By Olivia Kamil Smarr
I love apocalyptic films and literature. I am intrigued by the different ways that “The End” is depicted, and how people react to it. It is in those moments that you see humanity’s true nature: the rage, the fear, and what happens when we finally realize that we are absolutely not in control. We see human emotion in its rawest form.
Recently I watched a tragically moving film called Melancholia. In the movie, a “rogue planet” is on course to collide with Earth, and the characters cope in different ways. One character, Justine, lives with severe depression, but in the days leading up to the Earth’s destruction, she finds peace through acceptance. She doesn’t desperately seek ways to find happiness or try to force herself to enjoy her last days. She feels the weight of impending disaster and does not try to hide it. Rather, she accepts where she is in the moment, emotionally and physically. In one scene towards the end of the movie, she goes to a nearby creek in the middle of the night and bathes in the light of the planet as it rapidly approaches Earth.
The depiction of the end of the world in Melancholia makes me think of how climate change is currently transforming the Earth in irreparable ways, affecting humanity’s future for centuries to come. A recent climate report detailed the harsh reality that we have globally reached a point where, although there is a chance to lessen some of the damage, climate change is irreversible, and we are predicted to have devastating environmental effects in the next few decades. Some people have used the term “climate apocalypse” to describe our situation. It feels like “The End” is coming, and there’s not much that we as individuals can do about it. When the major contributors to climate change are wealthy corporations, it’s painful to realize that the same capitalistic systems that oppress us are destroying our environment, leaving us to bear the burden.
In watching apocalyptic movies that show epic visual depictions of catastrophic environmental disasters, it is easy for me as a film lover and aficionado of good cinematography to see those films as a depiction of finding the beauty in the end. When we watch those movies, we objectively see the terrifying power of what nature is capable of, and can even acknowledge the awe-inspiring wonder in cataclysmic destruction. But it’s easy to watch a movie about the end of the world when it’s not your world that’s ending. Lately I’ve been wondering, how do you find solace in disaster when you’re the one that’s affected? Where is God when The End is imminent, and it feels like there’s nothing we can do?
How can we find hope in our reality, in these current circumstances? What does salvation—saving ourselves and each other—even look like in the face of climate change? How would salvation feel? Is salvation even possible?
I don’t have definitive answers for any of these questions. But I ponder them often, reflecting upon humanity’s place in creation. The reality of climate change has brought on a deluge of emotions. Yes, there are still ways for us to do whatever we can to lessen the damage of climate change. We are not totally hopeless. However, it’s okay to feel that way. It’s okay to feel defeated and to want to give up. It’s okay to worry and cry and weep and scream and yell and collapse into tears. There is still divinity in anger and frustration and fear and pain, because there’s inherent divinity within us.
There is power and dignity in being at peace with being afraid.
I don’t know where God is when disaster happens. But I see the God in me and around me, and I spend time with that God. I honor that God. I find peace in the presence of that God. I still have faith in our individual and collective divinity, that every molecule of our bodies is blessed by divine supernatural essence. Although humanity may be temporary, I believe that divinity is everlasting. I can find solace in finitude. I see hope in the saving grace that right now, in this moment, I am present and I am holy.
Olivia Kamil Smarr (she/her) is a Black queer mystic, public theologian and spiritual movement artist. She combines traditional West African dance with contemporary Black American dance styles, and incorporates music spanning the African diaspora to show how ancestral rhythms survive in our bodies and are embedded within our spirits. Olivia explores, challenges, and creates innovative ways of spiritual engagement—conjuring revolution, power, magic, and passion through movement. She engages with a theology that views the body itself as divine and holy, embracing the connection of sensuality and spirituality.
Olivia centers those with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and survivors of trauma, including religious trauma, in her work.
Olivia has a Master of Arts in Religious Studies from Chicago Theological Seminary, and successfully defended her thesis “Revelations of Divine Love: A Womanist Embodied Mysticism” in 2021. Her research explores the intersections between movement, mysticism, and nature, from a queer eco-womanist theological lens.