It is the day before the Cop26 summit begins. There has been an intense build up with leaked documents, debates, voices of civil servants, politicians, scientists, economists from David Atenborough to the Pope Francis on this programme yesterday. Many are negotiating behind the scenes and hundreds of people have been walking the country on pilgrimage to Glasgow.
For many people who have had the start of COP26 in their sights for months – today will have the new quality of waiting, of vigil – but what does it really mean to keep vigil? It is from the Latin wakefulness or devotional watching and has developed to also mean the extraordinary moment of the eve before something important. Christians keep the vigil at Midnight mass on Christmas eve and Holy Saturday: occasions of solemnity, expectation and hope.
Recently, I have been attending compline at a local Cistercian nunnery. It’s the final night prayer which is sung like a Lullaby. The chapel is old and drafty which effects the large candles placed close together on the altar. Their wicks burn more intensely but the flames lean in one direction and candles become joined in groups of ten or more burning as one. After the service we stay in silent prayer to keep vigil like the candles, joined together surrendering our hopes.
But, for me, the last week has been full of young people in despair because having been involved in demonstrations about climate change a couple of years ago, their activist circles now dismiss COP26 as impossible to influence, they feel they have no pointers as to where to go next. In their depression and tears, we talked about the importance of change from the ground roots up as well as through the powerful top down. Of course, both are needed, but ultimately it’s a cultural discussion.
A report from the ‘independent intergovernmental body’ supported by the UN environmental programme states
‘By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.’
For change at this level every skill is needed: Political, economic, social, creative and also spiritual. In the drafty chapel, the Cistercian nuns believe their prayer is beyond time and place, sending support for the greater good. It is a devotional activism.
On this the eve of COP26 courageous and creative voices join on every level to turn their focus towards Glasgow and, together, begin vigil with full hearts, knowing that every candle matters.