We’re not particularly geared for extreme temperatures here in Wales, where I live. We literally grind to a halt. The cattle in the field across from me illustrate this grinding really well. It seems they have to consider carefully, weigh up all the odds, before moving their enormous bulks a single step in any one direction. They are not always in the shade, presumably because the effort to get there has proved too much for them, so they stand and grind the piece of grass they had grabbed a few hours ago. I feel for them in all their lethargy and heaviness. I feel also for people who, in the heat we’ve known over the past couple of days, experience a similar lethargy of spirit, the inability to hold a thought together or to proceed to anything at all, mentally as well as physically, a grinding to a halt.
I would not call this depression, although it will feed into existing depression if that is where we are at emotionally. It is simply a kind of vacant state. I usually welcome vacant states as opportunities for doing and being nothing in particular and for allowing God to simply be. But on looking back over the last couple of days, God seemed rather more muffled than usual, as if he too had ground to a halt. There was a sense of everything being held in this solid stillness, along with what is for many at such times, the struggle to simply stay alive. The elderly person being helped to drink water, the newborn baby, the soldier defending the fields of Ukraine, and the one engaged in attacking them. They are all pushing, grinding against the weight of this heat.
It is the nature of soporific heat to make us feel that it will never end, as if an irreversible dial has been turned up, even if the heat abates, as it is doing today. We were reminded only yesterday that the planet is on a new and frightening trajectory and that we have passed the tipping point in regard to climate change. There is a real sense of suffocation. It is primal, physical and to some degree emotional and spiritual, as if God can do no more for us, until, of course, a glimmer of hope appears. The breeze freshens, the dog gets up, shakes himself and ventures outside, the sky darkens and the overall mood lightens. A sign of something longer term and far more significant than the weather, a sign of salvation, perhaps.
Salvation, which literally translates as ‘life’ is not an abstraction, but a reality. It is as real as the weather. It affects us in the immediate moment; when the temperature drops a couple of degrees, in the release we experience when the weather turns cooler. It affects us in the same way in the contexts of the ordinary exchanges of daily life; in an argument avoided through restraint or humour, in a fault in oneself recognised and its effects apologised for. Salvation lies in the goodness of the moment that immediately follows. It frees us, in all these moments, from the stultifying effects of sin. It frees us from the grind that sin in all its banality makes of our lives when we do not seize on such moments and do what is necessary to restore the fragile equanimity which the world so badly needs in order to survive.