Detoxing Childhood – A tonic from Thomas Traherne

5 Tips on Childhood – Denise Inge on Thomas Traherne

Denise Inge wrote this article for Christians Aware in 2007.  She died recently  (2014) and they republished the article. It is printed here with their permission. Denise Inge is author of Thomas Traherne: Poetry and Prose (SPCK 2002) and Happiness and Holiness: a Traherne Reader (Canterbury Press 2007)

The 17th-century mystic has much to teach society now about recovering the joy of childhood.

The spotlight is on a poisoned childhood. The celebrity chef Jamie Oliver campaigns for better school dinners, while a letter signed by the children’s authors Philip Pullman and Jacqueline Wilson, and the child psychologist Penelope Leach, among others, has sparked The Daily Telegraph’s national ‘Hold onto childhood’ campaign.

Incidents of childhood depression are on the rise; children’s brains cannot adjust to the effects of ever more rapid technological and cultural change. Supported by the Archbishop of Canrebury, The Children’s Society has launched its ‘The Good Childhood Inquiry’. . Clearly, the concern to salvage childhoods toxic with junk food, virtual play, and the pressure of exams and advertising is being felt as a need to change society.

If society at large needs to change, parents and carers also have immediate choices to make. For guidance, we might look to the 17th-century priest Thomas Traherne (c.1636-1674), arguably Anglicanism’s most eminent writer on happiness,  who made childhood happiness one of his major themes. Out of his wider theology, here are five practical tips on detoxing childhood

TIP No. 1:  The world is good.

More than positive psychology’s attempt to look on the bright side, this is a statement about the origins of happiness which are innate in creation, and in us as human beings.

Traherne believed that, as humans were made in the image of God, happiness was natural to human beings;  it was unhappiness that was taught. We come into a world that is, despite the devatations o sin,  still essentially good, with have a propensity for joy.  ”You are as prone to  love as the sun is to shine,” he wrote. Yet what our children hear, from the moment they wake up until the click of the light switch at night, is the background news of terror, shortage, conflict, and disaster. You are good; the world is good;  God is good, we must remind them.

Traherne insists that we are heirs of a bountiful creation.  Children alive to an inheritance of plenitude may learn to extend themselves generously to others.

Tip No. 2:  Teach where the real treasures lie.

Grown-ups see treasure in the rare, the expensive, and the luxurious;  but the conker, paper clip, and thread treasures in the pockets of any child’s jeans will tell you that their sense of treasure is upside-down. With them, Traherne sees treasure in things that are the most simple, common, and useful.  The sun rather than gold; the moon instead of silver.  We dangle baubles in front of children, and promise them empty rewards, when we could nurture their fascination with real hidden treasure.The lesson here is to teach truth. Have fun putting a label on your water jug, saying “Most valuable liquid on earth”, or a sign on the door, saying “This room is full of oxygen”. Thank God in your bedtime prayers for their beating heart.  Children love treasure, especially if it is hidden.  Run with this notion, and you can make them conservators of creation – not because they fear the destruction of the world, but out of delight and reverence.

Tip No. 3:  Open your eyes.

Traherne remembered the wide-eyed nature ochildhood, and wrote: “We need nothing but open eyes to be ravished like the Cherubims.”  As one child psychologist has put it: “Every day for a child is like going to Paris and falling in love for the first time.”  In Traherne’s day, the newly discovered microscope and telescope were making the world suddenly infinite in two directions at once. For our children, these discoveries are still new. Like them, be fascinated by the tiny and the enormous. They come into the world with open eyes; don’t cloud their vision. Do less, and notice more.

Tip No. 4:  Take time  

Unawareness of time, maddening to adults, is a great gift our children have to offer. Let them give you this gift. When you can allow the clock not to matter. “All Time was Eternity,” wrote Traherne of his childhood experience. Stop rushing yourself.  Stop rushing your child from one thing to the next. Very much against the ethos of targets and achievement, Traherne would say emphatically that childhood is not a race.  Just occasionally, take your watch off.

Tip No. 5:  Enjoy life

“Learn to enjoy what you have,” Traherne writes in the Centuries. We grow rich, says Traherne, not by having what we want, but by enjoying what we have. This is not to say live your life in little box, but savour. The better we get at savouring, the less we feel we need, and the more we then have to share. All of this, simple as it sounds, is difficult to practise. It runs counter to our culture of haste and waste that to live like this means to make choices seriously outside the mainstream.  It means not giving in to pester power or to the pressure of upward comparisons.

Detoxing is not an easy option as any lover of caffeine can tell you.  Headaches, tantrums, and sudden cravings may assault you on the way. Certainly your children will not always follow you obligingly. Perhaps the problem is not so much about vanishing childhood as it is about an abdication of adulthood. Here is one of the key issues in a toxic childhood that no one wants to face.  If childhood is really being poisoned, we must ask who is administering the poison, or, at least, who is leaving the cupboards unlocked.

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For the love of coffee

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAToo many of the things we love could be changed forever by climate change.

I love coffee.  Proper coffee.  You know, I even enjoy washing up the pot in anticipation of what is going to happen to it next.  I guess I’m a bit of an addict.  I know I am not the only one.

But climate change is not good for coffee.  The changing weather patterns across regions such as South America are threatening coffee harvests. Crops are falling prey to disease, and farmers are facing failed harvests year after year.

Hemileia vastatrix, the coffee rust fungus, is a known hazard of growing arabica, which is 70% of the world’s production and all of a cup of coffee’s taste.   It cannot survive temperatures below 10C, which is why coffee grows best up in the hills where cold nights and drier weather have, until now, kept the disease at bay.  The warmer, wetter winters we are now seeing are allowing the disease to take hold.

I try to buy Fairtrade, organic and rainforest certified coffee to support the farmers and their local environment.  But now I know about the threat climate change holds, I have a whole new caffeine-charged reason for campaigning to keep fossil fuels in the ground where they belong.

See what others have said they love, and share what you love at http://fortheloveof.org.uk

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Skipton Eco-Congregation Church supports Tour de France

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Holy Trinity Church Skipton was the second church in Britain to win the CEL Millennium Certificate. This was back in 1998.

In 2005 it achieved the Eco-Congregation Award… It would encourage other churches to enter for this.

The congregation is still active. They are selling teas each day from now until Saturday- and I recommend the hot takeaway mug of tea I had today.

There will be an excellent (though I am sure already oversubscribed) view of the Tour de France Race from the church grounds.

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Here is a view of the church from the canal:

On the morning of 14th July a group of Christians from Kenya will be vising the church with the organisation Christians Aware

Coming shortly:

Grasses of the Tour de France stage 1.

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For the love of the Arctic

© Ann Daniels

© Ann Daniels

Too many of the things we love could be changed forever by climate change.

Ann Daniels from Devon explains why she is acting on climate change:

‘I’m a mother of four children and live in Devon. For more than ten years I’ve been travelling and working in the Polar Regions as an explorer and scientist.

During my time up ‘North’ I’ve witnessed changes in the sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean and have experienced more extreme temperatures and unexpected storms.

This world is not ours and I would like, not only my children, but all the animals in the world to inherit a world we can be proud of. Give Mother Nature a helping hand, not a stamping foot.’The Arctic sea ice could disappear in the summer sometime between 2014 and 2040 and the consequences of this will be catastrophic to not only the indigenous flora and fauna but for weather patterns globally.  Some Arctic species, such as narwhal, hooded and ringed seals, walrus and polar bears are very dependent on particular ice conditions. The loss of Arctic ice jeopardizes the very survival of these ice-dependent species.

This world is not ours and I would like, not only my children, but all the animals in the world to inherit a world we can be proud of. Give Mother Nature a helping hand, not a stamping foot.’

See what others have said they love, and share what you love at http://fortheloveof.org.uk

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Grandparents for a Safe Earth.

A group of grandparents and elders in Bristol and South Gloucestershire have just launched their website at https://network23.org/gfase/ One of them, CEL member Phil Kingston, sends this report: ‘We began meeting about 18 months ago, sharing the common concern of what we humans are doing to the Earth. Our focus is particularly upon Climate Change because it is a world-wide issue, with enormous risks to the safety and well-being of future generations, the poorest peoples and many other life-forms. The more we have learned, the more we have become disturbed about what is happening and about the inadequate response of Government, business and media to the developing crises – even though the evidence from the UN, the World Bank and most recently, the joint report of The Royal Society and the US Academy of Sciences, is crystal-clear that climate change is primarily caused by the overuse of fossil-fuels and the escalating accumulation of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere and oceans

grandparentsSafeEarth489x285Like many others, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the enormity of the issues. This grandparents’ and elders’ group is a special place for sharing concerns and translating them into action. We hope that others will do the same in their own locality and become a part of the world-wide movement for action to halt the destruction which is occurring.

Grandparents for a Safe Earth is open to all faiths and none – just people who care about their descendents.

The current focus for dialogue and action by Grandparents for a Safe Earth is upon the investments by UK Banks in fossil-fuels. The website gives some of the evidence for this. E.g. one startling finding from the World Development Movement is that the total annual CO2 emissions from RBS Bank’s worldwide investments in fossil-fuels is about 1.6 times the annual emissions of the UK.’

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Religion, Politics and the Earth – Review

Religion, Politics and the Earth: The New Materialism, by Clayton Crockett and Jeffrey W. Robbins, October 2012. Palgrave Macmillan, 206 pages, ISBN 978-1-137-26892-1. RRP £17.50 (paperback)

Who would enjoy reading this book? That is what I wondered as I laboured through it. It would have to be someone at home with an academic form of discourse and familiar with the vocabulary of certain scientific disciplines, sociology and contemporary philosophy. Yet this book will perhaps be most appreciated by the reader with an intuitive cast of mind, able to recognise the force of an argument in its imaginative suggestiveness.

The theme of the book is encapsulated in the phrase ‘the New Materialism’. Material reality and the spiritual are seen as one. That sounds like the philosophy of Idealism. But this is about ‘taking the earth as subject’. It is not to be treated as the object of our experience – or exploitation. Rather we are to participate in and facilitate the material ‘coming to self-awareness through thought’. All this is explained in the introduction to the book, which I began to enjoy as an evocative poem can be enjoyed – not necessarily understanding every line, but moved by it and made to sense yet deeper intuitions. The New Materialism is about energy transformation, we are told, energy which cannot be reduced to matter because it resonates with spirit and life. But the platform for these flights of philosophical speculation is a plain acknowledgement of the global crisis: ‘Western capitalism is based upon assumptions of indefinite if not infinite growth, but the natural resources of the planet are finite’. The ecological crisis is seen as focussed in global warming, the energy crisis in the urgency to develop the use of renewable sources, and the financial, each of which are interrelated. It is from the facing of these facts that the vision emerges as: ‘a new way of being in and of the earth’.

Chapters dealing with digital culture, religion, politics, art, ethics, energy and logic make up the substance of the book. I would have to admit finding them dense and often elusive. The most curious one is that which pops up offering a radical proposal for nuclear energy, scientifically pragmatic but all the more difficult for the uninstructed to evaluate.

Yet the book strikes a fundamental note of hard reality: ‘if we want our civilization to live on earth a little longer we will have to recognise our coexistence with and in earth’. What I found most encouraging was the underlying theology. I was unconvinced that only a radical theology ‘unbound from its tie to one particular event, which is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth’ … ‘can dare to think … a New Materialism of Earth’. But to relinquish ‘God’ in our learning to think like and with the earth, surely draws upon the profound orthodoxy of apophatic theology (God is what we cannot think) and panentheism (all things exist within the divine)? So I warmed to the invitation for ‘readers to use their theological imaginations’, even though so much of the book irritated me as it left me behind!

Andrew Norman CJN

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Green Ageing

Ann Parker is a poet and a member of Christian Ecology Link. In this poem she reflects on ageing as a Christian in a climate-changing world.   Barbara Echlin.

Green Ageing

A time of consolidation,
like moving house. Leaving,
giving, throwing out that which
is no longer needed.
Learning new dimensions;

how to fit oneself into unfamiliarity,
rooms, doorways, garden. All the while
aware that we shall not live here long.
Another fifty – thirty years is not
an option. Time span is reduced.

Don’t waste it.
What should I leave behind?

What objects, what talents, what values
have I given or transmitted?

Then there are the practicalities
of a body getting doddery.
Its limitations. Or ways
of compensating. Is there more to learn?
The needs of those about me.
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Climate change – my role – the role
of everyone in living through it.
Awareness of new sciences,
gardening, food production.
Saving fuel and water.

Emerging hazards, new diseases
Emergency responses.
Flood wardens For instance
Solar energy Being there.

And God? The Sabbath ‘rest’
and wholeness. Culmination.
Learning how to save the world
by holding it together

in stillness, one-ness. Not
in separation, conflict,
anxieties of right or wrong,
heaven or damnation;

but prayer as weaving
wholeness; ourselves a loom,
receptive to God’s shuttle.
A.R Parker

I have come that
you might have life,
and have it in abundance.

John 10.10

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For the love of…..

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What motivates you?  Are you motivated by fear, guilt or duty?  For something immediate, like a car careering towards you, fear is probably a good motivator for getting out of the way, but what about long term, invisible things like climate change?

A recent report by the Climate Outreach Information Network (COIN) concluded that one of the best ways to frame climate change is to tie it to what people love.  COIN conducted narrative workshops in four British cities to determine the most powerful climate change frames across four key audiences: small ‘c’ conservatives, members of trade unions, ‘community optimists’ and NGOs. Although they were so different, all four audiences held some of the same core values of empathy, open-mindedness and honesty, and the most popular frame for all four groups was that which focused on how things people love are threatened by climate change.

Guided by this work, the UK’s Climate Coalition, a network of over 100 organisations, launched their new national climate campaign with the message ‘For the love of … let’s do something about climate change’. Different groups in the Coalition are able to tailor this message to their audiences by filling in the blank with something their constituents care about. For example, one group might use the message ‘For the love of our global neighbors’, while another might use the message ‘For the love of Britain’s beautiful seasons’.

For me, it’s my love for what I believe to be God’s world, and for my children, that motivates me to do something about climate change.

How about you?  Unless you love mosquitoes and cockroaches, what you love is quite likely to be threatened by our changing of the climate.

Share what you love at http://theclimatecoalition.org/campaigns/love

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