I was asked to write four reflections on the season of Creationtide (Sept 1- Oct 4th) for the Clifton DIocese. They are posted below.
The Amazon is burning. The images sear into our hearts as we watch millions of years of wondrous forest succumb to flames, fanned by greed and political ambition. Within the inferno countless millions of unique life forms are being destroyed - monkeys, birds, reptiles, insects and plant life are no more, and the flames surge ever onwards.
This great forest, 55 million square kilometres, regulates the world’s climate, produces one third of the fresh water entering the oceans and is a living, breathing temple to diversity and beauty. Many have already fought and died to protect the trees, the creatures of the rainforest and the peoples who live there.
The Amazon needs us now, starting today, to kneel and pray for its protection and then to stand up and protest at its destruction. The forest relies on us to demand that justice is done. Now is the time for the Catholic Church, which has an immense influence over the whole Amazonian basin, to extend a hand to politicians, local peoples and conservationists and together square up to the powers that are destroying our planet. It must be done with urgency because the actual survival of the Amazon is at stake. It depends more than ever on a formidable alliance between people with a passion to save the earth and a worldwide, powerful and compassionate religion.
“The sky is angry and is crying because we are destroying the planet,” said Pope Francis when he visited the Amazon last year. We are all weeping with anger, fears and helplessness. Forces are acting today that see nothing but financial gain from this sparkling blue planet we are privileged to call home. Every single one of us has a moral duty to act and hold truth to power, to project the image of a destroyed rainforest to every corner of the earth and decry the forces that have brought us to this.
Pope Francis called the Amazon rainforest, ‘the heart of the church.” Within the smoking ruins of a once holy temple to God’s grandeur, let our prayers rise up with the smoke and mingle with the ash. Hope is found in the deepest, darkest hours and we are living through that right now.
I watched a chiffchaff bathing in my garden, it splashed tentatively in the late summer sun, always on guard. Mainly olive green with a beautiful, subdued yellow eye stripe, it added a touch of the exotic to the normal urban gang of blue and great tits. It must have been on passage south, its breeding season at an end, and I felt privileged it had chosen my garden as a pit-stop. I could easily fit this tiny bird into the palm of my hand - it is feather-lite, weighing the same as a two pence piece.
So small, so slender, it looks as though a gust of wind might damage its lovely body. Yet, it is tiny bundle of resilience, reminding us that not everything that is strong and fit for purpose is obviously robust. As it journeys to its wintering grounds, I hope the autumn storms blow it on its way, that the wild seas are crossed with ease and that the predators are already satiated when it flies nearby. I also pray that the Mediterranean hunters put down their guns and dismantle their cruel traps and that they bow in respect to this marvel of God.
The chiffchaff is shifting its migration in response to a changing climate. More of them now stay in the south of England in the winter rather than heading out for Europe or Africa. Even more resilience from this diminutive miracle.
“Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul” said Emily Dickinson, and so it is. I will be so full of joy when its rhythmic chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff once again fills the spring air. It is tiny feathered prayer, surviving and adapting to a changing planet.
Integrity is the treasure buried in the field, it is a life well-lived and carried out with inner wholeness. It is obvious to all of us at this moment in history that the film dividing fact and fiction, hubris and humility is paper thin - at times it is barely discernible – and so more than ever we need to find daily integrity. It is there of course, all around us. A flower, a bird, a tree cannot be other than entire in and of themselves and assured in their purpose. A robin or a fox cannot be other than what they are, they are incorruptible and incapable of being false. It is not possible for the natural world to break our trust.
The season of Creationtide is perfectly timed. Autumn sees immense transition in nature. The change of guard from blousy flowers to dying leaves, from warmth to chill, has inspired the greatest artists to creative thoughts on our own life span. The season of mellow fruitfulness is almost to cliched to quote, yet we know the meaning of that phrase is heavy with reference to our own experiences. Nature creates in vision a commentary on our deepest understandings and fears. And it also relates those inner thoughts to God.
For, like a grain of fire
Smouldering in the heart
Of every living essence
God plants His undivided power –
Buries His thought too vast
In seeds and roots and blade
The Sowing of Meanings – Thomas Merton
Seeds and flowers, roots and blades are what they are, they live good lives in harmony with a whirling planet that processes around a burning star. We have much to learn from nature about the trajectory of our own lives through quiet, autumnal contemplation.
I was in a wild night of storms a while ago, in the High Sierras in California. I was camping in a small tent and could hear the wind raging down the valley, heading straight for me. The roar was so loud I clasped my hands over my ears; it sounded like a train. When it hit, everything shook and strained. The tent pegs and the rocks I’d placed on them shifted. The thin fabric of the tent looked set to tear. All I could do was curl up and pray as rain battered my shelter. If my tent had failed, I wouldn’t have known what to do. I was alone and at least a day’s walk from any settlement. Sometimes the power of the planet is scary, terrifying even.
That pure energy whipping around the surface of the globe is nothing more than excited air, increasingly agitated by the difference in temperature between the day and the night as we head for the coldness of the winter ahead. Invisible yet dynamic, storms are the manifestation of the power of things unseen. They can be violent and destructive, or merely teasing and playful, but storms are a signature of the start of the change to winter.
People have long been in awe of the ability of tempests to quell even the most dominant human force. The bible tells many a story of God providing shelter and protection from storms, an image that must have been so comforting in lands that can experience extreme weather.
My tent did survive, I got home safely to love and security. For many people in the Bahamas this year, things did not turn out so well. Hurricane Dorian took away their things, their security, even lives. It is good to remember and pray for those who stand in the path of the planet’s power and for the strength to build their lives once again. And we have to understand that the loss and grief caused by Dorian is yet another sign that climate change is not gradual transition to another reality but a dramatic change in state.