Borrowed Time

Journeying together through climate grief

Preparing Rituals and Lament

When a loved one dies, a funeral allows us to name the grief we feel, and live gratefully for the one who has been lost. It helps us to cherish the life surviving, in ourselves and the world at large. It can reconcile us to the inevitability of our own death.

Our part in ritual has a public benefit too. In the words it gives us, we can speak a new world into being. It can help us to acknowledge our burden of guilt. The actions it asks of us can train us for loving conflict. Ritual can help us unmask the powers that be, walk free from delusion, and act for the future with courage.

On this page …

Before you start…

Tips for adapting or devising rituals

An assessment template for rites and rituals

Before you start

Photo by Marek Studzinski on Unsplash

it is important to consider the pastoral, emotional and personal dimensions of what we do. Designing and then leading and holding a group in a ritual or collective act, is both a privilege and a responsibility. So, it is important to frame the time and collective actions and words in a way that is respectful of the emotional dynamics of individuals and the group, as far as possible. This implies being aware of our own dynamics and also of our own relative power in the group. It is good, then, to make ourselves aware of some of the background psychological and spiritual dynamics -see some pointers in the next couple of paragraphs. Also, do have a look at the ‘tips’ section on this page. The collection includes some background information and perspectives to help with this and some help can be found in thinking about eco-grieving elsewhere on this site.

Climate change: When the tree of life is felled is a helpful article in orienting us to both the tasks of articulating grief in prayer and some resources and orientation to do so. Please do read this as part of preparing events or services. Also helpful is this article on embodying and releasing climate grief which also suggests some resources and group processes. Ritual ideas mentioned include darkness, heavy stones, breaking a vase, candle-lighting, making and wearing black armbands.

“The structure of community grief and the giving of grief to the Earth takes it from a dead-end, stuck-inside grief you don’t know what to do with, and turns it into a medicine. The expression of grief becomes regenerative and grief really can be composted and transformed.” Catherine Jordan, community organiser, ritual-maker and climate activist.

It’s good also to reflect on the wider context -what is the place before God of humans in the world in relationship to the detriments suffered also by other creatures. “Grieving the Earth is both a wound from which prayer emerges and a prayer which wounds us as we hear its truthfulness and acknowledge our insufficiency to fully sing the grief of the world. But it is not simply a spontaneous response, reducible to distressing emotions; as a prayer, grief is a call to witness. As a sacrificial hymn, it is one we are obliged to practise, distinct from any prior desire to do so. And in practice, we will better learn to see the human and non‐human other as a self for whom we are instructed to grieve… When offered as prayer, human grief – like praise – has a distinctively transformative power. … I might, for example, grieve the lack of birds in my neighbourhood and also grieve the loss this lack represents: the global collapse of bird populations… our grief and praise draw us to a greater participation in Christ’s redemptive work… The practice of grieving the Earth equips us to hold our human distance and creaturely intimacy in tension, resisting the desire to control or abuse while acknowledging that we are responsible: both in destruction and in participating in Christ’s work of healing. And it holds these tensions in the constant call to prayer, teaching us to listen before we try to sing.” (Hannah Malcolm)

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Tips for adapting or devising rituals

It is definitely helpful to ask ourselves “who will be using it?” -God obviously is the prime addressee, but who else is to be in the conversation? And how will we include them? Having a handful of people we know in mind as we collect, put together and write material and consider how actions might be carried out, can be really helpful in making sure that what we offer can be helpful to those who attend.

Iona Abbey Cloister

Are the main human users Christians? -If so, the language and ritual can be more rooted in bible and Christian symbolism. If we expect that there may be many who are not Christians, we might ask, “How do we want them to receive this or to participate? How do we help them to access or alternatively to feel it’s okay to stand aside from particular elements?” and beyond that, “How will this affect choices of words, imagery and action?” With theses considerations in mind, we can ask what human-users do the words or actions pre-suppose?

What is the physical context? For example indoors in a church building: that can allow for more paper, assistance by screens, sound system etc. Outside? Probably helpful to keep the paper minimal and use easily remembered actions or word (simple call and response -like on protest marches, for instance).

Taking these things together, for example, if I were devising a procession outdoors with a view to making an impact on passers-by many of whom may not be Christian, I would want to factor the following things into preparation: how might those who witness the event and who may be quite physically close to it, perceive and feel about it? And does that projected reaction lead us to alter or make further provision within the event. Do we need to seek good-will or permissions for any or all of the route and timing? Should we have means to explain what is happening? -leaflets, engagement-outriders …

Don’t forget to think about risks to do with people gathering, numbers using the space and the suitability of the space in relation to the way that people will move in it. Think also about the activities and potential hazards involved. Consider whether people carrying sheets or objects, operating or being close to naked flames are properly accounted for and means to deal with any more likely accidents are in place. Consider lighting conditions for any movement especially if there are objects and/or other people in the vicinity.

A love-your-neighbour assessment template for rites and rituals.

ActionWho is affected and how?What use of space?Objects used risks identifiedmitigations

Loving-our-neighbours assessment (risk and wellbeing)

Item no.Activity/Equipment/ /Materials etc.HazardPersons at risk Severity 1-6Likelihood 1-6Rate (SxL) H 20-36
M12-18    L1-10
Control Measures RequiredEmotional & pastoral ramificationsPastoral provisions to be madeSustainability notesRisk Result *

Notes about emotional and pastoral ramifications.

In this column we’re invited to note down any ways in which, on reflection, we might anticipate that the topic or the way that it is approached could adversely affect someone who may be vulnerable at the time and consider how to support such a person or to mitigate their vulnerability.

Note on ‘sustainability’

In this column we’d note down anything that occurs to us about materials being used where there might be risk to the environment or specifications that could make it more environmentally friendly. Of particular concern here would be use of plastics, packaging or burning, use of dyes …

Note on Risk result

In this column we take in the results of what has been noted in the previous columns in terms of the difficulties and risks on the one hand and the mitigations and precautions on the other. Holding those things together, do we think that the challenges, risks and vulnerabilities are adequately managed in principle?

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