We are all like the blind men arguing over the nature of the elephant. Some insist it is like a rope, others that it is like a trunk, others a wall or a branch. Each is touching only one part of the elephant and trying to make it fit into a category, to insist it is like something they already know.
Worldviews collide. Politicians defend their turf, fervently and occasionally weirdly. A governor of a Gulf state declares the Gulf to be “fine” but he is only trying to get the tourists to come, with their dollars. A predictable list of elected officials line up with the oil companies and against the interests of individuals. People who oppose the president on whatever grounds, oppose him now even if that position flies in the face of logic.
No one, least of all the news organizations, knows what category to put this in. Is it an environmental crisis? Certainly. The images make no doubt about that. Is it an economic crisis? No question, although whose economic welfare trumps whose is one of the emerging tragedies. There are the workers on the wells, the fishermen, the tourist industry, each desperately reliant on a particular story being told. Is it a political crisis? Inevitably, and so far it seems that everyone is losing.
Most of all, though, in ways that rarely make it into the news, it is a spiritual crisis, one for which we have no tools. This is not a sudden tragedy – a tsunami, a hurricane, an earthquake – that is over, leaving heartbreak and devastation behind. We know how to deal with that. We have agencies that mobilize, relief workers who arrive, caring people who write checks.
No, this crisis began 63 days ago and it shows no signs of stopping. Oil is gushing into the water and we can watch that on a live camera at any time. The horrifying toll on the psyche is like living with a low-grade fever. One begins to understand what it might have been like to try to carry on daily life in a city under siege. The strident, conflicting voices only make it worse.
As Christians, what do we pray for? An Episcopal church in North Carolina organized a prayer vigil in which they asked God to stop the flow of oil. The liturgy is heart-rending, immediate. It expresses complete faith that God can intervene in this way: “suspend for a season the very laws of the universe …” And then:
If it be Your will, Lord God, to leave us in the chaos we have created, then we beseech You to hear us and guide us to the solution. Brighten our minds, quicken our imaginations, stir our willingness to work and create together so to mitigate the effects of our greed and help us restore that which was never ours to disturb.
We come to You, God, because You call us to do so, even when we have fallen short, even when we have been greedy, even when we have ignored the obvious truth that You have entrusted us with the care and stewardship of Your planet. It is our sacred obligation to leave this earth and enter Your eternal arms, this fragile gift being no worse for our brief time upon it.
There is an elephant in our room. We can take up time and distract ourselves and each other by arguing over the nature of the elephant. But we ignore at the risk of our souls the fact that the elephant is there.