“Any place is sacred ground, for it can become a place often counter with the divine presence.”
— David Steindl-Rast
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
— Marcel Proust
“IRELAND 250 ACRES SMALLER AFTER FLOODS TEAR CHUNKS OFF THE COASTLINE.”
That was a headline in the Irish Independent on 10 March 2014. The winds, ocean surges and were extraordinarily severe. Rainfall levels in Ireland were the highest since records began. In England and Wales they were the highest for 250 years. This resulted in destruction, hardship and misery for many thousands of people.
The great majority of scientists in the field of meteorology and environment agree that human beings have and continue to contribute significantly to global warming with consequent changes in our climate patterns. Why do we continue on such a destructive pathway? As Sue Gerhardt says in her book, The Selfish Society: “Like children let loose in a sweetshop, we have gorged ourselves on everything we could get hold of, blissfully unaware of the true cost of our activities.”
Or as a saying attributed to a Native American puts it: “When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.” But do we have to wait until then?
Perhaps it is our search for happiness, based on the assumption that the more material goods we have the happier we will be, that blinds us to the destruction we are reaping. Or maybe it is that, in our world, we rarely acknowledge that the non- human forms of life are worthy of compassion, respect or reverence. Maybe we never look at it through the eyes of a mystic like Meister Eckhart who says that “every creature is a word of God and a book about God.”
The English mystic Julian of Norwich said, our universe “lasts and always shall, because God loves it; and so everything has being by the love of God.” In our own times Pope Benedict XVI said: “The first visible sign of divine love is found in creation.” All life is related in some amazing way. It is this interconnectedness that calls forth reverence from us for all forms of life and enables us to empathise with all suffering whether human or not. It may be true, as Tennyson says, that nature is ‘red in tooth and claw’ but something deep within us recoils when we see humans or animals brutalised or indeed our rivers and lakes polluted.
In the film How to Train your Dragon the main character Hiccup has been told from childhood that his own people, the Vikings, kill dragons. He has also been told that it is their nature to do so and it cannot be changed. Later in the film, Hiccup finds an injured dragon and to his surprise he experiences deep feelings of care and compassion towards the helpless creature. He rebels against all he has been told and he refuses to kill the dragon. Later he explains to his girlfriend Astrid: “I wouldn’t kill him because he looked as frightened as I was. I looked at him and saw myself.”
One of the teachings that original sin tells us is, that we have a tendency to be chronically self-centred and to that extent disconnected from God, other human beings and the natural world around us. We are each of us, individually, a bundle of fears, desires and passions that demand to be satisfied or met in some way. As a result we have a tendency to see ourselves as the centre of our universe. The culture we live in often re-enforces this.
The good news is that Jesus came to tell us that we are much, much more than ‘a bundle of fears, desires and passions’. He came that we may have life and have it ‘to the full’. But to achieve this we would have to change our way of thinking. This ‘life to the full’ he offers us, would not be achieved by over-consumption and
building bigger he tells us that it is by ‘losing’ our life that we find it. It is difficult to understand this at the level of logic. We have to experience the truth of it by living it. Then we will know.
Of all God’s creations we are the ones with moral responsibility for safeguarding our planet.
Religion, according to Alfred North Whitehead, ‘is a phenomenon that begins in wonder and ends in wonder. Feelings of awe, reverence, and gratitude are primary, and these can never be learned from books. We gain them from sitting high on a cliff side, gazing at the sea, lost in reverie and listening to the laughter of children.’
As usual the poet Mary Oliver, with her deceptive simplicity, takes us to a place where logic fails to take us.
Why I Wake Early
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips and the nodding morning glories, and into the windows of, even, the miserable and crotchety–
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light– good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness.
Hopefully, this summer will bring us morning sunshine which, when we stand for a moment, and allow it to bathe our faces, will bring us into awe and reverence with the warmth of its caress. And then may we, too, begin our day in happiness and kindness.