It all seems clear enough: we need to do something now about saving our planet. Scientists have the evidence; activists have the rhetoric; governments have the power.
So, what’s stopping us?
We lack the time. We can’t summon the energy. Lectures from scientists leave us cold. Activists get up our nose. Governments send out mixed messages. We are caught between what seems to make sense, our own desire for real progress, and, let’s face it, our own greed. It feels great to ‘commune’ with nature, but, on the positive side, a nice day in the countryside, or, more negatively, pictures of the melting icecaps don’t sustain the commitment in us that is required. And none of us like to be told what to do!
The problem is that we have allowed ourselves to become disconnected, and not just with nature, but with God and each other. The philosopher Charles Taylor has examined this in detail. On the one hand, a kind of disengaged reasoning has led us to conclude that we can only find real meaning within ourselves and the fulfilment of our own self-expression. Everything (and everyone) is subservient to the supreme goal of self-realisation. Authenticity and meaning are to do with letting it all hang out and ‘being ourselves’ (whoever that may be today).
On the other hand, a false romanticism has led us to believe that mother nature is the supreme being, and, in the more extreme forms of this view, she is best served by the extinction of humanity. We are a passing phase from which the cosmos will eventually recover (as depicted in the film ‘Melancholia’, for example).
I believe we can reconnect, by reminding ourselves of our own humanity. We do this best by telling stories that remind us that we are on the same journey with God, with each other, and with creation.
Believers are pretty fed up with the so called ‘new atheists’ and their sterile arguments about the unscientific nature of the Bible. The Bible may contain a lot of information, but its primary role is to tell the story of how people journey with God and with each other. The writers of the Bible were clever people. They knew that a list of facts and figures wasn’t going to change anyone’s life. Stories do. From a mythic account of God’s acting on the global stage in the Book of Genesis, to a quiet country walk of three companions talking about the purpose of their lives in the Gospel of Luke, creation and conversation go together to provide the coordinates for a journey during which we rediscover what it is to be formed, forgiven, and put back on the road to hope and love.
Telling stories while walking with each other in this beautiful world leads to communion. And communion brings life.
There are four things that we can do right now to reconnect and re-energise our commitment to our common home and our fellow human beings. And it’s not just about recycling and buying an electric car.
1. Take as many opportunities as you can to walk, literally, with another person. Walks are so often the place where real stories are told.
2. Be open to sharing your life story with others in the way that is appropriate for age and stage of relationship.
3. Rediscover the sacramental structure of the world. God is not in the trees, or the river, or the wind, but through them, and given an openness on our part to the ‘moment’, he talks to us and listens to us. It is through words, things, space, and time, that God brings us into community with him and with each other.
4. Look out the window every day and give thanks for what you see. The path to hopelessness and helplessness begins with ingratitude.
Canon Tom Shields