Opinion

Saying our 'Amen': The role of faithful people at a time of crisis and opportunity

The huge potential in our human family must be realised fully as we now confront both the pandemic and the climate crisis.

By Philip Huggins

May 20 2020There are some 7.5 billion people on the planet. 

Imagine if all their thoughts were purely loving and directed towards a just peace in a sustainable universe! 

That is the huge potential in our one human family. 

Huge potential, now needing to be realised more fully. 

This “Amen” has been on our horizon and is now coming more fully into view. 

What do I mean? Let me elaborate by reference to our three kinds of “Amens”. 

A first “Amen” we know well from daily life.  It is the things to which we say “Yes”, easily and happily: 

For example, our giving and receiving from loved ones, near and far; our gratitude for the gift of each new day; our attentiveness to what we know gives us health as we exercise and as we take our nutrition in food and drink. 

A second “Amen” is to those decisions we have taken or must take that are more demanding. 

Our second kind of “Amen” does not come as quickly .We have to convince ourselves or be convinced because we can see how much demanding change it might involve. 

But, in the end, being true to ourselves, we say our “Yes”. 

This might be a response to a request made of us: “Would you consider this position, please?” “Can we ask you to do this?” 

Or it might be that we see something that needs to be done and just know that the responsibility has come our way. Like happened to the Good Samaritan as he came upon someone vulnerable in Jesus’ famous parable. 

There is a wisdom in the saying: “We live our lives forward and understand them backwards.” 

When we look back, can we not see how our “yes”, at various times has shaped who we are and what we have done? Events that, at the time, might have seemed quite insignificant but, looking back, have been life-shaping. 

For me, one such moment was when our first child was a baby. We were living on our little farm and endeavouring to give our family all the nurture of a country childhood with home-grown vegetables and milk from the cow I milked. All that kind of thing. 

My practice was to pray over our sleeping child before going to bed myself .This was a prayer for God’s presence and for the holy angels to watch over our child as guardians of the divine peace. 

One night, when praying thus, I was given to realise that to be a good parent I had to do more than try to make sure our home was safe, with clean water and good nutrition. The external environment beyond home also needed my contribution. 

Saying my “Yes” to this realisation set me off into a life of peace-making work, nationally and internationally over the next decades. 

That “Yes” over our sleeping child in our small farm house became very demanding but also very fulfilling, as being true to oneself always is. 

What then of the third “Amen”? 

Those “Amens” that we can see on the horizon and which we know are coming towards us. 

Over the life cycle they can take various forms. 

For example, preparing to marry; being ready to have children; transitioning from study to work; from work to retirement … from this life to death and eternity (however understood). 

Seeing them on the horizon gives us time, if we are wise, to make our best preparations. 

Thinking about the recent 50th anniversary of World Earth Day on 22 April, I re-imagined those folk who were the initiators. They could see, on the horizon, the consequences for the environment of pesticides, oil spills, toxic waste dumps and other pollution. 

Their response birthed the modern environmental movement. 

In our day, what we have seen on the horizon and coming rapidly towards us has been the consequences of carbon emissions- climate change, as global temperatures rise. 

Hence, we have been drawn into advocacy in support of the Paris Agreement – an international agreement to prevent temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. 

Therefore, we have become engaged in the framework through which this can be delivered globally – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and the Conference of the Parties, UNCOP 26 (the UN Climate Change Conference) as the next important opportunity. 

With the delay of the 2020 UNCOP 26 in Glasgow because of COVID19, there has been some disorientation, even while we might be discerning linkages because of how climate change both compounds the problems that lead to disease outbreaks and then limits effective responses. 

Here in Australia, for example, the predicted consequences of climate change are hotter, dryer summers and therefore bushfires of the devastating ferocity we saw earlier this year. The necessary response to this has then been somewhat overwhelmed by the crisis of COVID19. 

Whenever the COVID19 crisis is more resolved, we know it is going to leave Australia with a level of depletion and debt for some years to come. 

Of itself, even for a country of relative affluence, that will be sufficiently problematic. But what if next summer there are more bushfires of like devastation and further outbreaks of unparalleled disease? 

At the moment, the efficient management of these matters is helping to keep community anxiety about the future somewhat contained. 

Here is where I come back to my original statement and make a link to the role of faithful people. 

The relatively untapped potential in the human family is in the nature of those thoughts in each of the 7.5 billion minds. 

What if all those thoughts became purely loving? 

We know, from each spiritual tradition, that we become what we think. 

Our thoughts shape our words and then our actions .The pattern, over time, shapes our character and our destiny. 

Our various traditions of prayer and meditation give us the means by which we can offer thoughts, words and actions that are purely loving. 

We are beyond the time where it is at all helpful to debate which tradition is best or who is most in possession of the found truth.  

My tradition is the Jesus Prayer of the Heart – “Jesus have mercy”. This is what helps me to better offer thoughts, words and actions that are purely loving. 

Whilst being true to myself and therefore practising my Jesus Prayer, I see how others find help in different traditions. 

The point now is not to argue over such matters. 

Rather, it is to stay focused on the great need for us to be offering thoughts that are purely loving and lead to the words and actions that bring about a just peace in a sustainable universe. 

Through this unexpected kind of global retreat forced on many in the human family by the shutdowns of COVID19, this potential contribution has come more fully into focus. 

At the moment, the global discussion is about when the shutdown can safely end. Governments and communities are trying to manage both freedom from disease and a recovery of some economic well-being. 

In a time of heightened anxiety, grief and fear, the more we can influence the atmosphere with thoughts, words and actions that are purely loving, the better the future will be.  

That is the crucial role of people of faith. Many of our contributions may be somewhat hidden from public view but they are essential. 

Imagine how beautiful our world will be when all the thoughts of 7.5 billion people are purely loving! 

That is our potential and, for people of faith, it is our responsibility to bring this potential into being. 

That third “Amen” is no longer on the horizon. 

Bishop Philip Huggins, a former assistant Anglican bishop of Melbourne, is President of the National Council of Churches in Australia.