A cheerful forest ranger told us amazing and troubling facts about the giant Sequoia trees we visited last week. She told us Native Americans knew how Sequoia reproduction worked, requiring fire to melt the seed cone’s covering and ash for a seedling’s first meal — but the “pioneers” ignored the natives, or did not bother to ask. The western states still haven’t become devoted to sustainable forest management.
That was not the most troubling part of the ranger’s talk, however. She added a line or two about climate change that kind of made me sick to my stomach. The striking landscape of the Sierras is somewhat despoiled by dead pine trees, as in the picture above. I could see the same thing if I went to the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. But those gray skeletons really stick out in my native California. Where are the trees of my youth? The bark beetles attacked them and killed them. You can read about the beetles here.
To my horror, I found out climate change (NYTimes link) is finally attacking the giant Sequoias, in like fashion, even though they have adapted and endured for centuries. A few of them might be over 2000 years old! They have withstood pests, fire and people, until now. The horrible air pollution of the Central Valley of California is ruining the air they breathe at 6000 feet! What is worse, the warming climate brings new opportunity for bugs seeking to colonize new trees. The drought in California weakens the amazing Sequoias. They can withstand periods of dryness but not what has happened for the last twenty years. The bugs are just beginning to discover how weak they are after centuries of being remarkably impervious to insects.
I came away with a parable the trees told me. The story I hear is: Once there were trees planted by the water. They flourished. Humans disrupted the natural flow, even the cycle of the earth, and the land became dryer and dryer. The trees became susceptible to destruction by opportunistic forces. So it is with a people. So it is with a person who is not replenished with Living Water.
We need to act
My first application of this parable is to devote myself to advocating real action to reverse the processes that have warmed the climate. Like the NYTimes article linked above reports, we can’t stop the climate from warming a degree more; it’s going to happen. But we could stave off further catastrophe. If there is any reason to be born in the American Empire, it must be to demand that every power possible is exerted to save humankind from being weeded out like a pine forest. Covid-19 could just be the beginning of the disasters we face.
My starting place for action is the church, since that is where I find the faith, hope and love to do something, not just talk about it. The church is experiencing something of a post-Covid climate change of its own these days, in general, in which people mostly fight rather than find reconciled ways to act. But I don’t have another place to go since it is the body of Christ. That ecosystem is the most resilient and adaptable society on the planet so I trust it will survive the 20’s.
After the church, I have been looking for action-oriented groups with whom to partner. I can at least give them money, although I intend to give them more time and love. MCC has been attending to the need for years. I have been asking around and have begun to zero in on further good groups (see the comments for a few of them). I wish there were more. Big Christian organizations, big non-profits and governments all have an underfunded department, it seems, that pays lip service to climate change while the institution keeps talking about itself. Didn’t Donald Trump raise $100 million in the first quarter to keep blaming immigrants for the virus spike in Florida? (He decamped to New Jersey, of course, abandoning Mar-a-Lago). That’s an extreme example of talking about yourself. If you have a favorite association please add it to the comments so we can get busy!
We need Living Water
My second application of the parable is to check my bark and inspect my loved ones for signs of distress. When my ficus tree showed scale, the first treatment offered was “make sure you are properly watering the tree.” Being well-watered is the tree’s first defense. This truth directly applies to the spiritual life that sustains direct action in a pestilence-ridden world.
- If you are a fellow psychotherapist, you are dealing with traumas that will wear you out if you are not sustained spiritually. This does not mean listening to a podcast at the gym or procuring a proper thought somewhere; it means enjoying direct access to Living Water. You are involved in a spiritual restoration project with every client and it requires spiritual resources.
- If you are a Jesus follower (as many of my clients are, as well as my directees), we need to pray. So many of us read a book, listen to a speech, or do things that require headphones and call that a personal spiritual life. It is not enough. Those habits, on their own, cause spiritual drought. All that learning and relating to wise people is good. But if it does not lead to our own relationship with God in real time, it is more like living in a polluted atmosphere of overheated thought instead of resting in the cooling, restorative Living Water. I think my “life in the spirit” category in the right column could provide further, practical help.
What do I do when I find beetles laying eggs in my weakened spiritual bark?
First, I need to look for them and not assume having little water and being bug-infested is normal. The world allowed millions of the trees it did not cut down to be killed by climate change. We are also susceptible to such destructive forces and need to fight for our lives inside and out. We have choices we can make. Even if they are small ones, they add up.
Second, I can stop cooperating with people and institutions that suck the living water out of me until I can gain enough strength to go back and provide some water. Married couples I counsel often refuse to admit that they can individually change the terrible dance they dance with their partner simply by refusing to mirror their partner’s steps! Change the pattern, turn into something better even if the present regime cries foul.
Third, I must spend enough time with God so my roots actually soak up living water. Like a tree, yesterday’s drink does not last forever. Our spiritual lives are organic like that; we need living water sources to live. We are often told our bodies are 90% water. In spiritual terms I’d say we are 100% living water and 100% organic or we are less than fully alive.
Fourth, I can fight off the bugs. We stand up against death in as many ways as we are all unique. Sometimes we get together like an army. I’m looking to join up with allies right now to advocate for effective action on climate change so my grandchildren have a habitable planet and so I do not disgrace myself before my Creator by doing nothing. I won’t be waiting until I am sure I am taking perfect action before I take some steps. This post is me taking a step in the way I do. But I will find even better ways to make alliances and act. When we take action, we solidify our good intention into real attention. Who and what we attend to makes a big difference as to who we are becoming and what we can do.
This past week I attended to myself, my family and the Sequoias. God was in the midst. Turning that way turned on some light and illuminated further steps along the way to wholeness. God bless you on your own journey into what is next.
Share what you know in the comments please.