In Korea, we have a word to describe the pain and suffering inflicted by unjust systems. The word is han. Individuals, communities, and even nations can experience han. Korea as a nation experienced deep han as we were invaded by China and colonized by Japan.
Han is an important religious and spiritual motif that illuminates the current condition of our world. Han describes the depths of human suffering created when one is unjustly wounded or violated. It denotes repressed feelings of suffering, that come through oppression by others or through natural calamities or illness. Han is a deep spiritual pain that rises out of the unjust experiences of the people. Han represents the wrong deeds that we do to each other.
However, han isn’t limited to human beings; it is also experienced by animals, plants, and the earth. Animals and nature suffer from abusive treatment by humans, yet they cannot protest. They can only groan over their lot. Han is their inexpressible pain at being maltreated. Creation was not meant to be subjected to human exploitation, but creation has been forced to serve human whims and has suffered the pain in silence. The earth is suffering and crying out.
Carbon emissions, the use of fossil fuels, and non-renewable energy lead to global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer, and damage creation. Animals are dying, fish are rotting due to the garbage in our oceans and rivers. Climate change is wreaking havoc around the globe. Storms are getting fiercer and causing deaths and displacements, causing the number of climate refugees to rise. As the earth suffers, it is groaning under broad swatches of damage, which is han.
Glasgow, Scotland welcomed heads of state, politicians, and activists, from around the world for COP26 (The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference), from October 31-November 13, 2021, to address climate change. COP26 was postponed from last year due to the pandemic and thus high anticipations were in the air before COP26 began.
Religious leaders attended as well—to observe the proceedings and to advocate with political leaders to act on the climate crises we all face and to care for God’s creation. I went to COP26 with the World Council of Churches and the United Methodists to observe and reflect.
[Read: “The Surprising Benefits of a Healthy Ocean.”]
Renemsongla Ozukum, who is part of the World Council of Churches working group on climate change describes the effects of climate change in her country. She states, “The effects of climate change in India can best be explained in terms of a nationwide health emergency. Though India is the birthplace of many religions, healing is hard to come by. One in every four households is forced to sell off their own ancestral landed properties or assets for paying medical bills. In the health care quality index, India is depressingly listed as the world capital of tuberculosis, cardiovascular-related diseases, oral cancer, slum dwellers, street vendors, etc. while our country is filled with temples, rituals, and worship places, we don’t see this spirituality embodied in the environment and health care system.” India does not face isolated problems as all the countries are interconnected. Thus what happens in India affects Europeans and what happens in the United States affects Africans.
Creation stands in desperate need. Countries must lower their carbon emissions so that we don’t continue this road of destruction. Large polluters, such as corporations and militaries, need to act quickly to change the course of history, but each of us also must live more sustainably and for future generations. As we live in this climate crisis, each of us must do our part for climate action.
The divine created this planet earth—the Spirit of God, or ruach, pneuma, geist, and Chi,
in Hebrew, Greek, German, and Chinese. Most world religions have a concept of Spirit, which is the breath, energy, wind, and life-giving Spirit of God. As spiritual people, we recognize that the Spirit is in all of us. Spirit is what gives us life, energy, and breath.
We also need to understand that the Spirit is in all of creation. The Spirit can be sensed in the waters, air, plants, birds, animals, and fish. Once we recognize that the breath of God resides in the trees, grass, mountains, and animals, we may treat the earth with more kindness and love. We will imagine deeper ways of living more sustainably. As spiritual people, we need to walk gently on God’s earth, aim to lower our carbon footprint, and hold polluting corporations and nations accountable to do their part.
COP26 extended their negotiating meetings by two extra days as nearly 200 countries negotiated the Glasgow Climate Pact. This Glasgow Climate Pact was the first mention of fossil fuels in the final draft of a COP summit, which make a huge impact on our present climate crisis. The pact emphasizes the attenuation of coal and other fossil fuels, which will help get us closer to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). It also requested countries to come to COP27 with plans on how to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. These are small steps taken at COP26 to make this planet sustainable. It is now up to the parties to carry them out as they return home.
As we care about our own health, we need to care about the health of the planet upon which our health depends. Each of us must listen to the signs of han in each other and the earth so that we can work towards healing. We reap what we sow, and we need to reap a healthy and sustainable future for our children and for all future generations.
Keep reading: “4 Practices to Embrace Blue Spirituality.”