I have taken on a new spiritual discipline: I am trying not to complain about the weather. As you might imagine, this is very difficult, mostly because of how anti-social it feels. Everyone complains about the weather. It leads most of our small talk, and aside from a few sunny and moderately warm days that southern Ontario sees outside of the extremes of heat or cold that dominate, most of our commentary on the weather is negative. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. It’s too dry. It’s too rainy. We issue these complaints in tones that suggest we have been personally injured by each and every climate incident. This spring has been wetter and cooler than normal, and our collective complaining has amplified accordingly. Normally I would be right in there too; I start to feel antsy about a spring like this. I like to say that I’m like a solar panel; I need to absorb a lot of heat through the summer in order to be able to then have enough reserves of warmth in me to get through the winter.
It has started to occur to me, though, that there is something fundamentally wrong with complaining about any of it. Which is why I’m naming it as a spiritual discipline to guard my mouth and restrain my negativity.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that complaining about the weather is an act of sin.
Now let me explain what I mean about that statement and what I don’t mean. I don’t mean that you’re a bad person if you participate in this particular form of negativity. I don’t mean that if you are sighing about the rain or lamenting about the cold that I stand in judgement of your moral character. I do, however, mean that the almost non-stop litany of disappointment that we spew about every combination of hot, cold, dry and wet in a climate that is so favourable for human life does reveal a disconnect. Sin is disconnection or separation from God. Right now, North Americans are separate from God in one of the most destructive and alarming ways our human history has ever seen (which is saying a lot), and our casual complaints about the weather are a symptom of this truth.
Our complaints reveal that our eyes have become clouded to God’s blessings. This might sound trivial. It’s not. We receive wind and snow and rain and sun and cold as affronts to our personal preferences and disruptions to the plans we would like to be living out, and we fail to see how each of these is a gift in the web of life in which we ourselves receive life. Our complaining about the weather could be added to a long list of resources that we treat with a casual wastefulness, extracting what we need, throwing out what we don’t, and never pausing to consider the gift these resources offer us, nor what our duty of care toward these gifts should be. Lack of gratitude translates into lack of responsibility.
This means that our lack of gratitude has another more sinister dimension. I think about one of my mentor’s wise analysis of the serpent in the garden and the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. Adam and Eve were given almost everything in Eden for their pleasure and use. ‘Almost’ is the key word. They were to keep their hands off one tree’s fruit. One part of that creation was not for human consumption. When they couldn’t understand that one limitation, paradise slipped out of their grasp. Likewise, one of the three central temptations of Jesus in the wilderness involved the turning of stones into bread. What Jesus had to realize and accept was that stones are not bread. They don’t exist as food for human stomachs, and trying to make them into one more opportunity to feed our insatiable human hunger would have been disrespectful to God, as well as to the pattern of life in which Jesus exists.
The lesson of these two biblical examples has been almost entirely lost on us. We not only don’t appreciate God’s good gifts, we don’t understand that the world God has created doesn’t exclusively exist to feed and delight us.
For this reason, complaining about the weather seems more and more emblematic of this entire misreading of the place and purpose of human life. We complain about something which, throughout time, has largely been thought to lie outside of human control. Weather happens, deal with it, it’s not about you. And yet, as the weather that we are experiencing in our world today is, more and more, linked exactly to human action (and inaction) — the climate is changing all around us, with the forest fire evacuations in the north and on the coast, the extreme flooding of cities, and the increasing terror of hurricane season all scientifically linked to our human behaviour — our casual complaints suggest powerlessness in the face of these weather events, even as we hum and hah about whether or not we’re going to do anything to address any of our part in it. I heard an utterly astonishing and demoralizing fact on the radio this week. When polled about climate change, most Canadians agreed that they felt strongly that something needed to be done to address it. (Yes! Finally!). When asked if they would agree to $100 more per year in taxes to change things (less than $10 per month, less than a Netflix subscription), only one quarter of those surveyed agreed. (….?). Complaining is easy. Being asked in any way to modify behaviour, to change, or even to be willing to pay, is apparently too much.
Of course, in this perspective, my new spiritual discipline seems incredibly paltry. Complaining is easy, but not complaining isn’t so hard either. What this moment demands is a lot more than words, either spoken or unspoken.
But there is also a case to be made for starting somewhere. How we speak about things is connected to how we then value and care for them. I’m choosing to pay closer attention to the words I say about the weather, and to notice how that then informs how I value the forces of creation in which I live and what my responsibility within that web of life actually is. I pray that this is a step out of my sin, out of my disconnection.
Then I pray for the next step.