Muscular Ecological Hope

Training our eyes to see the eternal Sabbath.

We are living in high-stake times.

Recent studies indicate that young people are especially aware of this. As many as 60 percent of youth and young adults are extremely worried about climate change and more than half report feeling anxious, angry, powerless and even guilty about the state of the environment.

The scariest part is that they have reason to feel this way. Zoologists are saying that wildlife populations have declined by 60 percent in only 40 years. Floods and heavy rains have quadrupled since 1980 and climate researchers tell us we have a 50/50 chance of keeping global warming below a 1.5 celsius increase. The survival of our ecosystems requires extreme changes to our polluting habits (what Amnesty International has called “atmospheric colonialism”). Taking the findings of climate scientists seriously means reckoning with the reality that something is happening on our planet right now that is already devastating and could become even more so.

And even in a time as dire as this, policies are still being made that further harm the planet we rely on. Just recently my provincial government demanded that my city council expand its boundary lines onto the Ontario Greenbelt, a long-standing stretch of land that preserves the important ecosystem surrounding the Niagara Escarpment. This unimaginative way to solve our (very real!) housing crisis evidences how narrowly we define what home is and who home is for. Until the insects and trees and critters have a secure home, none of us have a secure home.

We are far from the Sabbath Economy I’ve been writing about over the last number of months here. In a time like this, a word like “hope” can seem naive or anti-science.

Muscular Hope

Katherine Hayhoe, an esteemed atmospheric scientist and evangelical Christian, shared in an On Being interview in 2021 about a concept she called “muscular hope.”

She shared firstly that while the science is bleak, it does indicate that there is still time to make changes that can save us. “Our choices make more of a difference today than they ever have,” Hayhoe remarked. Hope is not unfounded.

Muscular hope is not wishful thinking and it is not passive. It looks at the trials ahead and drinks deeply from the same well that has sustained followers of Creator God through trials of every kind for thousands of years. This kind of hope, Hayhoe said, “is ultimately placed in God.”

How do you hold onto hope?

Work to Rest

I would like to suggest a strange, ancient, tried-and-true practice for hopeful living in the midst of our climate crisis: try the hard work and easy rest of Sabbath.

Try “working to enter into [Sabbath] rest” (Heb. 4:11), as the author of Hebrews urges. Work to carve out time to delight in creation the way Creator God did on the seventh day, allowing that delight to transform into prophetic action during your six days of labour.

Work to practice every connotation of biblical Sabbath, as I’ve discussed in this series of five articles: menuha or loving attention (Oct. 2022), Sabbath Economics (Sept. 2022), enoughness (July 2022) and Jubilee (June 2022). Work to believe fully that the planet Creator made has enough for everyone, and rest in that. Work to rest.

“Everything Belongs,” by Nina Schuurman-Drenth.
Mixed media collage. Used with permission.

Eternity in a Day

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel defines the weekly Sabbath as “eternity uttering a day.” He writes that “according to the Talmud, the Sabbath is somewhat like eternity or the world to come . . . the Sabbath is the fountainhead of eternity, the well from which heaven or the life in the world to come takes its source.” In other words, as we rest every seventh day, we receive tastes of the eternal Sabbath to come.

Our Sabbath practice could therefore be thought of as training our eyes to see the New Earth we are working towards, like an eye adjusting to sunshine after being in a dark room. Each time we practice Sabbath, we adjust our eyes to see more clearly the goal towards which we are working.

There is similarly an ancient Rabbinic tradition that says “if we learn to celebrate the Sabbath properly and fully even once, the Messiah will come.” What is meant by this is that a world in which there is corporate Sabbath is the encapsulation of all God intends for his creation. It is what we’ve been calling the Sabbath Economy or the Ecosystem of Enough. It’s a world where all creatures have a home and exist in harmonious reciprocity to create mutual abundance.

John writes in the book of Revelation that at the center of the city in the New Earth will be a “tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month” (Rev. 22:2). This prophesy parallels Creator God’s gift back in Eden of “every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every seed in its fruit” which were given to “have for food” (Gen. 1:29). Likewise, flowing through the city in the New Earth will be “a river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God” (Rev. 22:1) that the Spirit invites all who desire to drink from “without price” (Rev. 22:17).

As we live amidst increasing agricultural uncertainty, food shortages, droughts and famines resulting from climate change, this vision of the New Earth must be our hope.

Work to rest, that your eyes be trained to see.


  • Nina Schuurman-Drenth

    Nina lives in Hamilton, Ont. and is a pastor at Eucharist Church. She hosts quarterly Wild Church services in partnership with A Rocha Ontario.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *