‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. – John 15:12-15
I brood on the inky waters of the river that runs through town and how it carries the waste we cannot help but allow to trickle into it downstream to the farmlands, where pesticides and animal waste join the mix. When I was young I hiked in the mountains of Wyoming wearing a canvas knapsack packed with, among other things, a little tin cup. Back then it was safe to drink the stream water.
There are too many of us. The sheer number of people on the planet is overwhelming. Everywhere we are swarming, taking over the countryside, cutting down trees and polluting waterways. The climate is changing in response to all the matter we have transformed into smoke, a great cataclysmic burnt offering. Our oceans contain too much mercury, and whole islands of plastic.
How, then, to respond to this commandment to love one another? How is it even possible to know where to start? There is just too much need. And, often, the better we make the lives of our fellow humans, the more the environment suffers.
In the face of this knowledge, which bombards me everywhere I turn, it is tempting to withdraw into my own little world, closing the door behind me. To go where wildness still exists, and to leave behind the hunger and bone-deep cold, the scarcity of work, and the deficiency of love experienced by so many of my neighbors – that would be nourishing to my soul just now. Wouldn’t it?
But we are all one. I cannot close the door on the mind-stopping problems of the earth because there is no door to close. Ultimately my soul is your soul, and if you suffer, so do I. Any ache is my ache. Any madness, any schism, rends me at my core.
What am I left with, then, except to groan for all that suffers and to weep for all that is being lost? From that place, let me reach to you in love. We may not know what to do, what would help, what difference we can make. But we know that we are loved. We are friends of Christ. We can, therefore, be friends to one another. We can hold one another’s hand for awhile. And we can pray.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado