Tag Archives: Pollution

February 4. From the Franciscans of Zimbabwe V: The gift of Water, 2.

noahs-ark-lo-res-shrewsbury-cathedral-window-detail

The second part of Sister Theodora Mercy Kavisa’s post, celebrating water.

Religious traditions have used the cycle of drought, flood, life-giving rain, and the rainbow to symbolize moving out of Separation from God to Redemption. God sent a great flood at the time of Noah because “the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11). God rewarded Noah’s faithfulness with dry land and a covenant “between you and me and every living creature” (Genesis 9:12-13).

One water ritual that draws all these elements of life, purification, protection, healing, separation and redemption together is the sacrament of Baptism in which Christians have water poured over them or immerse themselves in water to be cleansed of sin and admitted into the Christian community. The community prays,

In Baptism we use the gift of water, which you have made a rich symbol of the grace you give us in this sacrament. At the very dawn of creation, your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness. The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of Baptism that made an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness.”

And yet, too many members of the world’s religions neglect to respect water as a finite natural resource. Many people are in need of an inner, spiritual conversion to appreciate the value of water.

As Christians there are three ways to view the current situation: gratitude for creation, reconciliation with wounded creation, and action that heals creation. We need to confront our inner resistances and cast a grateful look on creation, letting our heart be touched by its wounded reality and making a strong personal and communal commitment to healing it. Remember this the next time you throw out plastic bags, empty cans, empty beer bottles, plastic containers etc. Are you healing or further inflicting wounds on an already bleeding creation?

Shrewsbury Cathedral
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January 26: Witness against nature, Browning I.

mile end4

Here is Elizabeth Barrett, writing to her fellow poet Robert Browning – the man who would become her husband. He lived at New Cross in South London, then – in 1846 – being developed for housing and industry complete with railways into London itself. Browning lived at the bottom of Telegraph Hill, sufficiently high to have held a signalling tower to semaphore military messages between Whitehall and the naval yards.

“So you really have hills at New Cross, and not hills by courtesy? I was at Hampstead once—and there was something attractive to me in that fragment of heath with its wild smell, thrown down … like a Sicilian rose from Proserpine’s lap when the car drove away, … into all that arid civilization, laurel-clumps and invisible visible fences,’ as you say!—and the grand, eternal smoke rising up in the distance, with its witness against nature! People grew severely in jest about cockney landscape—but is it not true that the trees and grass in the close neighbourhood of great cities must of necessity excite deeper emotion than the woods and valleys will, a hundred miles off?”

poppy.bridge

This bridge leads to one of Manchester’s green spaces, Fletcher Moss Park. In the Brownings’ time the River Mersey there was all but dead, since it was used as a waste disposal system by mills and factories. The upper photograph shows how the cemetery at Mile End has become a precious haven of nature. Even in Canterbury, the river flowing under the Franciscan chapel in this was once an open sewer. Much has changed for the better, there are trout there now, but the smoke Elizabeth Barrett marvelled at has been replaced by a less visible cloud of pollution from vehicles. A witness against Nature indeed!

greyfriarsfrom meadow

This is the first of an occasional series of reflections based on the letters between the Brownings.

(Quotation from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning) Available from Project Gutenberg or Kindle.

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23 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Day 6 The Lord of hosts is his name.

The Lord of hosts is his name (Jeremiah 10:16)

  • Jeremiah 10:12-16

  • Mark 16:14-15

Starting point

We are, today, facing a serious global ecological crisis and the survival of the planet is threatened. The passage from Mark’s Gospel reminds us that, after his resurrection, Jesus commissioned the disciples to proclaim the good news to the whole creation. No part of creation is outside God’s plan to make all things new. So, Christians are called to promote values which reconcile humankind with all creation. When we join with other people in defence of our common earthly home, we are not just engaging in activism, but we are fulfilling the Lord’s command to proclaim to all creation the good news of God’s healing and restoring love.

Reflection

Proclaim the good news to all of creation, 

not just to my small part.

Oh God, who made the world, both body and gift.

Your creation groans.

What have we done?

Land and sea polluted,

death and destruction,

communities gone,

families displaced.

While we sit in comfort.

Your creation groans. 

What have we done?

A damaged world,

a broken system.

Upheld by stupidity, destruction, neglect and greed.

An abuse of God’s gift,

while we disconnect.

Where is God’s voice,

God’s rolling waves of justice?

We too are God’s body,

thinking beyond ourselves, 

seeing consequences,

listening for the still small voice,

swimming against the tide.

Asking what shall I do?

Prayer

Loving God,

by whose breath all things came to be,

we thank you for the world

which manifests your glory, diversity and beauty.

Grant us the wisdom to walk gently upon the earth

and to share together your good news with all creation.  Amen

Questions

  • Where do you see an abuse of human power, leading to destruction or neglect?

  • Where do you see God’s justice in the created world?

  • Where can we make a difference?

 

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Wrap up warm, pack a flask and organize a nature walk with the churches in your area. Take it as time to journey together and to reconnect with the natural world of which we are all a part. You could go to a park if you are in the city, or step outdoors if you are in the countryside.

Pray for another way for the world and that we as humanity might work with creation rather than against it. Visit Go and Do to take action in the next stage of the climate justice campaign.

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14 January: An old missionary’s ecological musings

bins

Passers by set Gerard Manley Hopkins thinking for yesterday’s post, and Otto Mayer for today’s. He was a fellow student of mine, but now works in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have adapted this from an article he wrote. It seems the litter problem is not confined to Canterbury. But if Otto can keep litter picking in Central Africa, I can do my bit in East Kent!

Whenever I pick up plastic wrappers or papers dropped in front of our house in Ruzizi, Congo, passers by look at me as though I’m crazy. The children make fun of me, although the little ones will pick up litter and put it in my bag. But no-one makes fun of the people who drop papers, bags, plastic bottles, tissues…

Sometimes a passer-by will ask why I am cleaning up. I explain that in my home village in Germany, every Saturday afternoon we would take pride in sweeping the footpath beside our house, ready for Sunday. Everything should be ready for the Lord’s day.

Telling people that story starts a conversation, regretting how Goma has become a dirty town, and Kinshasa la belle has become Kinshasa-Poubelle – dustbin city. Everybody wants the council to sort it out. I always say that I can do something. At least in front of my house I can make a difference.

The first principle of ecology is to produce as little waste or pollution as possible. Heineken beer from Holland is an ecological sin when you can get local beers. What a waste, transporting it all the way to Africa.

Buying locally and consuming the products of the region is an ecological obligation. There are seasons when mangoes, cauliflowers, strawberries are chea and readily available. Out of season the price increases as the products are brought in from far away, and the transport costs must be paid for.

The local bus service where I live is cheaper than using a private car; it may take a little longer but means less pollution and less expense. And walking up to half an hour seems to me both reasonable and desirable: Pollution zero, expense zero and more surprises to be met en route. An old priest I remember used to say, ‘Since we got mopeds we’ve lost touch with the people.’ And what progress we’ve made since then!

Père Otto Mayer, M. Afr.

 

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4 January: God’s Grandeur

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Another light on that New Year’s resolution we proposed yesterday.
‘All is seared with trade’: Hopkins did not have to stray far from any Victorian Jesuit house to find trade and industry searing, smearing, smudging the soil. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to kindle in us a love of Creation that helps us to see what to do – and to do it – to care for all he has made. Laudato Si!
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

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May 31: R is for Rugeley

joseph etheldreda

Rugeley is a former mining town in Staffordshire, which used to have two coal-fired power stations; the second one closed in June 2017. One step towards cleaner air for the country and the planet.

Rugeley is also where Janet and I married, on this day, more than a few years ago in the Church of Saints Joseph and Etheldreda. One step forward together, and we’re still finding our way.

Unlike Saint Joseph, husband of Mary, but not the father of her child; and unlike Etheldreda (or Audrey) who was a Saxon Princess, Queen and Abbess, we got married in order to be and remain fully married and to accept the blessings of children.

Etheldreda was twice married for political reasons, but in each case she lived as a nun despite her married status – with her kingly husband’s consent each time. Except that her second husband eventually changed his mind.

Etheldreda did not change hers and ran first to Saint Ebba, whose monastery was just north of Berwick, across what is now the Scottish border, and thence to Ely, surrounded by marshes which hindered pursuit enough for her husband to  turn back to Northumberland.

Ely Abbey – for women and men, like Hilda’s Whitby – flourished under her leadership.

Let’s pray for the gift to hear what God is saying in our own hearts and the grace to follow his word.

And let’s pray that today’s church leaders will recognise the leadership gifts that many women have been given; and that innovative communities may flourish.

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21 October: M is for Merthyr Tydfil

396px-Merthyr_Tydfil_arms

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4249407

Readers may get the impression that Agnellus has a slight obsession with Welsh and Saxon Princesses who knew their own minds and hearts. We don’t apologise! Such women may have used their privileged position to be allowed to open their monasteries and run them with minimal male oversight, but in doing so they enabled other women to live in community, to receive an education, to be able to help those who came to the abbeys for help.

Not so Tydfil – or Tudul in the accepted Welsh spelling. She was a martyr, killed, it is said, by a gang of pagans. I once helped tidy up her churchyard in the town, and rescued from the skip an angel from a broken gravestone; he or she watches over our backdoor today.

robinangel-2

Tudful was by no means the last martyr in Merthyr. With iron and coal nearby, the town was a cradle of the Industrial Revolution. People came for work as rural jobs disappeared, as famine struck in Ireland, but they lived in insanitary conditions, many dying of diseases including cholera. Human sacrifices on the altars of capitalism, as so many people around the world are today, living and working in unsafe conditions.

We’ve noted before how we are inescapably implicated in exploitation of our sisters and brothers; for instance it is difficult to avoid buying clothes and shoes produced without misusing people: at least there are Fair Trade bananas, coffee, chocolate and other foods. Their producers look after the land they work.

The old iron and coal masters did not: spoil heaps covered and poisoned fields close to the iron works or pit head; often it was many years before even birch trees would grow there. The ultimate martyrdom from this disregard of God’s creation occurred near Merthyr on October 21,1966 when a spoil heap at Aberfan avalanched down the side of the valley, taking the lives of 116 children and 28 adults, who would not have been born when someone decided to dump rock and soil on a steep slope. I met a policeman who lost his faith in God after living through that afternoon; who can blame him? But this was man’s work.

You may dispute my use of the word martyrdom, but lives were cut short through accident or disease through worship of Mammon.

The Way of Jesus puts people before profit. A good start would be the motto beneath the Saint on the arms: ONLY BROTHERHOOD IS STRONG. Provided, of course, that the sisters are not left out.

Let us grit our teeth in the face of human wickedness, and say Laudato Si’ – and give a care to our own little patches of God’s earth – ours to hand on to others better than we found it. And perhaps find a corner or two we can brighten with a little guerilla gardening or tree planting.

MMB

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September 20: L is for Lindisfarne

Coble_SH105_1_(Nigel_Coates)

A modern coble captured by Nigel Coates

Let’s go almost as far north as we can in England, to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. There are many stories of the early saints of Holy Island, and we can come back to Cuthbert, Aidan and their companions again. But today I’m retelling a cautionary tale of the last two centuries, from Richard Perry’s 1946 book A Naturalist on Lindisfarne. It is worth the telling because we need to take care of our earth and the seas that surround it.

The morning I wrote this piece there were fishermen on the radio convinced that Brexit would lead to greater catches for themselves with the European nations excluded from their grounds.

Perry suggests this is unlikely to happen.

He tells how over-fishing at the end of the nineteenth century led to the end of the herring industry. The fishermen took to catching white fish inshore, but

‘light trawling during the war of 1914-18 brought relief to over-trawled fishing and spawning grounds and allowed the white fish to increase to their immemorial millions at a time when inshore fishermen were beginning to suffer from the effects of this over-fishing. But within a few years of the end of the war the trawler fleets were again cleaning up the inshore grounds of both lobsters and white fish; just as the drifters had destroyed the inshore  herring fishing. By 1931 the catches of the ten Island cobles were only ten or twenty per cent of those taken before or after the war…

‘With the year 1945 at an end …events will no doubt conform to the post 1914-18 pattern, with seven  or ten good years inshore fishing, before the trawlers have swept the grounds clean of all marketable fish.’

Let us pray for wisdom all round as Britain and Europe’s leaders negotiate every aspect of their new relationship. May God’s earth, sea and air not be forgotten! And let us pray for all fishermen and all at peril on the Sea.

Laudato Si’.

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August 22: I is for Ironbridge.

640px-ironbridge002

Ironbridge: the name says it. All those glorious structures like the Forth Bridge, Sydney Harbour, the Howrah, the Golden Gate and the bridge at Victoria Falls, owe their ancestry to this iron bridge over the Severn in Shropshire.

A bold venture to build a bridge of cast iron so high above the river in 1779. The beams were cast on site since transporting them would have been difficult. But would it work? Abraham Darby must have been an excellent mathematician, blessed with patience to check each step of his calculations and each stage of the casting, the building of foundations and assembly of the bridge. Here it stands today, carefully maintained, like the Forth Bridge and all those others. My grandfather, a Shropshire lad, took me to see it aged about five; it impresses me more now than it did then, unlike so many things.

Crossing the river here safely was a dream made real by Darby and the men who dug his coal, smelted, transported and cast his iron; masons, surveyors, painters. He and they had to trust in the laws of physics as they understood them. The people who keep the bridge alive –  it is still open to pedestrians – apply the physics and chemistry they understand to prevent rust, metal fatigue and erosion.

The dirt and hard labour of the Industrial Revolution have gone, leaving the Severn Gorge free from dark Satanic Mills. But if we are to build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land we need an understanding of what we are about, and how to ensure dirt, fatigue, rust and erosion do not stop us working together.

God, come to our aid, Lord, make haste to help us!

Laudaato Si’!

MMB.

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19 July: G is for Valley Gardens

berlin.charlottenberg.flowerbed

Since I was small, I had always loved gardening, so when the chance came of a holiday job at the parks in Castleford, I seized it. The town council took a pride in their parks, lung-savers in an industrial landscape. As well as the mines there were glassworks, a  factory producing chemicals such as wood preservers, a coke oven and a maltings: the least offensive smell. In a heat wave the fumes gathered in the valley where the town was built on the ford. The rivers ran black. Breathing was a challenge.

Valley Gardens was our nearest park: a good park with a crown bowling green, playground for the children, lawns and lots of traditional bedding, the plants grown in the council’s own nursery. There was also raised bedding with scented plants for blind people to enjoy. And so they did.

I’m ever grateful for the skills learnt at Valley Gardens but also for the attitude to work imbibed from the older guys I worked alongside. Many had been miners and knew how to pace themselves to be productive over the whole day. They were also humble enough to put themselves through the City and Guilds Certificate training: men who knew how to handle tools, being ‘taught’ how to dig or prune before taking on specialised skills such as caring for the greens.

mermaidrose (542x408)

Recently I read that Valley Gardens, for many years the responsibility of Wakefield City council, is run-down and the play area no longer safe. A committee has been formed to revive this park. When I was there, people knew the decision makers in town. Now they are in Wakefield and need never go near Valley Gardens.

I hope the committee is supported by the community and Wakefield council so that the gardens return to their former glory.

There are parallels in church life. We need to trust people, even  those who shun responsibilities, with a mission they may fail at. Apart from Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were members of the Sanhedrin, Jesus chose women and misfits for his first generation of leaders. I don’t recall his disciples sitting exams.

Since writing this post I read an article describing how the people who use the parks the most are poorer people, people without gardens of their own. So it is poor people who take the brunt of government spending cuts in this area of life, as in so many others.

Our beds were every bit as lovely – and more so – than this semiformal planting in Berlin’s Charlottenberg Park. The Roses were a feature of Valley Gardens: the older gardeners taught me how to prune them. This is ‘Mermaid’, who needs very careful handling with her vicious thorns. But she’s lovely!

 

 

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