What Happens When Ritual Works: The People’s Climate March

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper

Religious folk are not so good at a lot of things but we are experts at ritual. The mass. The wedding. The baptism. The Bar Mitzvah. The funeral. The Praise service.

Yesterday’s climate march we multifaith types joined the rest of the people who love the earth enough to march it to create a ritual. When a ritual works, people feel something. They are changed. They come in the door one person and go out another.

The best moment was at 12:58 p.m. when a call went out for two minutes of silence. It was real. Quiet in New York City? Very much so. And then a secular ritual – the wave – joined the quiet, starting from the back and waving all the way through the thousands gathered. Like an ululation – an Arabic shout that accompanies ritual – the sound built its joy and pierced the quiet with happiness. EVERYBODY I know says that was the moment worth the bus rides, the sleeping on the floor and the expensive packaged food. For me, it was an urban bliss, a sacralization of all that has been desacralized, a punctuation marking off the time before we had hope we could love the earth from the time when we forgot or did not. Hope waved its arms and its voice at us, and we waved back. I know this mostly happens at large sports events. So what? The blend of the sacred and the secular, the earth and the heavens was everywhere yesterday.

There was also a floating of the lanterns at Lincoln Center. Right at 7 p.m. when the light was most splendid. Today there is a sea of blue shirts and dresses at Flood Wall Street, where people are getting arrested as I write. Ritual is most real when it has truth to it. Like the way the mass tells us that eating together is sacred or that Jesus wanted us to remember it that way. Or a wedding makes promises no one can really keep or a funeral adds forgiveness to it’s foment and life goes on. The truth at Flood Wall Street was powerful: we know that profit is in the way of healing for the earth. It is time to wave that truth all around town and country.


Before the wave, there was an extraordinary outdoor prayer service that a small committee created. It featured celebration and lamentation and renewal of commitments. Music was from the cello, from gospel singers, from Peter Yarrow and Neshama Carlebach. Rabbi Arthur Waskow chanted a lament for the earth, written by Rabbi Tamara Cohen. Thirty of us road the ark, created by Isaac Luria (my son) from Auburn Seminary, and remembered how generous God is, even to those who forgot the rainbow again. And, yes, we did pass out animal crackers.

A concluding service was held at St. John The Divine. There fancier people spoke and our tired feet rested. We used stones as symbols of our commitment. And Rev. Kowalski, Dean of the Cathedral, promised to make the cathedral more green ongoing, as are many congregations in New York City and beyond. Imagine the truth of our places yielding green truth in their real estate as well? I wonder if our attendances would increase as our rituals got more real? At least we would join those who marched with solar panels, along side our arks and our stones and our chanting.

We housed several hundred people at my church. They slept on the floor and in the hallways. About a hundred of them were from the Poor People’s Campaign in Philadelphia. I admit it: I was worried the place would be a mess and we’d be cleaning up after our guests for weeks. Not only is the place spotless this morning but also our microwaves have all been scoured. When I got there last night to check on things, I found an old woman working away on the grunge in the microwave. I was more than humbled. I told her she didn’t need to do that and she agreed, “I didn’t have to. I wanted to.” We were worried about how climate change would coalesce with other issues, like racism or Ferguson, immigration and deportation, sexual violence and women’s rights or homophobia. What happened is that the march was much more than white (our worst fear) and so close to a rainbow that you could almost hear Noah’s exclamation at the return of the dove.

People were surprised to see what the New York Times called, “an unusual juxtaposition of faiths”, the Quakers and the Pagans, the Catholics and the Jews, the Muslims and the Buddhists, joined by at least one Unicorn. In my actualized hope, after yesterday’s multiple “services”, I imagine something different than the Times. I imagine a usual juxtaposition of faiths.

 
55 Washington Square South New York, NY 10012 | phone: 212-477-0351 | fax: 212-995-0844