The theme of Holy Week 2019, I’m sorry to say, appears to be fire.
We know that Notre Dame burned Monday night (you’d have to be living in a cave to not have heard), but did you know that a mosque in Jerusalem burned the same night? The damage is much worse to the former, but it has not gone unnoticed how the church fire garnered far more attention than the mosque.
Late last month, there were the hate crime arson fires of three black Baptist churches in Louisiana, all of which were over 100 years old. On April 28, the UU Church of Studio City will take up a Special Collection to send money to the rebuilding of these southern congregations.
Also in the news this week, and related to Earth Day and greater consciousness about the effects of climate change (including more fires in California, in case you haven’t noticed) was that the Camp Fire in Paradise, California has severely polluted the ground water. People are being advised to follow several cautionary measures including avoiding drinking it, if they continue to live there.
And let’s not forget the release of the Mueller report, which Republicans like to call smoke Democrats call fire. Time will tell. I wish, for the past two years, Democratic leaders had focused on wrongdoings of the president that can be more easily proven, such as the crimes against humanity in Yemen, or the undoing of environmental regulations and safeguards that protect land and water.
All this destruction reminds me of a classic punk song by the Ruts called “Babylon’s Burning.” It’s a very catchy ear worm. Here are some of the lyrics and you can hear it on YouTube here.
You’ll burn at your play
It’s positively smoldering
With ignorance and hate
What is Babylon exactly, you might ask. It was an actual place in present-day Iraq. But here are some interesting, additional notes from Wikipedia:
Babylon appears throughout the Hebrew Bible, including several prophecies and in descriptions of the destruction of Jerusalem and subsequent Babylonian captivity. Consequently, in Jewish tradition, Babylon symbolizes an oppressor against which righteous believers must struggle. In Christianity, Babylon symbolizes worldliness and evil. Prophecies sometimes symbolically link the kings of Babylon with Lucifer.
The Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible refers to Babylon many centuries after it ceased to be a major political center. The city is personified by the “Whore of Babylon“, riding on a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns, and drunk on the blood of the righteous. Some scholars of apocalyptic literature believe this New Testament “Babylon” to be a dysphemism for the Roman Empire.
I find this sort of thing quite fascinating. Is the prominence of fire in our world a series of omens we should pay attention to as such? Are we living in a present-day, burning Babylon? It’s hard not to wonder what the burning of one of the oldest Christian churches in the world during Holy Week might mean.
Most religious liberals would say it doesn’t mean a damned thing. “Let’s focus on poisoned ground water instead, and what we can do about it,” I imagine many of us saying.
But perhaps we are living in a “Holy Hell” of sorts, in the age of climate change calamities playing out in real time. For many, it is hell, if you lose your home, your job, your family members, your everything.
The holy part is what we do about it: our responses, our commitments, our priorities. How much we stand up for what has been holy for millennia: our Great Mother, the Earth whose justified anger we feed with our mistreatment, the Earth whom becomes weaponized against us* with fires, floods, poisoned water and air.
When shall we not equate, wholesale, worldliness with evil, but instead earthiness with the sacred? It may be the only true salvation that matters.
So. Happy Passover! Happy Easter!
With anxiety, (and holy hope),
Rev. Hannah Hope
*I encountered the idea of a disrupted natural world weaponized against humanity in the new book, “The Uninhabitable Earth,” by David Wallace-Wells.