The twenty sixth ‘Conference of Parties’ in Glasgow continues through Friday night into Saturday as I write. Live reports from the Blue Zone describe delegation leaders striding from room to room as they seek to collate a final text that’s agreeable to all, while the pleas of national leaders whose lands are disappearing beneath the rising seas are still ringing in their ears. Journalists are impatient for the programme to conclude according to the timetable, as if meeting news deadlines is more significant than the COP agreement itself. ‘Will this meeting end before Christmas?’ demands a BBC journalist of Alok Sharma, the UK COP president, [BBC NEWSNIGHT 12 11 2021] who simply responds with the suggestion that he should check the accuracy of his calendar. We hear that Mr Sharma worked right through the last night and day without sleep, but he still has his wits about him. The Christian Climate Observers Program further reports that the negotiations themselves are proceeding in a well-tempered and peaceable manner- a key answer to our prayers.
For those of us who are attentive to the call to prayer for the success of the COP process and the wider involvement of the Church in addressing our climate and ecological crisis, I submit this word from scripture:
9 After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”
12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14 And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” 17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favour in your eyes.” Then the woman went on her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.
19 They rose early in the morning and worshipped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. 20 And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”[a]1 Samuel 1:9-20 ESV
It is the conviction of Climate Intercessors that God will hear our prayers and bring profound transformative influence to these negotiations, even with and through human agents who hold no explicit commitment to the Christian faith- willingly or otherwise. This is the clear implication of St Paul’s words to the young leader Timothy that ‘prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.’ Whoever they are, be they ‘godly’ or ‘ungodly’, God instructs and assures us that this will and must make a difference, one prayer at a time.
And so we continue to pray, upholding these proceedings through Saturday and potentially even Sunday, after which the country representatives must certainly travel back to their homes.
But there is a higher court in which there is influence that overarches the vital human activities in Glasgow and the electronic communications doubtless winging back and forth between delegates and their sending authorities. The BBC Science Editor was reporting on the stalling progress of the talks on Friday, but then concluded his remarks with this: ‘…there could be a miraculous surprise…’ We agree, and indeed, God would insist that the BBC’s Science correspondent speaks more wisely than he knows. We do pray for those on earth, as this is vital, and we also pray in our very imperfect knowledge of the mystery of the heavenly realms simply because God instructs us to do humble business with Him there. As Paul’s words to Timothy imply, such prayer is a massive lever to somehow exert great advantage against the fulcrum, which is surely bound deeply into the Cross of Christ. If we persevere and join together one with another in prayer and supplication, the influence of our puny and insubstantial breath- combined in unity by God’s Spirit- will be amplified and magnified into the most glorious result, by the grace of God. As Moses once parted the waters, and Elisha used Elijah’s cloak to part the Jordan for a second time; as Christ was seen in human form to command both wind and waves before them- so also in our day Lord! We pray that by all means the winds will indeed be stilled and the waves no longer rise.
God assures us Today that He will use the little people and the ‘nobodies’. He is certainly listening to the children who are protesting as best they know how, crying out as they fear their single future is being stolen from them even as they grow up with failing hopes. And most of all God is attentive to the earnest prayers of those- of us- who are considered to have no influence. God saw and heard and understood the anguish in Hannah’s heart, for she had no child. A child certainly was needed, because the hopes of the nation were collapsing with the decline of leadership in temple and palace. Eli the priest was not doing well in bringing up his sons after him. Their self-indulgence was public knowledge, and if the succession of leadership is in peril, then all is in peril. God sees the answers to bigger challenges than even the ones we have in mind. God was delighted that Hannah was resolved to hold onto Him, as best she knew how.
I hear God saying that we should continue to stand before Him as Hannah did, in her realistic appraisal of the situation in her life and in the wider awareness of the state of the nation- or rather nations, in our case. It is not the men, the priests, the leaders, the officials, or their chosen successors who are listened to, but this vulnerable woman who appeared to be incapable of speech, seeming both drunk and deluded. So she was censored and undermined, invalidated and banned from the place of petition that is now given to us all. Yet her protest is heard, first in heaven, and then on earth. Eli is brought up short by Hannah’s earnest response to his unsympathetic judgement, and once his eyes are opened, he blesses her and brings earthly alignment to the will of heaven.
We are beckoned to join Hannah in distress and affliction on account of the state of leadership that has brought us to these present circumstances. Truly, we need better leaders, whose eyes are opened to the true state of the reality that lies before us. We need to raise up leaders in the next generations who will partner for the common good and no longer abuse power and position. God will hear our prayer of repentance.
And we are invited to join Hannah in seeking a new birth, of God’s New Creation future in which planet and people come to live in harmony. Perhaps Hannah understands that a higher standard of leadership is called for in the future, and so she promises God that her longed for child will remain unshaven, in the Nazirite tradition. Perhaps we can thus surmise that we must call out to God for a different and more circumspect mode of life in what will be our collective tomorrows, so that as human beings have indeed ‘multiplied and filled the earth’ we will collectively determine to step more gently upon it from now on.
For both of these objectives, in all their dimensions, God wants us to hold onto Him.
We are not at all worthless women or men, but esteemed by the One who hears all intercession, and called to partner with the God of New Creation as co-creators. The scripture is not shy to point out that the conception occurred when Hannah returned to her husband and they ‘knew’ one another- an explicit (!) reference back to Adam and Eve beginning the human lineage. And there also God acts in ‘remembering’ the one who actively sought Him out in intercession, and so the child came to be and to be born, and to bring the temple priesthood into recovery, and thus the monarchy was sustained and rescued and recovered and recreated again. What and then’s might follow from our prayers over COP26? However satisfied and dissatisfied different parties will be next week when the COP statement is signed off and released, various actions and the COP process will continue, with the cycle of annual meetings continuing in Egypt next year and in Dubai in 2023. The whole ministry of the prophet-priest Samuel was an extended answer to Hannah’s prayer of anguish, and we can expect that what we are creating under God today will continue to require our prayerful attention. Yes, there is urgency; the COP text agreed this weekend will be crucial for what it says and for what it does not say, for that will be the basis for actions in all timeframes, but there will also be room for further consideration and development, for ratcheting in of our communities into ever closer cooperation so that the inevitable compromises are constructive rather than compromising to the whole process- that allowances and adaptations do genuinely mitigate suffering rather than deviously prolong it. Will the target of ‘net zero’ prove to be an effective facilitator for global action? Will ‘keeping 1.5 alive’ stand as the benchmark for judging the effectiveness of our new global covenant? I only know that we must start where we are, and that God’s blessing will come on our human agency. In His mysterious will, it remains patently simple: with us, God will. Without us, God will not.
(c) 2021 Stephen Thompson
- Images from BBC News at Six 12 11 21.
- Illuminated Manuscript, Bible Pictures by William de Brailes of Oxford, Eli’s Sons Commit Sacrilege and Hannah Brings Samuel to the Temple, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.106, fol. 17v Public domain image. From a volume comprising twenty-four leaves of Bible Pictures by W. de Brailes, an English artist active in Oxford in the middle of the thirteenth century. Seven leaves from the same set of images are now in the Musee Marmottan in Paris. These 31 leaves are all that remain of an image cycle that once contained at least 98 miniatures, and which was the longest cycle of Bible miniatures surviving from the thirteenth century in England. In all probability these Bible Pictures were actually prefatory matter to a Psalter, now Stockholm, National Museum, Ms. B.2010. De Brailes also composed and wrote the captions that accompany many of the images. W. de Brailes is one of only two English artists of the thirteenth century whose name we can associate with surviving works. 11 manuscripts have been identified that contain miniatures in his hand. De Brailes has a quirky and chatty style, and he was extremely gifted at turning Bible Stories into paint. To explore fully digitized manuscripts with a virtual page-turning application, please visit Walters Ex Libris.