But much more than that, every aspect of the evening came together to create a circle that was sacred not simply in name but in presence, such that active hope moved through our liturgy and through those present: gratitude, grief, new vision, and fierce resolve.
We began last May, and again in June, and again in August with such modest hope. But we are in a moment in which immodest hope is needed. And now, having found it chasing the wind on a Friday afternoon, I daresay our hopes will reach further from now on. They have to.
PS: I’ve set up a Patreon site to help fund my work in this area. I hope you’ll invest in my thinking and writing. You can learn more about how to support me here: www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith
* * *
The Gospel in Transition by David R. Weiss is a year of reflections on facing our climate crisis, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly essays consider climate change, Transition, and faith—using biblical images, liturgical seasons, science, and theology, as conversation partners. Writing in a voice a bit too restless to call “devotional,” I aim to be insightfully evocative and usefully provocative. I’d be delighted to have you join me on this journey. In fact, I hope you’ll subscribe (go to the top right sidebar!) Thanks for reading and see you next week! Contact me at: drw59mn(at)gmail.com.
 Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2012). While the book offers many insights simply by reading it, its full power is best felt by using it within a group.
 A shareable version of our service is here: www.davidrweiss.com/2019/09/18/sacred-circle-resource/