“We either have hope with us or we don’t, a dimension of our soul, not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, no matter how it turns out”.
All human kind are one vast family, this world our true home. We sleep beneath one roof, the starry sky, we warm ourselves before one hearth, the blazing sun. Upon one floor of soil we stand and breath one air and drink one water and walk beneath the luminescent moon. The children of God we are, brothers and sisters of one flock, and members of one worldwide family of God, who is our shepherd, our guide and our friend.
I remember a colleague, who ministered in a rural parish as I did at the beginning of my ministry, telling me it was my responsibility to “know where the burns rise in your parish”. He also said that I would find that one of my chief tasks would frequently be to protect those on the fringe of the church from those at the centre.
I have always loved this idea of ministry focussed beyond the centre to the stranger, the outcast and the world. Whilst the church is certainly about congregations and institutions and doctrines, it is primarily about people and places and about the whole creation and the world that God loves so much.
It is all too easy to become rather preoccupied with the institution, with the legitimate concerns of maintenance and survival. But we need always to remember that the nurturing of this fragile world, our tending to its sorrow and pain, giving attention to its glory and wonder is the only true task of the church.
Sometimes, when clerics and ecclesiastical officials forget this, it is pop stars and poets who remind us what our vocation ought to be. One of the greatest is Gary Sneider, the American beat poet and spiritual activist who once wrote these fine words that should probably be on every manse study wall: We need a religious view that embraces nature and does not fear science; business leaders who know and accept ecological and spiritual limits; political leaders who have spent time working in schools, factories or farms and who still write poems. We need intellectual and academic leaders who have studied both history and ecology and like to dance and cook. We need poets and novelists who pay no attention to literary critics. But what we ultimately need most is human beings who love the world.
An Iona benedicite
O angels of the Lord, bless the Lord,
O saints of these parts, bless the Lord,
O servants of Christ who here have sung praises to God, through many generations,
O souls of the faithful who rest in Jesus, bless the Lord,
O kindly folk of this place, bless the Lord
O sheep and horned cattle, O lambs that jump in the fields,
O fish that glisten in the waters, O rooks that caw from the sycamores, bless the Lord,
O buzzards that caw from the sycamores,
O gulls that fill the beaches with your clamour, bless the Lord,
O terns and gannets that dive headlong for your prey, bless the Lord,
O dunlins that wheel in unison over the waves,
O sea creatures that navigate the oceans,
O larks that carol in the heavens, bless the Lord,
O blackbirds that pipe at dawning, bless the Lord
O warblers and wrens that make the fields joyful with song, bless the Lord,
O bees that love the heather,
O flowers that gem the earth with colour, bless the Lord,
O green trees that stand tall on the hillsides,
O piled rocks, fashioned by nature’s might through countless ages, bless the Lord,
O majestic peaks, O white sand and emerald shallows, O blue and purple deeps of ocean, bless the Lord,
O winds and cloud,
O all the works of the Lord, bless the Lord.
As Christ breathed his last on the Cross, he uttered several “last words”, one of which was, “ it is finished!”
We know that the phrase, rendered in English, does not capture the full meaning. Some translations render the phrase, “it is accomplished”. His last word was a word of triumph, a note of victory or achievement, as though this moment of apparent defeat was what he felt his life was all about. In some way, rather perversely to his devastated and scattered disciples, this was what he had come for: a death – but a death like no other death – for it was the most life affirming of deaths.
The meaning of Christ’s death – his life affirming death – is this: The only kind of life worth living, for any of us, is the life that brings life to others.
Life for self, life lived for accumulating personal wealth, life lived for power or success in worldly terms is a life lived “for the hell of it”. With aims such as these as the centre and focus of our lives, we are bound ultimately to diminish the lives of others and the life of the world. Life lived with these things as our goal will not last, we will bankrupt ourselves and plunder our planet.
However, a life lived for the enhancement of the life of the world and the life of others – a life lived in sacrificial service – even unto death – is a life that gives life.
The American Scientist, Edward O. Wilson has won the Pulitzer Prize, is Harvard professor of Zoology and has written of the condition of the planet and the human condition.
He argues in his book, On Human Nature, that humanity must strive to evolve beyond selfish desire and short term aspiration. Our lust for power, money and selfish gain is diminishing the planet and is consequently self-destructive. He writes, “a change of heart occurs when people look beyond themselves to others and the rest of life”.
This attitude perfectly encapsulates the way of Christ. A way so utterly at odds with our prevailing attitudes that Christ had to be put to death.
It may seem odd that the pursuit of spiritual curiosity and following the path of faith has also given us science too. So many people think that science disproves faith but that is not the case at all. The pursuit of knowledge and understanding is the very heart of the true spiritual path. You do not have to leave your intellect at the church door to be a person of faith. Faith always seeks understanding and it is people of faith who have been at the forefront of the scientific enterprise. Science has led us to discover that “beneath the surface hubbub and seeming random chaos of the natural world, there is an abstract order that cannot be seen or felt but can be deduced by the human mind” (Paul Davies- The Goldilocks Enigma).