Beyond the Edge of Knowledge: An Ecological Hope for Lent

Sarah Champlin
The Polar Bear
Wednesday, March 6, 2024

“Every single creature is full of God
and is a book about God.
Every creature is a word of God.
If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature,
even a caterpillar,
I would never have to prepare a sermon.
So full of God is every creature.”
Meister Eckhart

Polar Bear testing the water temperature

Polar bears have become the quintessential icon of climate change in our cultural landscape. It’s easy to make the connection between polar bears and our current ecological situation—as the globe heats up, the polar ice caps melt, and the animals that rely on that ice being frozen firmly in place are therefore some of the first to experience the effects of a warming planet. In this way polar bears act as the first lookouts of our looming planetary crisis, warning us of danger heading our way.

Gayle Boss describes the new pilgrimage that a polar bear must undertake to survive their changing environment. The paths they used to travel on foot have melted away. The journey from the hunting grounds to the safe shelter for bear cubs must now be traversed by sea. A mama bear that swims through these nearly-freezing waters will drain her fat stores to survive, fat stores she desperately needs to birth and nurse her babies. In the Arctic tundra survival is a battle, one that the polar bears are currently losing. Over the last three decades their population has dropped nearly in half.

What is it about the plight of the polar bear that tugs at so many of our heartstrings? In her book Untamed, Glennon Doyle describes her own highly sensitive child becoming fixated with the polar bear crisis. Unable to return to life as usual once she found out about their home melting away, Glennon’s daughter started talking about polar bears nonstop—pulling everyone around her into the depths of this urgent, unfolding global disaster. She just wouldn’t let it go despite the growing annoyance and discomfort expressed by her family and friends. After spending months trying to distract or dissuade her from descending into polar bear panic, Glennon recognized in her daughter the power of a sensitive person who refuses to let us look away from what we’d rather not see. She reflects, “It is easier to call us broken and dismiss us than to consider that we are responding appropriately to a broken world.”[1]

The prophet Amos experienced a similar dismissal by his people as he predicted the upcoming destruction of Israel by the neighboring nation of Assyria. None of the Israelites wanted to listen to this nobody, this shepherd who claimed that their bad behavior would inevitably result in their homes and livelihoods falling into ruin. Amaziah the priest tried to discredit him, telling the king “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words.” (Amos 7:10)

Nobody likes a prophet. They get under our skin forcing us to face difficult issues that we would much prefer to ignore. We would sooner accuse them of being a conspiracy theorist than listen to what they have to say. We tell them to hush because they’re scaring the kids. The land cannot bear all his words. Is it truly the land that cannot bear it or is it us? Too wrapped up in the comforts of our routines prophets often appear as threats to our well-being. Yet these unsettling sentinels screaming the truth are necessary to move us somewhere new. Glennon says “The culture depends on the sensitivity of a few because nothing can be healed if it’s not sensed first.”[2]

Uncomfortable as it is God calls for our deep attention. We must allow ourselves to feel our innate connection to the rest of creation even when it hurts. Sensitivity is a superpower; the polar bears and the prophets know this. May we learn to feel our way towards healing.

God, teach us to be sensitive.
Help us listen to the groanings of the land that bears us all.
May our collective ache usher in the movement of your Spirit
That lets justice roll down like water
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.


[1] Glennon Doyle, Untamed, 16.

[2] ibid.

March 6, 2024

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