Recently, I have been meditating at some length about weather and climate. The old joke runs thus: Britain has weather, while the rest of the world has climate. Quite what that means in a time of ‘climate change’ is another matter. Those of us who have lived in the UK for a long time know the various moods of British weather only too well. Certainly, the vicissitudes of the British weather should not be taken as a signal of catastrophic climate change. However, it would take a human-ostrich of some determination to pretend that our world is not facing environmental effects which may change the balance of nature forever.
I want to place my meditations and concerns in the context of the season of Lent. Lent is rightly and properly considered to be a time for sober reflection, repentance and preparation for God’s Easter joy. It is, therefore, surely an entirely appropriate time for us, as a community and as individuals, to revisit our relationships with God’s creation and our actions within it.
I, for one, find reflecting on my ‘environmental impact’ seriously challenging. The fact that it is so challenging indicates why Lent is a good time to meditate and act on it. It is surely a season in which we should be prepared to face up to challenging and difficult issues.
Don’t get me wrong, over the years I’ve given up all sorts of things for Lent (chocolate, crisps, sweets, alcohol and so on), as well as taking on specific challenges for prayer and action. I have found these commitments and times of ‘fasting’ rich and rewarding and would not dare mock them. However, for me, daring to undertake a kind of personal environmental audit, as it were, is mildly terrifying.
If I dare to consider the environmental impact of my car use, my plastic use and my food habits I am likely to be confronted with some uncomfortable truths. As people who live in a consumer-driven culture, we are almost expected only to be happy if we are buying new things and acquiring the latest stuff. I am as guilty as anyone in chasing after stuff that I don’t actually need. I can fall prey to the desire to impress people or keep up with the latest trends.
When one dares to confront one’s own complicity in climate change – as I shall attempt to do this Lent – and reflect on how God might be calling us to act differently, I know one runs the risk of just making oneself feel guilty. The fact is that few of us are going to become ‘off-grid spoon whittlers’ any time soon. Knowing this, I don’t want my reflections to be a kind of self-indulgent naval-gazing.
Instead, I think reflecting on one’s role in environmental change and consumer culture may lead one to become more like Christ: that is, more trusting in God’s Way. On the evidence of the Bible, to follow Christ involves committing oneself to others in service; those who follow Christ are committed to building communities of grace, love and generosity, as well as of justice and mercy. This must surely mean not being the kind of person who says that my interests override those of others at all costs. Certainly, it requires one to find a way to live in the world as it is, with generosity and kindness, while working towards a vision of a richer creation. This must have an impact on how we behave in the midst of the finite resources of nature.
I don’t think these commitments are merely rhetorical, then. I know the world faces greater pressures on its future than decisions made by me or you. Be that as it may, there’s no way around the fact that we shall all have to find a way to survive and thrive on this planet. I remain a believer that our actions matter. It is only through human relationship and encounter that transformation is possible. This is surely one of the messages found in the gospels. On Good Friday, Christ’s ‘mission’ has – by any human measure – failed. Yet, on Easter Day, the truth is revealed. One person bears a cost which transforms all of reality. On Easter Day, God shows forth his Creation in all its fullness.
So, this Lent let us dare to look ourselves squarely in the eye and act, not in fear, but in hope. There are so many things for us to consider and act on, from decisions on how much meat we eat, through to how much water we use and the kind of transport options we adopt. Christianity is ultimately a faith centred around community. Perhaps this Lent presents us with an opportunity to gather together more regularly in community, not only through Lent groups, but more informally. Dare to take them. (Though see if you can do so by leaving the car at home, should you have one!)
Finally, it is worth saying that God’s way is not a miserable one. It is not about worthiness, but about living on God’s promises. This means – as Easter demonstrates – that it is ultimately defined by feasting and joy, rather than misery and worthiness. Even in the midst of environmental crisis, we must remember to feast and celebrate. However, when we celebrate, let us dare to ask: for whom is this feast held? God, through Christ, invites us to make it for all who hunger and thirst.
May you have a holy Lent and a joyous Easter!