The Zoo? It has to be Chester Zoo in our family, ever since his big sister was living there and took George during his herpetology phase He’d gone from learning all he could about birds to learning all he could about reptiles and amphibians. It helped that we had and still have frogs in the garden and wild lizards not far away.
But Chester Zoo had Komodo dragons. They were the main attraction in his eyes.
I preferred the smaller fry, like this little poisonous golden mantella frog from Madagascar, threatened with imminent extinction in the wild. Captive breeding in the zoo goes hand in hand with similar projects at home in Madagascar, and conservation of their habitat before all the trees are felled.
The Zoo remind us that:
NOW is the time to ACT FOR WILDLIFE. Conservation is CRITICAL; species are under threat. TOGETHER we can make a BIG difference.
Now, in Autumn, is the time to dig out a pond if your garden will take one; plant a tree or two, hang up a bird box or bug hotel. The birds may well roost in the box overwinter and spiders or insects will snooze through the winter in their comfortable guest house.
It’s a start. This comes down to the Franciscan love of creation which goes with love of the Creator. Each of us can do something; together it all adds up.
As Saint Francis and Pope Francis would say, Laudato Si! But don’t just praise God in words, try changing a square metre of earth for the better.
Photograph by John Mather
God is totally other, we cannot say God is like… which suggests that our behaviour – good or bad – has no relevance for God, reminding us that the foundation for hope involves setting aside being concerned about our goodness or badness [I’m not as good as I think I am, nor as bad as others say I am]. We are involved with something that has nothing to do with our worthiness or it’s opposite.
We are being offered what is totally gratuitous – irrespective. When we reflect on the parable of the workers, in which the latecomers receive the same pay as those who have toiled all day [who hasn’t sympathised with them?] we see that God can never give less than all of himself to everyone. What is in our remit is how we receive this gift – do I even recognise that I have it – do I behave as if I am self-starting and self-fulfilling. Revelation tells us that God gives us to ourselves in order to become what we are receiving as life progresses – gift for others. I’m not asked am I worthy, but am I willing.
I have a friend who is doing heroic things to help the poor and needy – a veritable example of Gospel value; he is alcoholic and his personal life leaves much to be desired. It seems that being unconcerned about his personal worthiness seems to free him up to bring support and hope to so many. How different things would be if he had been restricted by the reality of I’m not good enough! Hope doesn’t mean saying be of good heart, all will work out in the end.
Hope says here is good news for me here and now. Working with Samaritan volunteers on one occasion I asked a seasoned volunteer to role play, and present herself as suicidal. One of the volunteers interviewed her and did well, until she said and always remember we love everybody here – the role player got up and left. The volunteer asked why. We don’t want to be part of everybody, we want to be somebody. Hope is me being asked to be there for others, not in spite of who I am, but because of who I am – warts and all.
It is not for us to provide goodness, bringing light into dark places that starts from our own goodness. This is where the Spirit is active, enabling us to bring good news and to foster well-being, despite our complicity in selfish living.
Only those unpreoccupied with their own goodness or badness are free enough to build what is good [and probably have no idea that this is what they are doing]. Hope for others issues solely from the total otherness of God, not from ourselves. When Jesus said I have come for sinners he is telling us that he can make my story indicative of the story precisely by removing my preoccupation with my unworthiness.
We receive ourselves from what is other than us, be that other violent or kind. Just so it is by receiving ourselves from other than us that makes us children of Abba – the original giver of life:
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is – 1John.3.2.
Good Shepherd from Madagascar
Outside the Church of Saint Thomas in Canterbury stands the dumpy little tower which is all that remains of Saint Mary Magdalene’s church, demolished in 1871.
There were only three bells in the tower and two of them, founded in the fifteenth century, were sent to Madagascar. Madagascar is a poor country, but one that really should be well provided. There is profit for some: licences are being issued to overseas corporations to dig for minerals or grow crops on the island, while Malagasy people endure ever greater poverty and are losing their means of life either in agriculture or tourism; who wants to travel to an unstable country?
Are those bells still calling the faithful after nearly a century and a half in Madagascar and all those years in Canterbury? When you hear church bells tomorrow, pray for the church in Madagascar, and reflect that the rare earth minerals to be found there are needed to make our mobile phones and other modern gadgets; we cannot help being complicit in the oppression of the Malagasy people.
Fruit for the body, wine for the soul: you, Christ, are the true and living Vine.
Stretch your healing leaves across the troubled land of Madagascar,
bringing hope, delight and purpose to all your people there. Amen
Prayer from: US: the United Society for the Gospel.