Words for a Dying World – Review
Words for a Dying World: Stories of Grief and Courage from the Global Church. Edited by Hannah Malcolm, December 2020. SCM Press, ISBN: 97880334059868, 160 pages. RRP £15.99
This is an extraordinary and beautiful book which, as its editor writes in her Preface, both wounds and heals. Its 35 global contributors lay bare, in acute specificity, the reality of climate-changed relationships, with human and non-human neighbours, with homes and seasons, with time, place and whatever we understand or intuit as God. It encompasses poetry, lament, theology, myth, history, biography, memoir, spirituality, ecology, prophecy and protest. As its subtitle suggests, it is fundamentally about grief, which is expressed in all its myriad and particular forms, and about courage, which none of the writers claim but all quietly display.
To read this book is to be informed, saddened, enraged, inspired, but most deeply, as Hannah writes, to be softened. Its stories are raw and eloquent, sometimes angry, often tender, excruciatingly honest. Many of the voices speak of losses which are difficult for us, in our profound disconnection, to understand; threats, as Christopher Douglas-Huriwai expresses it, to “the very creation that not only tells you who you are, but tells you how you are connected in relationship to God”. They recognise, as María Alejandra and Andrade Vinueza write, that our environmental crises are rooted in wounded spirituality and relationships, and that no solution will be adequate which does not seek restoration and renewal.
There are particular and profound questions for us as members of the minority world’s environmental movements. Peter Fox and Miles Giljam challenge us to escape from cycles of unhealthy grieving and to confront the painful reality that we are part of a culpable system. Other words are not addressed to us at all; sometimes we are overhearing prophetic calls and reassurances of solidarity, like those of Grace Thomas’s Everywoman Eve, to which our privilege can offer no response but silence.
There are forms of hope here, too, in the transformation of desolated spaces into sacred sites described by Isabel Mukonyara, in Jon Seals’s recognition of a “third agent” giving witness to life, in Pilar Vicentelo Euribe’s educational and eco-gardening work with Vida Abundante. This hope, writes Anderson Jeremiah, is both deeply grounded in the individual and communal, nurtured by shared experience, history and tradition. Most of all, it is active, calling, in Debo Oluwatumini’s words, “Roll up your sleeves then, Mayowa, Joy-bringers, and get to work!”
The very first sentence, at the beginning of Hannah’s Preface, states “This is an incomplete book.” It is, but only because it already encompasses so much, such a breadth and depth of human connection and suffering. To encounter each chapter is like leaving a noisy activist gathering to share a snatched conversation in a side street, a glimpse of a life courageously lived, a new friendship in bud. Returning to the crowd, we are quieter, walking with more tentative steps, out of confidence and into love. Already, I want to read it again.
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