“How did you feel when you come out the wilderness?”
The response to this call in the spiritual circles of the Gullah/Geechee Nation could be “singing,” “clapping” “shouting” or “running.” Unfortunately, the world beyond our boarders has literally taken to the latter response as the wildfires increase due to tremendous drought brought on by climate change and then the irresponsibility of human beings which often includes how they threw a lit cigarette or firecracker into an extremely dry area which led to the forest fires that end up burning thousands of acres of land and hundreds of edifices that were built in the areas where the fires spread to. Some fires are caused naturally when lightning strikes and the wildness ignites. Controlled burns are used by forest management professionals to emulate this and to maintain certain vegetation while clearing others annually in order to create a fire break to prevent the spread of fires to areas where humans are. The question becomes “Where are the humans?” Where are people learning to care for the earth so that the earth will continue to care for us?
In the Gullah/Geechee Nation, our tradition was to go into the wildness for spiritual purposes and to have dialogues with GOD which would lead us not only back into our places of worship with new spiritual insights, but also out into our community connected to caring about one another. As more and more people that are not of our culture moved into our homeland on the Sea Islands, our spiritual practice became disrupted because not only would someone that lacked cultural knowledge interrupt the sacred but also due to the fact that the wildness started to disappear via clear cutting. This has cut into not only the soil, but into our souls.
As I continue to journey out into the woods of my family compound, I appreciate the spiritual “How do you feel when you come out the wilderness” all the more. I truly come out “leaning on the Lord” and singing and shouting. The blessing is when there are those that are also there to shout and sing with me since more oft than not, the work of climate action is not one the evokes songs of joy. The work does invoke prayer and supplication which is the central part of Gullah/Geechee seeking.
My prayers led me back into the wilderness to help to replant it, restore it, and conserve it. They led me into deep conversations with GOD in the midst of my field as I planted seeds in the same soil that my ancestors planted and left to us to feed our family from. It led me back to the bush arbor and brush arbor where what used to be ignited where the souls of spiritual people as a song like “Somebody here needs to catch on fire!” where sung. Somehow, the fires in some souls seemed to have burned out or been doused by the waters of the hurricanes that are becoming more intense and frequent over time. Aaah, but even in the midst of those storms, the trees stand tall and protect us from the winds that threaten to bring down the homes also often constructed from the trees that we’ve cut to make shelters for ourselves while forgetting that the woods were also the shelter for the deers, raccoons, rabbits and other wildlife. We only look at them as creatures to consume in the way that we have consumed so much more that makes up Mother Earth. I pray that we be consumed with healing power and cry out to GOD to heal the land. So, I find myself going back into the wilderness to lead the way. Oh, tenk GAWD fa de wilderness!
Seeking requires isolation in order to be removed from distractions. Over the past two years, folks have found themselves isolating to protect themselves from what many are also saying is linked to the public health crisis aspect of climate change-increases in the spread of viruses and global pandemics. Many took to the Internet and online streaming to find information that would bring them solace and/or answers to a myriad of questions while others took to praying more and trying to build up their physical immunity. Mother Earth started to build up her immunity also as people were sitting inside and not polluting her in the numerous ways that we’ve come to do. Folks were simply looking for some light in what seemed like a very dark situation and a very dark world. As I followed the light outside, I found it was emitting from what burned in the hearts of a group of faith leaders around the world that were seeking to do their part to heal the earth and care for the people herein.
I was contacted by the United Nations to join in global interfaith leaders work and not long thereafter, GOD led me right back to Carolina to do the same. As Queen Mother, I am enstooled as a spiritual leader for the Gullah/Geechee Nation. As is the case in numerous nations of the world, we have a myriad of spiritual practices within the Gullah/Geechee Nation and the Wisdom Circle Council of Elders and I have always continued our tradition of bringing everyone together in the circle that GOD assembles so that we can sing together, shout together, heal together and work togedda chillun. Therefore, it didn’t take meditation, a conference, a reading or any such thing for me to accept when asked to serve on the Leadership Council of South Carolina Interfaith Power and Light (SCIPL).
SCIPL is inspired by diverse faith perspectives to respond to climate change and to care for the Earth and all its inhabitants by engaging people of faith to work together for a just and sustainable future.
We do this by: engaging with faith communities to grow their understanding of climate justice and how they can respond to climate change and environmental justice in their homes, houses of worship, and communities; educating ministers and lay leaders in building their climate justice ministry; promoting energy efficiency through energy audits and a mini-grants program for houses of worship; collaborating with other organizations to develop and influence environmental justice policy; and organizing with vulnerable communities to advocate for equitable environmental policies.
Interestingly enough, one of the first projects that I suggested to SCIPL was our global tree project. In retrospect, I suppose I was spiritually helping to replant the wilderness for the next generation of seekers. Many of our churches in the Carolinas trace their beginning to meetings that took place in the bush arbors and led to the praise houses and onward to the churches that we praise in today.
It was truly a blessing to tour the campus of Brookland Baptist Church with Pastor Jackson at my first in-person SCIPL meeting and event. This institution was one of the first to participate in SCIPL‘s Congregational Energy Efficiency Challenge (CEEC). Since launching the program in 2018, seven houses of worship have completed energy efficiency upgrades resulting in a projected lifetime savings of over $500,000 and 2.5 million kWh! Brookland Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina completed the installation of energy-saving, LED lighting in the church’s Christian Learning Center in 2020. This will have a projected lifetime savings of $334,174 & 2,907 MWh. This is equivalent to carbon savings from planting 34,000 trees or sequestering 2260 tons of carbon.
Brookland Baptist Church is a living example of the institutions and organizations that have joined with other individual partners of SCIPL in take the Earth Care Covenant. The Earth Care Covenant is a public commitment to caring for the earth through sustainability, education, and energy efficiency.
We believe that caring for the Earth is an important moral responsibility. Faith communities have long utilized public declarations of faith, which solidify common values, and unite congregations around shared commitments. Signing the Earth Care Covenant allows congregations to unite behind a common commitment, and make environmental stewardship a public proclamation. SCIPL is calling on those that stand with us to go towww.SCIPL.org and sign the Earth Care Covenant and not only proclaim to join us in this effort but to actual begin the work.
As we care for the earth, the earth will care for us. Trust me, I commune with the earth often. E truly a blessin fa gwine bak een de wilderness wid chillun likka disya. AMEN!