|From Reflections of a Curlew|
Tonight (12th January) I am giving the opening talk at a series on Christianity and the environment organised by St Joseph's Catholic Church in Guilford. The essence of my talk is here. This blog can be used by anyone who would like to comment on what is said tonight (and for anyone else).
The earth is held in the love of God, it reflects God’s presence into our lives everyday. Cherishing and caring for this most wondrous of planets, and celebrating this great gift is at the heart of Catholic Christianity. And never has the time been more right to bring that belief once more into the centre of our lives. Now is the time to act for our future, the future of all our children and the future of creation itself.
“We are now to the point where we have lost ½ the world’s forests, ½ of the world’s wetlands and ½ the world’s grasslands. We are systematically eradicating habitats that make up the world’s ecosystems.”
James Leape, Head of WWF International
“If the religious people of the world, who of course make up the vast majority of people, were to become interested in saving biodiversity, which is after all the creation, and make it part of religious faith then they might be able to join scientists in an alliance and actually save what is left of life on earth”
Professor E.O. Wilson, Harvard
"The fate of the creatures which share our planet lies entirely at the hand of mankind - it is within our power to protect them or watch them become extinct. Let us choose the first route."
Sir David Attenborough
"The sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago, had they happened to be within reach of predatory human hands"
Sound of Many Waters, a year long series of events held at Clifton Cathedral, was the result of a lecture I gave there in 2005 called The Pope and the Iceberg. That first talk challenged the Catholic Church to take seriously its role in protecting the earth from greed and exploitation. As a documentary Producer at the BBC’s Natural History Unit for 20 years, and a Catholic, it had become a burning issue. I want to see the Church act to protect what is an astonishing planet, but I want it to act not just because we are increasingly discovering the extent of the ecological crisis, but because it is the right thing to do – it is the honour and the duty of the Church to promote sustainable living that respects all the natural world.
To Catholics the earth is sacramental; God is revealed in creation. Catholicism is an incarnational religion that believes the creator of the universe became human and lived on earth. Catholicism is intricately bound to matter and life and therefore protection and care for the earth should be central to Catholic teaching and practice. Sound of Many Waters was therefore an attempt to show how our many and varied relationships with nature can be expressed in our faith tradition.
Yet there seems to be uncertainty about our relationship with nature. The reason I have this impression about the Church is because over the last few years I have been asking a particular question based on a personal experience. About fifteen years ago I went to the high Arctic to film a rare species of duck called a Spectacled Eider. This rather bizarre bird lives out its whole life above the Arctic Circle and even over-winters sitting in the middle of the frozen Baring Sea. It is a quite extraordinary and awe-inspiring little duck.
I stayed on a remote island and filmed a female brood her clutch of eggs and then watched the ducklings waddle off into the Arctic Ocean to begin their mysterious lives out of the way of human influence. Very few people see Spectacled Eiders and so this was a great privilege. A few years later I telephoned the man who owned the island to ask how the ducks were doing and his news was deeply shocking. The year after I left he went back again to check on the four females that regularly nest on his island. All four had been shot sitting on the nest. No one had taken the bodies for food, they hadn’t used the feathers or the eggs; they had been shot simply for being ducks in America. I put the phone down and wept, not just for the wickedness of the people who had carried out this callous act of violence but for the senseless loss of magnificent creatures.
My question to lay Catholics, religious and the Church hierarchy alike is this – If Christ had been walking over that island and found those dead ducks, would he have wept? Not just for the people who had killed animals, but for the loss of the ducks themselves? Overwhelmingly the answer to that question from the lay community is yes, but the hierarchy is split, with many saying no – the reason given is Christ wouldn’t weep over that which is not human.
This story illustrates my point that there is confusion about our relationship with nature, and as long as this remains there will be little incentive to act as a Church. Therefore it is time to decide for ourselves what the natural world really means to us, how we can put that belief into practice and how we can be visionaries for others.
How can we be agents for change in this world of consumerism? How can the Christian well spring of joy and hope be brought to the environmental table, along with the gifts of the Holy Spirit - courage, wisdom, temperateness? How can the Option for the Poor and the Common Good be what dirves the decisions we make about the future of the planet?
“Not in the midst of life’s tumult, nor in the world of pleasures round, does God show himself, but in the inspiration of nature, grace, light as a breath of fresh air, in a still small voice”