A Frightening Child & Prayer to Save the Environment

Readings for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time:  EX 17: 8-13; PS 121: 1-8; 2 TM 3: 14-4:2; HEB 4: 12; LK 18: 1-8

Were you inspired by Greta Thunberg? I couldn’t get over her courage.

Imagine: a child of 16 years suddenly thrust beneath the blinding spotlight of the world’s stage – speaking confidently with a pope and with heads of state, addressing huge crowds and the United Nations itself. All of that would frighten me. How about you?

And she called them all to task. “How dare you!” she repeated again and again to the world’s movers and shakers whose programs for addressing climate change fell far short of the goals set by climate scientists. “Don’t listen to me,” she repeated; “listen to the scientists.” In other words, align yourselves with what Mother Nature, Life Itself, and the Universe are telling us.

And, of course, you saw the effects of her audacity. Millions were mobilized across the planet.

What started as a one-girl protest before the Swedish parliament swiftly became a thing.

Youngsters everywhere, including my own grandchildren, walked out of class and imitated Greta’s defiance. My five-year-old grandson challenged us all for driving a Volvo van whose gas engine, he said, is destroying the environment. “We should be driving an electric car instead” he objected. A five-year-old!

As someone pointed out, it’s a “Children’s Crusade” against capitalism’s worship of Moloch.

And what fear it inspired in the powerful! This wisp of a girl exercising the super-powers of concentration and focus conferred by an Asperger’s condition that would have others hiding under a rock, suddenly had the movers and shakers shaking with fear. Some ganged up on her, attacked her parents, and even belittled the teenager as mentally deficient. Their cowardly desperation showed that they were more afraid of her than she of them.

All of that is relevant to today’s liturgy of the word. It’s about prayer understood as Greta- Thunberg-like alignment with Life’s processes. Regardless of what we might call it, such re-orientation can change the world and cause powerful enemies of justice to tremble even before those they see as the weakest among us.

More specifically, today’s readings trace biblical understandings of prayer from a voodoo-like practice intent on harming one’s enemies to the alignment with Life’s purposes just described. Here’s the way they run according to my own “translation.” Judge for yourself to see if I’ve got them right. You can read the originals here

 Long ago
When Israel’s primitive faith
Still pictured God
As a Man O’ War,
They magically imagined
A Yahweh persuaded
To slaughter their enemies
By Moses’ adoption
Of Wiccan postures,
Magic rocks
And feats of
Super-human endurance.
 
PS 121: 1-8
 
They were right,
Of course,
To intuit
That the Creator
Is eternally helpful
In protecting
The lives
And chosen paths
Of his creatures
Providing sunlight by day
And moonlight by night.
Divine power
Is always disposed
To help
The oppressed.
 
2 TM 3: 14-4:2
 
However, the mystic Paul
Had already
Ventured far beyond
His forebears’ voodoo.
Though he recognized
Israel’s written tradition
As inspired,
He also
Identified Jesus
As its ultimate interpreter.
For the Master,
Life’s Author
Was no Man O’ War
But a loving, patient, encouraging
Father.
 
HEB 4: 12
 
Deep in our hearts
We already knew
This to be true.
Thank you!
 
LK 18: 1-8
 
The comic Jesus
Even joked about
Those who thought
Of God as a cruel judge
Susceptible
To tiresome entreaties
And cowering before
Poor widows who
Might cuff him
About the ears
If he didn’t
Answer their petitions.
Better, he said
To “pray always”
In a quiet way
That matches
God’s unwavering disposal
To secure justice
For the oppressed.
No Man O’ War
No exhausting prayers
No Mosaic sorcerer
Here!

There are salutary lessons in those readings.

According to their vision, prayer does not mean persuading some Man in The Sky to change his mind to match our capricious whims. Instead, it’s the process of aligning our minds with the Universal Love that underpins all of reality and that in practice expresses itself in justice for widows, orphans, and immigrants – the traditional biblical protegees of God’s concern. Prayer is a habit of mind that doesn’t call for words or supplications, but for awareness of the places in life where love-as-justice is breaking in.

That love remains nearly invisible because of human attempts to obscure it with tropes about rugged individualism, survival of the fittest, dog-eat-dog reality, and “nature red in tooth and claw.” Such worldly wisdom normalizes fear. Unlike Greta Thunberg, ordinary people adopting that normality become frightened and immobilized before terror -inspiring kings, presidents, bosses and judges.

Jesus’ parable of the widow and the judge turns that familiar dynamic on its head. It calls us to “pray always” in the sense earlier described. Then, once our minds are aligned with God’s loving purposes, we’re called to imitate the widow who insistently sought justice not from God, but from the judge “who neither feared God nor respected any human being.”

In other words, Love understood as Justice for the oppressed will drive us (as it did Greta and her Children’s Crusade) to petition, protest, demonstrate, and engage in the type of direct action that threatens such agents of injustice. Jesus’ joke about the judge’s fear that a poor widow might do him physical harm makes his point that the selfish ones who exercise power over us are more afraid of us than we of them.

So, today’s readings suggest, align with justice and then join Greta in the streets. Be as courageous as she. Become as a little child (MT 18:3). Frighten the hell out of those judges, presidents and worshippers of Moloch! Save the planet!  

Published by

Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

2 thoughts on “A Frightening Child & Prayer to Save the Environment”

  1. Love is the way. Nothing else deeply heals us like love. Developing love for everything without exception is the way of spirit.

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  2. The underlying nature of all reality is Divine Love-Radiance. The second person aspect or manifestation of that basic reality is what we term God or Gods. To say that a world based on unconditional Love is impossible is merely to state the position of the mind that believes in the falsehood of our present illusion. Of course it is possible. What is remarkable is how we can live in and justify our present insane system.

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