25 Sep 2020 • From the Clergy
The mercury was nudging 50 degrees centigrade, or would have been had mercury thermometers still been allowed. My sister had refused point blank to leave the air-conditioned car again, having almost melted at the last stop.
I was made of sterner stuff. Well, more stubborn stuff, anyway. We had come to Joshua Tree National Park and I was going to do the mile-long trail even if I died of heat exhaustion and dehydration, which was a serious possibility at my normal pace. Within a few minutes, I was losing approximately a gallon of sweat per minute and realised that I was completely alone in the middle of this desert.
Pausing, I looked around.
This was one of the least hospitable places on earth. Death Valley, the hottest place on the planet, was not far away. Yet as I stopped to survey my surroundings, alone in this place where no sane human being was daring to tread on an August afternoon, I realised how teeming with life even so unwelcoming an environment was. The number of creatures, from snakes to unidentifiable scurrying little things, adapted to exist among the cacti and other tenacious shrubs was truly amazing. By the end of my walk, appreciative as I was of this fact, I was also acutely aware that people were not among those creatures.
There are many places on earth that from the air look desolate, wild, incapable of hosting any living thing. Yet down on the ground, almost everywhere provides the means of survival for something. From the ice of the poles to the sand of the Sahara, even amidst volcanic lava, there is movement and life. It is something which (as far as we know) makes this planet unique, certainly in this solar system. The circumstances which, over millions of years, have brought us to this point are in themselves a marvel.
Too often, though, we are blind to the kaleidoscope of beauty around us. In a world where we want to control everything and often think we can, people do not relate to the environment and its limitations, do not respect its boundaries and variations. We want strawberries all year, so strawberries must be grown in manifestly unsuitable environments to satisfy that desire. Is it any wonder that flooding is becoming worse when we recklessly disregard flood plains in our relentless building mania?
With heating in winter and air conditioning in summer, we can wilfully ignore the seasons themselves. Ironically, life can flourish in the most inhospitable of environments against the most challenging natural conditions, but it is being destroyed by a humanity eager to see the earth as a resource to be plundered for profit rather than a gift to be nurtured.
It is worth us dwelling on that as we contemplate harvest.
If there is one image which is 2020’s testament to human selfishness, it is the countless disposable face masks which litter the roads and the countryside. Self-absorbed in mass panic, humanity has cast aside any thought for the planet and its needs.
Yet in the midst of the most miserable year of my lifetime, we have been presented with an opportunity to value what it is we have.
Many of us have seen the world around us teeming with life, as we have been forced to pause and to take note of the wildlife we are often too busy to realise is there. In the supermarket shortages earlier in the year, we confronted the fact that resources are finite.
Perhaps, if anything positive is to emerge from this nightmare year, it is that we will start to appreciate the beauty of the earth and value the bounty it gives us. Christians are called to be wise stewards of creation, something we need both to reflect and to act upon if we are to leave God’s gift to future generations.