Midnight Oil is a rock band from Australia. (For details about the band, see here.) Formed in the 1970s, they continued recording and performing through 2022. Their music is often political in nature, lending support to the cause of Australian aborigines , for example ( “Beds Are Burning”), or workers caught up in economic systems of exploitation (“Blue Sky Mine” ). They have also repeatedly raised concerns about environmental destruction. Their final album, “Resist,” is devoted almost exclusively to ecological awareness. Though this album retains the Oils’ edge of anger and protest, some lyrics take a different turn.
I draw attention here to the first verse of “To the Ends of the Earth”:
People of the world rise up
We have been unconscious for too long
Every creature drinks from the same cup
Makes you want to dance and praise with song
Joy is coming, so confess
You are filled with joy and thankfulness
The emphasis here on dancing and praising when one becomes aware that all creatures drink from the same cup is striking as is the stress on joy and thanksgiving.
I am writing about this song because in July 2023 I attended a conference at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN, sponsored by Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission (website = APLM). This organization, a joint venture of Episcopal churches in the United States and Canadian Anglican churches, arranged this meeting to facilitate its work this year on “Worship in a Time of Climate Crisis.” In addition to time for presentations and reflection, participants prepared and celebrated times of prayer and a Mass. The abbey campus includes Lake Sagatagan, which has a small beach area. The Mass was celebrated at this beach. During the Mass, two loons on opposite sides of the lake called out to each other and swam toward each other not far from the beach. These birds were not a part of the Mass in the sense of attending to readings or praying along with the Eucharistic Prayer but they were giving glory to God simply by being loons and in this sense our liturgical celebration on the shore was caught up in their praise of the Creator.
Liturgically infused ecospirituality, like the songs of Midnight Oil, can have an edge of worry, fear, even anger. This spirituality also abounds in joy. I cannot speak to any Christian orientation of the Australian musicians, but I can say that for Christians this joy is rooted in part in the sure hope that all of creation has its ground in the Creator and that in and through the paschal mystery all of creation is summoned to divine communion. This insight is not new to me, but before the APLM conference, this insight was “head-knowledge.” I grasped it in theory. Participating in this Mass (and in the other forms of prayer during the week) drove the point home affectively and experientially.
The process of writing this reflection reminds me of a post from 2019 in which I looked back on a trip to Israel.
A candidate for baptism does not need to be in the Jordan River to provide gospel witness to the church. One does not need to be in the Church of the Multiplication or in the Wedding Church to offer or receive affirmation and gestures of solidarity. One does not need to be in the Basilica of the Agony to know the awe of offering the consecrated species to fellow believers. For me, however, these experiences in the Holy Land were crystallizations of things I thought I knew but which I now know more deeply.
One learns about the meaning of liturgy from books and lectures. One learns about the meaning of liturgy especially from the celebration of liturgy.