Our Earth is changing.
Last Sunday we had more than two inches of rain in 24hours causing flooding and road closures.
Of course, last summer we had the hottest days on record.
Elsewhere, glaciers are retreating faster than ever, leading to rising sea levels; permafrost in the Arctic tundra is defrosting; increasing numbers of hurricanes in and around the Caribbean and Southern USA.
Some of it is due to natural fluctuations in the earth’s atmosphere, relative position to the sun, angle of tilt etc.
But a significant factor is us, humanity. Go to any town or city and you’ll see the effects of humanity on the earth and the climate.
World-wide, we’re deforesting the rain forests, causing great gashes in the earth to mine for coal and minerals.
The Psalmist declares, ‘The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it’.
The creation story in Genesis 2 says that humanity’s first task is to take care of the earth. And in our 5 Marks of Mission we are encouraged,
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth
There are Christians who are taking this message to peaceful demonstrations around the world, feeling that the time for
petitions and debate is long past.
We need to think about what we are doing as individuals, as churches, as a Benefice to ensure that we are striving to
safeguard the Earth.
But more than that. We need to hold our elected representatives, at all levels of government, to account; to ensure that the care of God’s earth is at the heart of their policy making.
There is no plan B, no Earth 2.0.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
“You’re going to think me mad, but...”
As a parish priest I used to be delighted if, occasionally, someone confided in me a spiritual experience they’d had, a word of inspiration received at some critical moment, or an unexpected answer to prayer, or even some apparent communication with an angel or a deceased relative. Or maybe they might open up about how they struggled with something or other in the Bible, or with the whole concept of faith. Such conversations were enthralling. I used to feel amazed that someone trying to make sense of his or her life was willing to risk telling me about it.
Collectively, however, we have a problem with inner life, spirituality, faith or whatever you want to call it. A person about to share something fragile nearly always began by saying “You’ll probably think this a bit weird, but....” Spirituality is the last taboo. You can go on till the cows home about sex. Even money is a reasonably OK topic sometimes, among some friends. But not your inner life, not soul, not how you make sense of it all, not the beliefs you live by, or question, or the experiences that have made you who you are....”Whoa! stop right there! We don’t do God!.”
There are good, understandable reasons for this. But other cultures are nowhere near as embarrassed about inner life as ours is. Something described as Spiritual Accompaniment, or Spiritual Direction, or Soul Conversation, or Soul Space, or Soul Friendship, goes on, and has gone on, all around the world, forever. It happens here, too, but furtively. Absolute trust is, of course, essential (“Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.”)
Today someone might seek such tender trust during a visit, say, to a reflexologist or a reiki practitioner. Then again, spiritual conversations can and do occur entirely spontaneously. Your “accompanier”, your giver of the word of inspiration that sets you free, may be some friend you meet for coffee or a stranger on a bus.
Curiously, churches, who you’d think might be in the business of encouraging “soul space”, have often seemed to share the general Western wariness around this topic. Every Church of England diocese, for instance, has a list of approved/recommended providers of Spiritual Accompaniment, but you’ll really have to search quite hard to find it. For your information, our Suffolk diocesan list is held by Caroline Redman, firstname.lastname@example.org, and the corresponding Norfolk diocesan list by Canon Andy Bryant, email@example.com. It is, or course, perfectly feasible, and recommended, to approach your parish priest. As above, I used to love it when people tackled me with “soul” matters.
So much so, that on retiring in 2015 I immediately began a two-year Diploma course in Spiritual Accompaniment run by the Norwich Centre. I deliberately chose something “interspiritual”, i.e. not presuming any particular religious framework; and the participants in my cohort included Christians of various feathers but also therapists and practitioners with roots in paganism, Buddhism, holistic spirituality, shamanism and so on. There was a vibrancy and truthfulness about this group of people. We all learnt much from one another, as well as from our tutors.
I now spend a little time most weeks practising this ministry of listening to people, probably not very well...but there’s a bright shiny diploma hanging on my study wall which gives me confidence and may perhaps reassure visitors! Listening to another human being as we both seek to make sense of this strange, perplexing, beautiful, tragic, amazing, mystifying life remains the most wonderful privilege. A good thing indeed... not in any way a crazy thing.
In case you think the above some kind of sales pitch: there are providers of spiritual accompaniment who are obliged to charge a fee or ask for a donation, but others, such as many retired clergy (myself included), offer their ministry, such as it is, without charge.