Spring came early to the Yukon this year. Returning swans flew over me at the end of March. The first flush of green followed the crocuses a whole month early on the hill, the remains of old glacial esker, across from where I work. Our May tree actually bloomed in its namesake month, a true rarity. Looking high, though, at surrounding mountaintops lingering patches of snow still can be seen.
“You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants.” The Prophet Isaiah captures that sense of joy that sweeps over all of us at times such as when a long winter comes to an end and life returns to our once frozen land.
The real background for Isaiah’s poetic writing goes something like this. In 587/6 BC a national tragedy scarred the collective psyche of the Jewish people. Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the first Temple initiated by King Solomon nearly 400 years earlier. The city walls of Jerusalem came down and many of the city’s elites were forced into exile. The end of the Babylonian captivity following Cyrus the Great’s conquest of his rival empire two generations later set the stage, some scholars argue for the prophet’s jubilation, inspiring his writings. The bounty of God’s blessings and mercy would again touch a wounded people.
Isaiah’s joy-filled message provides comfort to anyone seeking renewal or hoping for a new start. Our global community longs for such a hope-filled vision. We desperately need a chance to reflect deeply on our circumstances and begin again. Alternatives must be found to the divisive and destructive global processes set in train by the Age of Discovery and the Industrial Revolution.
Obviously other humanity scale revolutions over the last half-millennia, such as those in basic human rights, science, literacy and democracy, have drawn us toward the still vague outlines of a just, sustainable future. Voices like that poet and Emeritus Bishop of São Félix do Araguaia, Dom Pedro Casaldàliga from Mato Grosso, Brazil, prophetically help to us articulate that future. He challenges us to act. “It’s time to wake up because it’s urgent to change the rules.” Writing in the Latin American Agenda 2016, which he published along with José María Vigil, a Claretian priest and theologian living in Panama, Bishop Pedro points out that we have come to accept governments under the hegemonic control of corporate elites.
“Although we are in a historical time of social resurgence, those who are more awake are seeing that it’s time to react, to open eyes and raise awareness; to develop a new hegemony — the hegemony of human humanity; to criticize the fundamentalism of the market; the hegemony of recovering sequestered democracy. It is time to plot a new course: the past three decades has already proven to be unsustainable and is leading us into social explosion and planetary crisis.”
Ever faith-filled, for Dom Pedro a renewed world is inevitable. The Booker Prize-winning Indian author Suzanna Arundhati Roy, arguably said it best. “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
Strong counter currents, protective of privilege and power, seek to hold back the tide of change. There are those who practice the politics of fear and division. Those who seek to put up walls of intolerance rather than build bridges of understanding sway millions. Rant and rhetoric try to drown out dialogue and reason.
Tens of thousands of people from around the globe gathering in Montreal in August, though, will strive to counter this climate of hatred and fear. A delegation from Development and Peace plus Rev. José María Vigil will be among the participants in the first World Social Forum held in the “Global North.” Begun in 2001 this is the world’s largest civil society gathering. Its stated mission is “to build together in a movement of international solidarity a better world founded on social and environmental justice, a social and solidarity economy, a participative democracy and the acknowledgement of equal dignity for all.”
Hundreds of workshops, forums and speakers on alternatives and solutions to today’s problems, will be hosted from August 9 to 15 in Montreal. “Building concrete alternatives to the neoliberal economic model and to politics based on the exploitation of human beings and nature” will be the goal of participants. The World Social Forum has been planned around 13 themes such as “Struggles against Racism, Xenophobia, Patriarchy and Fundamentalism,” “Rights of Nature and Environmental Justice,” “Culture of Peace and Struggle for Justice and Demilitarization” and “Democratization of Knowledge and Right to Communication.” Paul’s affirmation that in belonging to Christ “a new creation is everything!” would fit right in.
Luke’s Gospel lays out marching orders for us, a way to take our message of peace, hope and salvation into the world. Two by two Jesus sent the 70 out. “Go on your way. See. I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” He knew then as now that the needed changes of hearts and institutions will not be easy to attain. There is a deep joy, however, that comes from an awareness that this work heralds the coming kingdom. This joy will sustain all who take to this long, arduous, multi-generational road. We shall overcome.
Dougherty is co-chair of the Social Justice Committee at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Whitehorse, Yukon.