In May, Pope Francis promoted this prayer to be said ahead of the World Day for Migrants and Refugees on 26 September 2021. It is a cause close to his heart. Sad to say, an atmosphere of hostility towards migrants and refugees is being fostered in Britain and elsewhere, perhaps tempered a little as we witness the tragedy of Afghanistan. Clearly, Francis sees migration, whatever the individual person’s motivation, as part of our task of making the earth into our common home.
Holy beloved Father,
Your Son Jesus taught us
That there is great rejoicing in heaven
Whenever someone lost is found,
Whenever someone excluded, rejected or discarded
Is gathered into our 'we'
Which thus becomes ever wider.
We ask you to grant the followers of Jesus,
And all people of good will,
The grace to do your will on earth.
Bless each act of welcome and outreach
That draws those in exile
Into the 'we' of community and the church,
So that our Earth may truly become
What you yourself created it to be:
The common home of all our brothers and sisters.
After discussing statements on the environment and the misuse of Creation by popes over the last fifty years, Pope Francis continues by saying how scientists and other thinkers have contributed to church thinking.
7. Other Churches and Christian communities – and other religions as well – have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.
8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.
9. At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”. As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”.
Bartholomew and Francis are close to Blake’s vision:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.
But Blake is not sentimentalising. He goes on to catalogue some sins against Creation, specifically cruelty against animals. If we saw a Heaven in a Wild Flower we would accept the world as a sacrament of communion, and not act in this way:
A Robin Red breast in a Cage Puts all Heaven in a Rage. A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions. A dog starvd at his Masters Gate Predicts the ruin of the State. A Horse misusd upon the Road Calls to Heaven for Human blood. Each outcry of the hunted Hare A fibre from the Brain does tear. A Skylark wounded in the wing A Cherubim does cease to sing. The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight Does the Rising Sun affright.
I am never alone when praying the psalms, and this is not just because I pray them in the liturgy and in community. Many people pray the psalms privately, and they, too, are not alone. This is because the psalms, you might say, “refashion” the heart of the person praying.
As we approach the Feast of Saint Francis on 4 October, we have been looking at aspects of Creation and our part in it as co-workers with God, the mistakes the human family have made, and that you and I continue to make. We read C.S. Lewis telling us that we have to go beyond warm-feeling nature religion and engage in serious theology if we want to have the right idea about God. So let’s get serious and read what Pope Francis says about the crisis in our corner of creation, the corner we have responsibility for. Here is the opening.
1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.
2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Romans 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Genesis 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.
Note that the Pope uses the language of the Bible, which also inspired the poet Walter Savage Landor’s verse ‘content to sink into her lap when life is spent.’ The realisation of our earthliness is a first step to caring for our sister as God intended from the beginning of humanity.
Continuing Sister Johanna’s reflections on the Psalms; click here.
I’d like to say a few words about singing the psalms. From my personal perspective as an ex-ballet dancer, music is highly important to me, and I am so grateful that this long tradition of singing prayer exists.
Knowing myself beloved
and so glorified of God Almighty in another world,
I ought to honour Him in this always, and to aspire to it.
At midnight will I rise to give thanks unto Thee
because of Thy righteous judgements.
Seven times a day will I praise Thee,
for Thy glorious mercy.
Early in the morning will I bless Thee,
I will triumph in Thy works,
I will delight in Thy law day and night;
at evening will I praise Thee.
I will ever be speaking of Thy marvellous acts,
I will tell of Thy greatness,
and talk of the glorious majesty of Thy excellent Kingdom;
these things ought ever to breathe in our souls.
“Knowing myself beloved” – how many of us would dare to start writing with such a bold statement? Knowing implies more than just holding an opinion, or feeling optimistic of getting to heaven to be glorified in that other world. It’s a knowledge that transcends how Traherne feels. He may be tired, hurt or ill, but he will praise God regardless of how he himself feels today. He may feel quite different tomorrow but that does not alter God’s greatness, nor his glory, nor his kindness to humans.
Traherne used the Psalms in composing this reflection. They form the basis of the Church’s seven prayers a day, which can be found free on-line at universalis.com for anyone wishing to pray them.
(Apologies that this reflection has fallen out of sequence. Sometimes a more topical piece turns up and things get moved around.)
Thank you to Revd Jo Richards for reminding us of this prayer of St Teresa of Avila, whose feast is today.
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Image from Wikipedia, public domain, believed to be a copy from a live portrait.
There were not many humans or dogs about the gardens, so their favourite bench, warm in the noonday sun, was ready to receive them. No social distancing for dogs, though T felt there should be, No social chitchat either, as all three ate in silence, their morning’s conversation making them glad once again that they had joined the Expedition to Earth.
‘That was good!’ said T, fending off the gull who seemed to think the fish wrapper was his due. ‘And so is field-work, but we didn’t know that when we started. Why did you two decide to come down to earth?’
‘To be honest’, said Ajax, ‘I do believe I was bored. Not that I knew the word then. But there were no fish and chips, no smells to interpret, no Melba and Noreen. I didn’t know about love or joy but somehow I hoped to find them.’
Alfie was pensive; he had noticed another white hair on his muzzle when he looked into the mirror that morning. ‘I’m getting old, at least about the face. I hadn’t counted on that. Age and death we never gave a thought to; my emotions were almost non-existent. But the expedition sounded like a chance to get out of the pod, fill out a few spreadsheets whilst feeling the sun on my skin, even if it is covered in greasy short hair!’
‘You can have a bath anytime you like,’ suggested T. ‘The tidal pool is not too far away. I’ve a towel and trunks in my bag.’
‘We’ll guard the bag while you swim!’ protested the chihuahuas.
Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.
‘That’s not a threat, it’s a promise!’ as one of my old teachers used to say, not necessarily to great effect. I wonder whether some of us are looking at our pre-lockdown lives and realising that a sense of self-importance has crept into our hearts our and veins. It’s encouraged by so many aspects of our life: the cult of celebrity and of riches — with the conspicuous spending that can go with it; competition and the riches that accompany elite sports players; the vastly higher pay given to people with clean hands.
At Pentecost time, let’s pray for wisdom as we come out of lockdown, and for a love of our planet that will provide a sustainable future for all creatures of our God and King.
Elizabeth writes about her faith, opening herself yet more to her fiancé Robert. The arid, grey Puritanism of her father would force her and Robert to elope, and there was no reconciliation in their earthly life.
“Hating as I do from the roots of my heart all that rending of the garment of Christ, which Christians are so apt to make the daily week-day of this Christianity so called—and caring very little for most dogmas and doxies in themselves—too little, as people say to me sometimes, (when they send me ‘New Testaments’ to learn from, with very kind intentions)—and believing that there is only one church in heaven and earth, with one divine High Priest to it; let exclusive religionists build what walls they please and bring out what chrisms.
But I used to go with my father always, when I was able, to the nearest dissenting chapel of the Congregationalists—from liking the simplicity of that praying and speaking without books—and a little too from disliking the theory of state churches.
There is a narrowness among the dissenters which is wonderful; an arid, grey Puritanism in the clefts of their souls: but it seems to me clear that they know what the ‘liberty of Christ’ means, far better than those do who call themselves ‘churchmen’; and stand altogether, as a body, on higher ground.”
(from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning)
[The sun] raiseth corn to supply you with food, it melteth waters to quench your thirst, it infuseth sense into all your members, it illuminates the world to entertain you with prospects, it surroundeth you with the beauty of hills and valleys. It moveth and laboureth night and day for your comfort and service; it sprinkleth flowers upon the ground for your pleasure; and in all these things sheweth you the goodness and wisdom of a God that can make one thing so beautiful, delightful and serviceable, having ordained the same to innumerable ends.
It concocteth minerals, raiseth exhalations, begetteth clouds, sendeth down the dew and rain and snow, that refresheth and repaireth all the earth. And is far more glorious in its diurnal motion, than if there were two suns to make on either side a perpetual day: the swiftness whereby it moves in twenty-four hours about so vast an universe manifesteth the power and care of a Creator, more than any station or quiet could do.
And producing innumerable effects it is more glorious, than if millions of Angels diversly did do them.
I am writing this at the beginning of Holy Week, the week in which Christians around the world recall the journey Jesus made into Jerusalem, and ultimately to his death on Good Friday and through to his Resurrection on Easter Day. It is a journey that takes him into Jerusalem, riding upon a donkey, that in itself being a sign of peace. He goes onto washing the feet of his closest friends (a job normally undertaken by a servant), before sharing a meal with them, and asking that every time they break bread and share wine together they do so ‘in remembrance of me’. During the meal he is betrayed by a close friend, and eventually arrested, before being brought before the High Priests, is flogged and then Crucified. For many this they thought was the end, Jesus was dead, only to discover that Jesus was in fact alive, he had risen from the dead on that first Easter morning. The tomb was empty, Christ had Risen! And was witnessed by over 500 people on 12 separate occasions.
In our Baptism we die with Christ, so that we might be born again with Christ, a new life with him, and in doing so in the knowledge that in believing in Christ we too will have this eternal life (John 3:15). I often look at what nature tells us. In the autumn, when nights are drawing in we plant seeds into the cold dark soil, only in the spring to find an abundance of new life that has emerged from the darkness. Likewise, with the dawn chorus, when it is still dark, the birdsong announces a new day and ‘the light shines in the darkness, and darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:5).
As we approach Easter, we do so in the knowledge that we have to journey down, to then be lifted up; we have to walk with Christ through the depths of Good Friday, to be raised up high on Easter Day with our heads held high.
Like a mother hen protecting her young, Christ died that we might live, and by believing in him we too have that eternal life, and all in the knowledge of God’s grace and unconditional love for each and every one of us.
Wishing you all a Blessed Holy Week & Easter.
Rev. Jo Richards April 2019
Rev. Jo Richards is the rector at Saint Mildred’s Church in Canterbury, where L’Arche have our garden project.