During these past Seven Weeks for Water we have touched upon but a few of the many practical ways by which individuals and communities can make this world and the economy a little more just, more compassionate, and more caring towards both people and creation. This includes but is not limited to how we use and share the gift of water.
There have also been reflections on different visions of what the world can be and how we can live in it. “There are signs in many places in Latin America of God acting through the peoples,” wrote Abraham Colque in a previous reflection. “Dreams are being woven, alternatives being constructed, with the aim of ‘living well’ for the whole community and not the ‘good life’ for a few individuals at the expense of the rest.”
The monumental ecological and economic challenges of today can be daunting. But as this year’s Seven Weeks for Water come to an end, we would like to remind you of the ancient Chinese saying that goes: “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”
On Easter Eve many of us will be passing one by one a light that begins with a single candle in the darkness. Let us also light a candle, and another, and another, in our daily practices and by imagining and striving towards the future we want.
Lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness
A reflection by John Gibaut and Maike Gorsboth
And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us cast aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.
This biblical “wake up call” is an invitation not only to face the dawn of every day, but the eschatological day when all of creation will be brought to its fulfilment in the coming Kingdom of God. It is at the same time a call not just to wait for the coming Kingdom, but also to live out its values today, to be attentive to the present time and to wake up to meet its challenges.
The ethical demands of the eschatological day are justice and peace: peace on earth and peace with the earth. Yet, the monumental ecological and economic challenges can be so daunting that it is understandable why many people become overwhelmed, or opt for denial, or assume that it is someone else’s responsibility.
When St Paul in the letter to the Roman’s says “put on the armour of light”, he is speaking to people. Putting aside the works of darkness and putting on the armour of light is as close as the Bible gets to the ancient Chinese proverb, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” If one person lights a candle in the darkness, she becomes a beacon. When every member of a community lights a candle, there is light.
There are many practical ways that individuals in vast numbers have opted in positive ways to change their personal practices, such as responsible use of water, buying local, making recycling a regular part of daily living, reducing our carbon foot print. These are but some ways of lighting a candle in our daily personal practices.
There are equally quite ‘impractical’ ways that people have lit the one candle rather than curse the darkness or accept the darkness as normal. Challenging the normal begins with the seemingly impractical use of imagination, of dreaming of a radical vision that redefines what is considered normal and that creates a longing for an alternative: a “new normal.”
It is easy to see how many see injustice, poverty, sickness within creation and the human community as “normal”. We even accept as normal that economic growth is necessary to overcome these challenges. It is normal to talk about the environment in terms of the “resources” it provides us with. We take it as normal that we should need to maximize the use of those natural resources with only the most unacceptable future damage to the environment and future generations as the “limit”. It is seen as inevitable that our economies and societies are driven by self-interest.
During these past Seven Weeks for Water there have been important reflections on the place of dreams of the new normal, and visions about what the world can be and how we can live in it. “There are signs in many places in Latin America of God acting through the peoples,” wrote Abraham Colque in an earlier reflection in this year’s Seven Weeks: “Dreams are being woven, alternatives being constructed, with the aim of ‘living well’ for the whole community and not the ‘good life’ for a few individuals at the expense of the rest.”
Reflections on the limits of greed, agro-ecology, community-based agriculture, new measures of wealth & growth, like the Bhutan contribution of a “Gross Happiness Indicator”, are equally instances of lighting a candle, rather than curse or accept the darkness as normal. While seemingly impractical at first, a dream or a vision becomes powerful and transformative when they begin to be shared, and capture our imagination. When enough people believe in a dream or share in a vision, then change is inevitable.
Writing about the indigenous concept of the buen vivir, Bolivian journalist and theologian Alejandro Dausá, makes an interesting link to spirituality: “[It] is what nourishes the human capacity to denounce the present and to anticipate the future; it is the dream as a political and subversive act that is not resigned to accepting the reality as it is, and that becomes capable of organizing hope.” Dausá admits, however, that some of the proposals being put forward in the context of the buen vivir are “disconcerting, or difficult to apply immediately”. But he concludes that such proposals are not recipes for the future, but function by “awakening or harnessing the communal energy” in our societies.
As Christians draw close to Easter, many will mark Easter Eve by passing one by one a light that begins with a single candle in the darkness; it is a community of candles that banishes the darkness of despair, shedding Christ’s peaceful light on all. The light passing from person to person in these candles speaks of shared faith in new life in the face of death and destruction. It points to the “new normal” and shapes a particular worldview, God’s vision for the fullness of the human being and all of creation. The Easter vision redefines what is normal, and creates a new normal. Ecumenically, it has led to recovery of a biblical vision for a just and compassionate economy, one that serves peace, justice, and the integrity of creation.
If we all undertook the spiritual disciple of lighting one candle instead of cursing the darkness in our dreams and in our daily personal practices, then the impractical becomes the practice. When we awake from our slumber, the lofty, unattainable, unreasonable dream is already becoming the new normal.
John Gibaut is an Anglican priest and theologian from Canada who is currently the director of the Commission of Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches in Switzerland.
Maike Gorsboth is originally from Germany and works at the World Council of Churches as coordinator of the Ecumenical Water Network.
What you can do:
Light a candle:
Next time you light a candle, take a moment to imagine and pray for the future you envision for our Earth community.
If you are looking for inspiration and practical ideas for what you can do to make this world and the economy a little more just, more compassionate, and more caring both towards people and creation, we invite you to take another look at the reflections and background resources of this year’s Seven Weeks for Water.
And always remember: “If one person lights a candle in the darkness, she becomes a beacon. When every member of a community lights a candle, there is light.” Make sure to share your ideas, your vision and inspiration, and also your questions and doubts with others.
Your voice for Rio+20:
“The future we want” is the ambitious title of the text which is already now being negotiated by governments as the final declaration of the Rio+20 summit taking place in June. Many have noted that the text does not achieve to bring together environmental, economic and social concerns in either a holistic or visionary way. Some governments are even opposing the inclusion of important environmental principles and of human rights – including the human right to water and the human right to food – in the negotiation of the draft.
Consider adding your voice to that of hundreds of individuals and organizations from all over the world who have signed on to an open letter to the UNCSD Secretary General and Member States, urging them “to bring the Rio+20 negotiations back on track”. [www.ipetitions.com]
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