Saturday, 25 May 2019

What a Wonderful World

Our Small Worx group at the quilt guild issues a challenge about 4-5 times a year. We are given a theme on which to create a small art piece. This month’s theme was, “What does Climate Change mean to you?”

“Oh look,” says one woman, holding up an imaginary piece of art work. “I’ve already done mine. I don’t believe in climate change – we’re just going through a normal cyclical change. So here’s my piece: nothing.” Okay then!

There are people on one side of the fence, and there are people on the other. NASA reports that 97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. I’m on their side. (See  But facts, figures and arguments will not change the minds of someone who has their mind made up. This is not an argument I want to get into. Instead, I’d rather build bridges.

This quilter also admitted that the earth is suffering and we need to reduce our carbon footprint. Here we stand on common ground and I’m thinking that 100% of the world’s population would agree. Polluted oceans, smoggy air, pesticides in our food, increasingly devastating storms, flooding and drought, extinction of species ... and that’s just the tip of the rapidly melting icebergs. A few quilters did lovely pieces focused on species at risk. Anne's piece contrasted Louis Armstrong's evocative classic "What a wonderful world!" alongside Pete Seeger's ballad "Where have all the flowers gone?"

So what does climate change mean to me? Mostly, I feel sad about the state of the earth, our home. And sadness can lead to fatalism, a feeling of despair because there seems so little I can do. Is it too late to fix the earth? And is that the message I want to portray? How can I cultivate hope – not airy-fairy hope, pie-in-the-sky hope, but hope that energizes me?

I pulled out a few unfinished pieces I worked on last year. I did them as I was reading Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. I was trying to portray in pictures what I was learning about our journey from despair to hope.

The first piece is our starting place. My alter-ego, the crow, rests in beauty.

The created world is beautiful and it is holy ground. In the Biblical narrative, God ends each period of creation with the words, “It is good.” Skies and seas, mountains and plains, towering giraffes and tiny ants, sun and moon, trees, fish birds: amazing! And we are too, all of us, living together in a web of life, dependent on each other, whirling about in an ever-expanding universe. There is so much to be grateful for, so much to appreciate. It’s important to get in touch with this beautiful world, to nurture our feelings of connection.

But reality tells us that we’ve messed up the beautiful world. And that’s the message of the second piece. The crow is in distress as she beholds a broken world being consumed by flames.

We must face the grief we feel for the suffering, broken earth and all its creatures. We must get real and understand that in an industrialized society such as ours, we have lost our sense of the sacred, of our connection to the earth and its Creator, and to each other.

Fortunately, we are not alone. That’s the message of the third piece. There is no large crow in this piece; it is one bird amongst many.

Look around, and change your perspective. All is not hopeless. There are millions of people  and hundreds of thousands of organizations working to restore what’s been broken. We can do little on our own, but in community with others, we find hope.

The last step in this process is to find our own work that reconnects us to the world and to others, so that we can be an agent of healing. Some are called to pick up litter on their daily walks. Some may get involved in politics, or write letters, or do research. There are streamkeepers and peacemakers, wilderness guides and storytellers, all of whom remind us that the earth and all that dwells thereon is a sacred trust, to be treated with the utmost care and love. We need to join in this great work, and do what we are called to do to restore it to its original beauty.

As I was finishing this piece, the doorbell rang. There stood two little girls. Earnestly they told me that their school has been paired with one in Uganda and they are raising money for it. Last year, they bought windows. Now they want to buy solar panels. They were excited about the possibilities, and so was I. This school, and these girls, are engaging in work that fosters connections, and that gives me hope for the future. Perhaps that’s naive...but I choose to join them.

My latest works feature nature themes, and I tried to make them as beautiful as I could. More and more, I am drawn to the work of reminding others that this earth is a sacred place; I do this through my art and writing, in my church work with children, and in everyday conversations with neighbours and friends. In so doing, I feel as though I am facing the mess we’re in without going crazy. It gives me hope.

And that's how I answered the question, "How do you feel about climate change?"

I call this piece "New Growth from Old". It tells the story of how old decaying wood creates a wonderful home for new saplings. It all works together to continue the cycle of life.