Last Monday evening, completely unseen by most members of our congregation here, something rather significant happened here at St Bride’s. It was the first meeting of a small group (a subcommittee of our Parochial Church Council), which is looking specifically at issues of climate change in relation to the life of our church, and what we can do to transform our living and working practices here, reduce our carbon footprint, and do everything we can to try to live more sustainably as a community of faith.
With the alarming and chastening images we have seen over recent months of whole towns and communities being destroyed by flood and fire, few of us need any reminder of the importance of this issue – and with the prospect of the COP 26 meeting (the United Nations climate talks) scheduled for November in Glasgow, we shall I hope be hearing more about the measures that the leaders of the nations will be taking to respond to this.
Certainly for me, personally, it has become a growing area of both concern and commitment. During my time here at St Bride’s I have changed my diet significantly, the way that I travel (yes, I too have joined the monstrous regiment of cyclists – one of the best things I have ever done), changed some of the ways in which I shop – and I am doing everything that I can to reduce my use of non-renewable sources of energy and single use plastic, and to make my efforts at recycling much more efficient.
For me, this is of course prompted by global concerns – but it is also an issue that is profoundly informed by my Christian faith. And although our two biblical readings this evening do not address the issue directly, there are motifs within them that are most certainly of relevance. I note particularly the notion that we encounter in our reading from Exodus that there are appropriate boundaries to what human beings can do – without encroaching on territory that is God’s territory, and in the process putting themselves at risk; and our reading from St Matthew’s Gospel alerts us to the power of the sea that, however sophisticated and in control we might like to think we are, at its most turbulent leaves human beings utterly helpless and completely vulnerable. We ignore rising sea levels at our peril. Our climate is increasingly out of control, as a consequence of our own selfish actions. But unlike the first disciples, we cannot wait for Jesus to step in, and neatly resolve the issue.
I recently came across a passage by the French writer Jean Palaiseul, in a book entitled (in translation) The Green Guide. This speaks to me very powerfully, and in a way that is informed by faith. Perhaps it will speak to you, too.
For nearly fifteen years now – and after a quarter of a century of the infernal tumult of life in Paris – I have been living in a mill house deep in a green valley in Auvergne where, apart from a few passing planes, the only sounds to be heard are the sounds invented by nature: the birdsong which varies with the seasons, the chirping of the crickets in summer, the rustling of the spring breeze and the roar of the winter wind in the alders and the poplar trees, the cool ripple of the river by the walls of the house or its angry boom when the waters are in full spate.
Here I have learned that the key to happiness lies in a return to those simple truths which were born with our distant ancestors and confirmed by centuries of experience. Wisdom and common sense are one and the same thing; we are wrong to forget the fact or to obscure it with pretentious intellectual edifices that are part of the great myth of progress at all costs. Technology, however advanced, cannot solve everything, and it is not by a routine investigation of the cosmos that man will achieve a sense of peace.
By having less ambitious aims, by turning once more to the age-old customs and traditions from which, willingly or unwillingly, he has allowed himself to depart, he would again be in touch with a world that fits him – a world of which the “environment”, on which too much ink and breath is being spent today, is part; he would return to his true nature, becoming free of most of those artificial problems that burden him on all sides; once this essential balance was restored, he could become aware of his rightful place in the universe and all that it had to offer; he would conform to the rules which order his well-being and hence experience a genuine joie de vivre.
Since man first began to reflect on his nature and record his conclusions in writing, many have voiced the opinion that happiness – a goal to which all aspire – resides in a few simple rules. Essentially, all we have to do is to obey nature, the reflection of the wisdom of creation (and therefore of the Creator). The rule is that the more delicate and beautiful the flower and fruit the closer must be the union with earth. And the point of contact is the root. There colour and scent are made; there the hundred-foot tree lies in little; there the petal that a dewdrop almost destroys is held safe under the ponderous earth. In the root, when April comes, Someone awakes, rubs drowsy eyes, stretches drowsy hands, remembers a dream of light that troubled its sleep, and begins, with infinite precautions, finesse and courage, to work the miracle of which it has knowledge; “eagerly watching for its flower and fruit, anxious its little soul / looks out.” Surely no idea of God could so well hint of Him as this idea of the root – of the great root of a forest tree, hawsered in the heart of matter; upholding matter; transforming matter by a secret alchemy into beauty that goes out from mystery – lives its day – returns, weary, into mystery, and is again renewed. “None can tell how from so small a centre come such sweets.”