My six-year-old twins have been asking me about God.
“Where is God, Mommy?” my daughter asks as we walk home from school one day. My son chimes in: “And does God need to eat?”
As someone who falls squarely into the demographic of spiritual-but-not-religious, I awkwardly fumble my way through answers to questions like these. I offer my best guesses about where God is and whether God eats, confessing to my children that I don’t really know for sure. They haven’t asked me yet why God allows bad things to happen to good people, but it’s a question I’ve been wrestling with myself lately. The world is full of bad things happening to good, innocent people: conflict in Ukraine, Syria, and Afghanistan; oppressive racism and inequity; a still-raging pandemic; infuriating government inaction on climate change.
To be sure, the world is also full of good things that don’t make the news, like six-year-olds who are curious about God’s dietary habits. But if I’m honest, the weight of these times has tested my faith in the benevolence of the universe and challenged my privileged assumption that the future will be a good place for me and my children to live. I know I’m not the only one wondering: When life is unbearably painful, where do we go for refuge? When the state of the world seems impossibly dark, what do we have faith in?
I’ve been immersed in climate activism for several years, and what I’ve noticed about myself is that when the climate news gets really bad, I have an inexplicable urge to go shopping. Or to binge-watch Netflix, or organize my closet by season and color, or mindlessly scroll through celebrity news websites. I do not want to face reality; I want to be comforted by mindless, numbing normalcy. I want to pretend, one celebrity gossip story at a time, that business can carry on as usual.
This is not a functional coping strategy, but I’m going to wager a guess it’s one you can relate to.
At its core, the climate crisis is a spiritual crisis. All of our individual and collective responses of denial or “business as usual” are really about our fear of death—not just physical death, but the death of life as we knew it and always expected it to be.
Most of us who live with identities of privilege in the Global North (myself included) will do just about anything to avoid knowing that the way we live our lives is going to have to dramatically change in the coming years. We carry on with our lives as best we can, still turning to all of our old familiar coping strategies, still turning away from the depth of our grief. I have deep compassion for this because it’s what I do myself much of the time, too, even as a devoted climate activist. Trying to hold onto normalcy and routine can also be ways of coping with the trauma we’ve all been through in the last few years. But at the root of these denial strategies is that deep fear of the unknown. We don’t know what lies beyond the familiarity and comfort of our lifestyles. We may be terrified to find out.
The climate solutions we’re willing to fight for will be limited—or expanded—by our faith in what’s possible in seemingly impossible circumstances. Faith in climate transformation takes huge amounts of courage in these times, because success isn’t guaranteed, and it requires a belief in something bigger than ourselves. Not faith in a god who will swoop down and save us from climate change at the last minute, but faith that if enough of us turn our energy, actions, and resources towards the belief that a livable future is worth fighting for, new versions of the world may become possible in ways we can’t see or understand now.
As a mother, I’m doing my imperfect best to move through the world in ways that generate faith in a livable future. I try to nurture my children’s faith in something larger than themselves by pointing out the beauty of the Earth. On our walks home from school, we notice newly blooming honeysuckle, diaphanous swallowtails, shy rabbits, and glistening black beetles.
I do not know whether God eats. But I feel a deep faith that wherever God is, God must delight in these natural wonders of the world as much as my children do. I feel a deep knowing that this world, and these children, are worth every ounce of courage I can muster to keep working towards the future they deserve, trusting that somehow, some way, beautiful possibilities will emerge from even the darkest of times.
A question for reflection that I’ll be sitting with myself in the coming weeks: What do I have faith in? And how is my faith—or lack of it—showing up in my response to the climate crisis? If this resonates with you, I hope you’ll sit with these questions too.