I spent the morning giving a talk to the Bristol Christian Meditation Group, part of a worldwide movement to promote meditation from any faith or from non. They were interested in how faith could play a part in promoting a greater awareness of our relationship with nature. The audience were lovely, engaged and asked some searching questions.
I gave the talk a strange title - Being a Christian and a Mammal. For too long Christianity (and many other faiths) has put humanity aside from nature, regarding people as floating, spiritual beings that are removed from the nitty gritty, mess and joy of the natural world. The common approach is that the earth is a resource that supports us, not an integral part of what we are. I wanted to stress our mammalian nature, place us in a evolutionary context, look at what drivers shaped the way we look, act and interact with the world around us. How we evolved an upright stance, developed forward looking vision, why we developed complex language, how we formed social groups and the consequences of that. The tribalism, gossip, group sizes that we adopt - all driven by our evolution and the pressures we responded to in nature. I also wanted to point out how much of the earth is hidden from our senses as we developed our complex brains. How we miss so much of what is happening around us, the colour spectrums we can't see, the vibrations we can't feel, the electrical fields we can't detect and the sounds outside our hearing.
Is it important to think of ourselves as mammalian as well as spiritual? Or is this intellectualising and only useful for middle England chatter? I think it is important to look into our deep-time roots and think about our long history on earth. Because if we regard ourselves as separate from all that out there then we will have a relationship that is based on difference, not connection. We will have an intellectual relationship. It also leads to a kind of paternalism towards the natural world and the extraordinary creatures we live alongside. Too often the religious approach is either utilitarian or overly sentimental. We are told to look for God is in the beauty of a butterfly or flower, or in the majesty of a mountain. But what about God in the ebola virus or malarial parasite? In the Nepalese earthquake? If God is only in the appealing things then when disaster strikes or a snake bites or a child dies of malaria, we don't know how to process it.
It was a good morning, thanks to the organisers for asking me.