The Prophetic Climate Action Witness Group (PCAWG) of New England Yearly Meeting is inviting everyone to a Climate Pilgrimage starting July 9, walking across a portion of New Hampshire from one coal-fired power plant to another. For more details see climatepilgrimage.org. The invitation says, in part,
We walk praying for clarity, determination and boldness to take the necessary next steps. We walk acknowledging that we do not yet possess the inner resources to live our lives fully into the reality that our understanding of the climate crisis calls us to. We walk creating a community of holy obedience, understanding that we need each other in these challenging times. We walk bringing public focus to the immorality of perpetuating the status quo, and to a genuine hope for a different future.
We walk to build together a beloved community, to see what faith in action looks like. Our hearts are on fire with divine love even though our hands are slow to repent and our feet are slow to change. This is a time for renewal and transformation.
One person who heard of this voiced some disappointment that the “action” was not aligned with a current campaign relating to the Seabrook nuclear power plant — why not march about that? It’s true, as stated this does not sound much like the sort of clearly targeted “action” that organizers hope and work for.
When I heard this response (at second hand), I found myself reflecting on the old Quaker practice “going naked as a sign,” a kind of prophetic enactment which the new prophets in England learned of from Isaiah (chapter 20) and found freshly relevant to their times.
This practice, discussed in depth by Kenneth Carroll in “Early Quakers and ‘going naked as a sign,” rose to a peak around 1654, and then again in the late 1650s and early 1660s, before dying away more or less completely. Some Friends, such as William Simpson, were especially called to this witness. It was by no means mute, but was accompanied by powerful testimony to make clear the meaning of the sign. Simpson wrote, “my body hath been temporally naked in many places in England, as a sign of the nakedness and shame that is coming upon the Church of England who live in oppression and cruelty…a necessity was laid upon me from the Lord God of life and power to be a sign.”
This “sign” was a remarkably compact expression of several important ideas — that God still spoke and called people to a fundamental critique of their times; that the ears of the many were so filled with the habitual and the conventional that Truth had a hard time gaining entrance; that to go with a word from the living God, so as to break in to hearts and minds, contrary to custom and expectation, could not be done only by conventional means, customary channels, the “market place of ideas, ” and all the other ways by which unruly or inconvenient spirits are regulated.
Moreover, the sign-bearer, the prophet (let us accept it), by accepting the commission, going with a word from the Lord, and calling from outside boundaries, is in that act rejecting the supports and conventions of safety. The naked prophet has no defense from eyes, much less from weapons (whether physical weapons or the iron of ridicule and scorn). The prophet has no levers of power, except the life of the Divine One who calls the prophet, and calls us each and all.
Powerless, ridiculous, abandoned in the love of the Word Christ that endlessly creates, re-creates, and illumines, the prophet must persist in the mad realization that the Witness in the sleepers and the scoffers and the spiritually deaf or deformed is in itself whole and clear, and when it recognizes itself acting in the silly poor prophet, it can stir up the embers of compassion, of inquiry, of paradox — the disconcerting motions of love that can surprise us into renewal.
Those who walk on the climate pilgrimage are walking naked, stripped this time not of their clothes, but of propriety, of the armor of policy, and the pretenses of technique. They, many of them, have technical or political knowledge, scientific or psychological tools which can be serviceable in responding to climate change and the systems that make it roll forward, gaining strength from all our complicities.
But there is a time to set all policy, contrivance, and technology aside for a moment, and think of meanings and foundations. The Divine One seeking to come to birth and full growth in each and all, comes christened with the sap of growing things, its blood is the life in my blood, its battlements and forests of transformation, its play grounds and flowing thoughts are all around us. Christ teaches that the human form is adorned and uplifted by its power to embrace our neighbor, by rightly ordered labor, by the opening hand and yielding heart, the mind that seeks for clarity and service, the tongue that speaks truth and praise, asks questions, sings.
But however powerful that life can run, its life is tender, humble even in exaltation, available for service— and so the un-reverent, the scattering, the scornful, the over-reaching, the wayward, the self-serving, the cruel — these strike at that life, wound it, drawing a cry of recognition (I know that darkness, that stupidity, that unseeing, I know it from within!) and a call for healing in truth and long-suffering.When a person walks in such a condition, they are naked indeed.
Sometimes what is needed is a time to be awake, and to awaken others; then, awakened, strength can be accepted, and we can work and politic and argue and organize — spending heart, soul, strength and mind under the sweet Spirit’s direction. In such an awakening, the pain of truth, and the delight and joy at the heart of things, are one and the same.
So the naked pilgrims proclaim: Seek first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness. In these times, amidst these crises and fears, our seeking will reveal to us the works and words we need for our part in the work of reconciliation in the whole order, among and with the earth and all that lives therein.