God's Gaze: Reflection on a COP26 Pilgrimage and March

It is upon gazing on the world with love, that I feel God’s loving gaze on me, and that I am moved to love others. 

I have only relatively recently been able to articulate this, succinctly conveying my love of nature, its relevance to my prayer, my knowing of God and my loving of others. It forms the backdrop of many of my life choices - including deciding to join a group of 26 pilgrims to walk from Edinburgh to Glasgow, to join the faith block of a COP26 march for climate justice! 

And so I now find myself sat at my desk with a mild ache in my thighs from all the walking (and dancing!) and a croaking voice from all the shouting (and singing!), tasked with communicating this remarkable experience. I could comment on the power and significance of starting the pilgrimage in prayerful silence and ending it in noisy protest, or discovering the experience of protest marches and how this fits into my identity as a “peacemaker”, yet I feel decidedly called to speak of my deepening experience of ‘gazing’, ‘God’s gaze’ and how this relates to climate action, whereby in using the word ‘gazing’ I am trying to convey an openness of encounter and a vividness of experience. 

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Lakshmi (bottom row, centre), with her fellow pilgrims at the Falkirk Wheel.

Previously strangers but now powerful friends, I have been struck by the beauty of my fellow pilgrims in all their diversity, each one holding a piece of God's wisdom and reflecting the divine in their own way. In gazing upon these remarkable people, I could feel my appreciation for them joining with God's unconditional love for them, feeling a deep sense of pride, awe and love at their freedom in life to burst into song and dance, their humility to see where they fall short, their wisdom, their joy, their passions which they generously shared… How blessed I feel to have been on this journey with them, in a lengthened gaze to soak up their glorious riches. And how grateful I am for this deepened way of gazing upon people, and experiencing God’s gaze and love in those  whom I meet. 

Upon extension, the pilgrimage has made me reflect on God's gaze upon the whole world and all its peoples. God's gaze on the Earth getting sicker. God's gaze on the poor. God's gaze on those most effected by climate change... Paul Chitnis, Director of Jesuit Missions, the charity which organized the trip, and Fr Charles Chilufya SJ, Director, Justice and Ecology, Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar, poignantly spoke before we embarked on our march. They reminded us not of the stats and science of climate change, but of the people. The climate refugees. Those starving. Those drowned by extreme weather events. Those for whom climate change is not an impending danger, but a current crisis. A reminder that we are not faced with “two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but one complex crisis which is both social and environmental”, as Pope Francis so eloquently puts it in Laudato Si, His Holiness’s 2015 encyclical, On Care for Our Common Home. It hammered home to me the sadness of the environmental crisis, and gave me a veil of grief with which to gaze upon the world, and with it a renewed conviction to act. 

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Pilgrims from Lakshmi's group marching for climate justice in Glasgow during COP26.

A Rosebite feels too short to convey the full depth of this experience, but conscious of keeping it bite-sized, to bring this reflection to a close, I wish to share a hymn which quickly became a favourite amongst us pilgrims. We sung it whilst walking through tunnels, we sung it as we processed out of St. Aloysius’ Church following Paul and Fr Charles prayerfully rousing words, and we sung it whilst marching through the streets of Glasgow, flanked by other faith groups united in our hopes and action for climate justice.  

I, The Lord Of Sea And Sky, 

I Have Heard My People Cry… 

…I Who Made The Stars Of Night, 

I Will Make Their Darkness Bright. 

Who Will Bear My Light To Them? 

Whom Shall I Send? 

 

Here I Am Lord, Is It I, Lord? 

I Have Heard You Calling In The Night. 

I Will Go Lord, If You Lead Me. 

I Will Hold Your People In My Heart. 

 

I, The Lord Of Wind And Flame 

I Will Tend The Poor And Lame. 

I Will Set A Feast For Them, 

My Hand Will Save 

Finest Bread I Will Provide, 

Till Their Hearts Be Satisfied. 

I Will Give My Life To Them, 

Whom Shall I Send?  

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Lakshmi (fourth from left) stands with fellow pilgrims under a rainbow in Glasgow at the end of their COP26 climate justice march.

With hindsight, I have come to realise just how relevant and powerful this hymn is to our cause, as well as capturing the power of ‘gazing’ so well from. Feeling the awe at nature’s vividness in all its “sea and sky”, “wind and flame”. Joining in God’s gaze on the world and its suffering people: “I have heard my people cry”, “I will tend the poor and lame”. Being open to encounter with God and receptive to God’s call: “Here I am Lord”. And reflecting this loving encounter and embracing our responsibility in being God’s hands on Earth by alleviating suffering  - "bearing light" - feeding the starving - “Set a feast for them”, “Finest bread I will provide” - and generally acting to “hold people in our hearts”. 

So whilst my pilgrimage and march are over, my journey continues, and I invite you to join me as I delve deeper into: How is it that I gaze upon the world, nature and its people? How does this affect the way I interact with the climate crisis? What now…?

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