ASH WEDNESDAY, 2007
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near--
On July 7, 2002, the London Observer blew the trumpet on Zion. Earth will Expire by 2050 said the headline. Quoting a report put together by World Wildlife Federation, and based on scientific data from across the world, the story revealed that more than a third of the natural world has been destroyed by humans over the past three decades. As I write these words, 10,000 species a year are dying out in the greatest mass extinction since the end of the Permian, 65 million years ago. Blow the trumpet in Zion; said the prophet, Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble.
Exactly one year before this report was published, I was in Alaska, discovering my vocation as God's sled dog. A native Californian born at the half century, I have lived to see my own country paved and plundered, but knew it not. The once verdant orchards of Santa Clara County have all hardened into a Silicon Valley; the choked and overcrowded roads tremble with the idling of gas guzzling vehicles, monuments to the kind of wealth that is possible when one knows how to transform nature into money. Land based economies move much slower than industrial ones. They include dormancy as well as abundance. They are about relationship with the power of nature rather than a relentless drive to overpower. Land based economies remind us that we as humans are vulnerable. I learned this viscerally in Alaska where the land still has the power to captivate me. I saw also that the silicon economies that I had come to take for granted tempt us with perfect rational control. They also, in subtle ways, tempt us that death will make an exception in my case.
While I was in Alaska the trumpet sounded in my heart. I was blessed by the privilege of standing upon living soil and experiencing a land that was still an entity on its own and not the slave of mankind. But I saw also that this incredibly vast, seemingly inexhaustible wilderness was slowly dying of global warming and drifting human-caused pollution. The former Bishop of Alaska, The Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, literally watched his house fall down as the permafrost melted beneath it.
Blow the trumpet in Zion.
Long ago, when my 80 plus year old parents were still infants, an epidemic of diptheria broke out in Nome, Alaska, over six hundred miles from the nearest railroad stop. It was January. Frigid winds blew across the dark interior and in from the Bering sea. It was not traveling weather. Certainly the infant aviation industry was not up to the task of delivering serum to save the lives of the children, to save the life of the future. Thus the task fell to the dog sled drivers. Today, this event is celebrated every year in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, a celebration most dear to my heart, but it still misses what may be the most hopeful point of the whole story. The Nome Serum Run, as it came to be called, was one of the few moments in the twentieth century when old ways trumped new ways, when life proved itself more resourceful and resilient than machines. The fact that 85 mushers show up in Anchorage every March to run their dog teams the 1100 miles to Nome shows me how deeply we long for that connection back to our animal roots, our oneness with nature rather than our relentless drive to conquer her.
As God's sled dog, I want to see us all get to Nome. I want to see our children live.
And so the prophet continues:
Call a solemn assembly;
gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
assemble the aged;
gather the children,
even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her canopy.
Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep.
The prophet reminds us that it is not our cleverness that will save us, but the grace of coming together in community. And, of course, our tears. Bringing a future to life may seem a daunting task, but with God all things are possible. Lent gives us 40 days to practice. Blessings on this first day of Lent.