musings

Peace in Our Day (Tranquility in a Time of Ruin)

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17

The Blue Marble, a famous photograph of Earth taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft in 1972. (Photo source unknown.)

I was raised a Catholic. As it is, I don’t much go to church anymore. (Mea culpa.) On Sundays now I’m more apt to sit in front the window in my kitchen, drinking coffee and waiting for the peculiarities of life to bubble up from out of where only God himself knows.

Every Sunday, at church, there was a long procession down the center aisle, under a colorful velvet light that flooded in through the stained glass on either side of the sanctuary. Smoke wafted from the acolyte’s censer and projected translucent shadows onto the walls. Then the priest, at the helm of the procession, halted in front of the altar, and the liturgy was spoken and intoned.

Then, about two thirds of the way through the Mass, after the reciting of the Lord’s Prayer, the priest would say an embolism. In Latin it used to go, “Libera nos, quæsumus, Domine, ab omnibus malis, da propitius pacem in diebus nostris…” Since the 60s a less literal version of the English translation has been used:

“Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day…” Every Sunday he said that without fail.

My little trepidations and larger concerns were, at one point in my life, overshadowed by an unshakable faith. After all, what’s on the news, or beyond the horizon, or down the street that can stand against a firm sense of religion?

God is a bulwark for the mind. That I quickly came to realize. I understood, though I was young then, that the world could be harsh, and sometimes so harsh, in fact, that only its creator and superior could circumvent disaster. Thus, he could also intervene in the mind. What was there to fear, then? What could happen to me or anyone else that divinity couldn’t rectify?

Of course, people change. People are always changing.

So it was at some point, now vague in my memory—sometime in adolescence—that my faith was shaken. I can’t really remember what lead me to my current outlook, or why, but that’s beside the point, anyway. I have since understood, in my own way, that God doesn’t deliver us from every evil. Very much the contrary, actually: In fact, evil seems to be closing in at every turn.

The insistence is always that, as we humans are now the masters of our destiny, and that we have within our power the ability to create something that at least approaches utopia.

Yet the reverse is hard to ignore: We are the “masters” of our collective fate inasmuch as a heroin addict is of his individual one. Let’s own up to the facts: We are myopic creatures, addicted to our own greed, wrath, and ignorance. We are the supposed stewards of this planet, but our bang-up job has so far consisted of an unconscionable destruction of the world’s ecology and a destabilization of the climate which makes it humanly habitable in the first place.

We are the makers of the Anthropocene, a time when, as they say, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and more than ever that being true. The ability (and incentive) to act responsibly on a global scale is being crippled, however, as governments falter under the pressure to preserve what’s left for a world that consumes and pollutes and reproduces with unbridled apathy toward an inevitable and unspeakable outcome. And, while some positive steps are being taken—e.g. COP21, the historic climate agreement that took place in Paris this past December—I’m left to wonder how effective these will really prove over time.

My news for you is this: God is not coming to save us in the event of a massive disaster, whether it’s a protracted problem like anthropogenic climate change; or a relatively sudden one, such as a nuclear attack. There is no deus ex machina built into the equation of human flourishing, or even the basic survival of species. Pray to whatever being you please, asking for “peace in our day.” (I am not debating the existence of a deity, benevolent or otherwise. On that matter I’m agnostic.) But the fact remains that nearly all of the creatures which have, at one point or another, called this planet home, have gone extinct, and neither we nor our cherished way of life are immune to the same fate.

Peace neither of mind, nor in the world at large, has ever been guaranteed. Throughout history all manner of turmoils have been commonplace. It is at this pivotal junction in the story of the human race that we may either choose prosperity or destruction, love or hatred, greed or charity. If we have any concern for the collective life and flourishing of this world, we must act immediately and without restraint to combat the forces which threaten to undo everything good we have secured for ourselves.

I worry. I worry about the world and how the people in it will fare in the coming decades. I know worrying never makes up for action, and I was tired of never acting on my worries, so I put down the cup and decided to write. These words were born of that impulse, and from the desire for “pacem in diebus nostris.” That is, “peace in our time,” and, at that, for all time to come.