A few days ago, folks aboard a Seven Seas Whale Watch noticed that a young whale was entangled by significant rope and in dire need of assistance. The whale was also towing a substantial string of traps beneath the surface, making breathing difficult. Fortunately the Center for Coastal Studies Marine Entanglement Response Team was called and the whale was freed. This incident is eerily similar to something that happened a little over a month ago, on Saturday, August 12th, off the coast of Rockport: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbjbSxodoSA&t=4s
And like the two people who responded to the groans of Pinball, Alan and Patricia, when we hear the cries of creation, we groan with her.
How are we listening to the groans of creation?
Willie James Jennings, a professor of theology at Yale, writes, “Since the beginning of the colonial moment, Christians have lived in denial of our deep creaturely connections. We have turned the earth and animals into what they are not: inert dirt and resources for our extraction and exploitation. We have imagined silence where the world is speaking, lifelessness where the world is living, and nothing more than our projections of meaning onto places where the world invites us into a living reciprocity—a reciprocity necessary for our survival and flourishing.
(But,) The world is animate, and communicative. We have to understand this before we can sense the world’s groaning—which in turn is key to sensing our shared hope with the world itself.”
Listening to the video, it is clear that the whale was in distress. Did you notice how Alan was speaking to the whale? Like a beloved. Did you hear his compassion and his concern?
We are designed by the Creator to respond to the groaning of creation. When a baby cries, we naturally go to pick her up. When someone we love (whether a human or animal) is in pain, we will do whatever we can to try and alleviate it.
This response is a source of hope. As we are moved into action, God moves with us.
As we respond with compassion and work to change the underlying conditions that create pain and suffering – which is the work of justice – God’s spirit animates us.
What Paul suggests in the passage we heard today is that earth and humanity are created to be partners. How often we miss the truth of this reality.
The challenge for us as individuals and as a society is to slow down enough, pay attention, and listen to what the creation is trying to tell us. If we do this, as Buddhism teaches, we will naturally respond with compassion. As we pause, we will also naturally respond with a question: why did this happen? This question leads us to the work of justice: to changing the conditions that cause the problem.
In the Gulf of Maine, off the coast of Cape Ann, approximately 65% of humpback whales, like Pinball, will experience an entanglement that will lead to injury or death. It is estimated that 85% of North Atlantic Right Whales, also found off our coast, will, likewise, suffer from entanglements. Their population is near extinction – with less than 350 known to be alive. We humans have been abusive and neglectful partners to whales.
Why care about whales? Not only are they God’s creatures – which is reason enough – who also thrill us when we watch them, some scientists contend that through the ways they eat, excrete, and die, whales also have a role in sequestering carbon. We are partners with whales in combating the climate emergency.
Paul writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together as it suffers together the pains of labor.” The pains of labor.
In other words, groaning is not the end of the story. When we show up with compassion to the groaning of the world – whether it is to an individual who is struggling – or an entire species – like whales, something new can be born… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGBjNL-8ac0
That’s partnership! That’s what compassion and justice look like!
When we allow ourselves to feel the pain of the world – in this case the pain of our brother and sister whales – rather than ignore it or run from it or be numbed in the midst of it or deny it – we can become instruments of transformation, instruments of grace. It takes courage, dedication, and community.
Working together we can face what makes us and those we love groan and in pain and find a new way forward.
Audrey West writes, “True hope is born out of the assurance that what we see and experience — the groaning reality all around us — is not the end of the story. This is hope as a woman in labor hopes: breathing through the pain, holding tight to a companion, looking ahead to what cannot yet be seen, trusting that a time will come when this pain is but a memory.”
On that August Saturday in Rockport, Alan Grazioso and Patricia Alvarado Nunez reported that they heard “an odd groaning noise and then we saw splashing… (They) could see some lines wrapped around a whale’s tail. (Pinball) was trying to move her fins and (they said that she) was breathing with a groan and really in distress. It was heartbreaking to hear the groan, like a deep groan, like asking for help.”
Grazioso recalled “It was very emotional. We both kind of held hands…I’m getting emotional now because it was not one whale, but two whales, because a baby was there…
You know, obviously, she was in a very difficult position, struggling with something that was driving her into an absolute panic. At the same time, like any mother, she also has to keep herself together to try to take care of her kid. So trying to manage two of those very complicated things at once was really difficult for her. But, you know, removing that gear from her, watching her get back with her calf gives us hope.“
Friends, as David Orr writes, “hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up. Hopeful people are actively engaged in defying the odds or changing the odds.”
Creation groans. As we listen, as we respond with compassion and justice, we can make a difference. Together, partnering with creation and with each other, we embody hope. And this hope, St. Paul proclaims, is what life in God is all about. This hope labors to birth new life. Amen.