Call of Sinai
By John Kydd
It’s about 6 am and the call to prayer (adhan meaning “to listen”) rolls gently past my patio headed for the Red Sea. The singer (muezzin) has a wonderful voice, deep and marbled with feeling. And then a second female sounding voice steps in. No duet, just the adhan through a different register.
The first call is to come to prayer (Hayya alas salah) and the singer lingers lovingly on the H, the al and the lah). The second call is to come to safety/salvation (Hayya alas salah) followed by a studied silence where the phrase lingers in its absence.
Adhan occurs five times a day beginning at the first hint of sunset (Mahgrib) then at sundown (Isha); then at the first hint of sunrise (Fajr) then just after the sun passes its zenith (Zuhr) and then halfway to the sunset (Asr). Here Mother nature rings the bells for when to gather to pray.
The same might be said for COP: the United Nations Climate Change Conference happening right now in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt on the Sinai Peninsula. At COP, we are first called to listen to all the registers of humanity and the rest of creation; then seek to discover a sustainable safety (salvation) while paying careful attention to a changing Creation. The COP endeavor, staggeringly complex and immense, is chock full of calls to listen and act from every quarter.
And listen they do, searching for a way forward as time grows short. While the geo physical scientific path is clear, the political science path is not. Like Moses (who passed by not far from here) the path is far from clear.
Also, like Moses, the COP is easily and summarily condemned as failing or farcical (as blah, blah blah) and that is certainly true, but it is only part of the truth. The truth is also thousands of utterly devoted people who’ve been at this for decades, riding the late buses home while reminiscing about fiascoes past like when they ran out of food at the Madrid COP in 2019. These are “can do” people that thrive on dealing with the unusual and the unexpected. They are determined to leave Fossil Fuel Pharoah in the dust.
On another side is the golden calf crew that include 638 known fossil fuel representatives. This is 25% more than there were at Glasgow and they are quite skillful at constructing artful offramps away from what needs to be done. I think it error to cast all as awful but collectively they have more power than any nation. They artfully push back, divert and distract from what is called for. Much of their psychological tactics for doing so came from the U.S.
I just came back from a COP presentation by one of the directors of the Club of Rome (Limits to Growth). Just after a UNICEF video on the floods in Sudan, the director choked up and began to cry in the center of the stage. The audience was silent and then applauded and many joined her tears. She said “I’ve been going to COP for ten years and I have to say we are getting nowhere and doing this is just enabling evasion of fundamental responsibility. If they let 1.5C go I am not coming back.” Many stood and applauded. The mic went to an older man who said, “We are in the middle of an ecocide where the agents of ecocide refuse to define it and outlaw it; I don’t know how to explain this to my daughter…” and he choked up, covered his face, and sobbed.
The ”if they let go of 1.5C” is more than a possibility. Per the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), implementing the current pledges would increase emissions by 10.6% by 2030, and put us on track for a 2.5°C warmer world by 2100. Alok Sharma, the very capable COP 26 President in Glasgow, lamented that “this could be the COP where we leave 1.5 behind.” This is more serious than it used to be because recent scientific studies have shown that our capacity for adaptation once we pass 1.5C will be significantly curtailed due to tipping events being triggered.
These were veteran climate leaders. This is how heavy it is for some of those not in the thrall of technology yet to come that is so dazzlingly promoted at COP. Credit is also due to women leaders who seem more able to share their anguish than many men.
Here the power of tears was transformative. Much later they rallied on the thought that they just had to go deeper into despair and come out the other side with more fundamental and persuasive ideas and actions.
While this was a Jesus’s tears moment, it also points out that anguish has an alchemy that animates. I recalled Canon Stephanie Spellers’s great book The Church Cracked Open: Disruption, Decline, and New Hope for Beloved Community where she wrote so movingly about the catharsis of kenosis where we allow ourselves to be ‘broken open” to difficult truths.
The “technology” we need now resides primarily in our faith; in our willingness to be broken open to the truth of what we’ve done and what we need to do. So many here at COP watch what America does (and more particularly doesn’t) do. Folks know about Jackson Parish (known as cancer alley) and that climate harm and death is far greater in minority communities than in white and far greater in female headed households than male.
If we face fully our failures here, that will stimulate others to face fully their failures there. Is this not a loaves and fishes thing? The more we face the truth the more it can multiply to meet the needs of all?
John was born in Washington and raised his family there. Trained as a lawyer, social worker and researcher his work has focused upon the needs of children and families and defending their oft neglected rights. He has been active in climate related issues for 20 years and serves as Missioner for Creation Care and Climate Justice for the Olympia Diocese and as Climate Change Director for the Maqasid Institute. He deeply believes that faith communities can make a vital contribution to climate justice.