Martin Davis records the meeting on 6 September of Cheltenham Green Christian group.
Writer and theologian Frank Regan’s return visit to Cheltenham last evening (after 8 years) was in order to consider the subject “Our late great Planet Earth: can we change direction? Explorations and reflections on Laudato Si’”. These notes are not an attempt to follow precisely Frank’s narrative: it’s hard to summarise, but they may give something of the flavour of a powerful talk, put across with a self-deprecating touch.
Frank contrasted the present state of the earth with the associations it has had over the ages. Genesis – God seeing all that he had made and it was very good; “cosmetics” derived from the Greek “cosmos” connoting both beauty and order; the Latin “mundus” connoting clean, and the Slav “mir”, harmony. And in Japanese tradition, the Gods took a rainbow and formed it into the earth.
But what has become of our good, beautiful, ordered, clean, harmonious, rainbow-shaped earth?
We were reminded that as long ago as 1983, the American Catholic bishops had warned that ours is the first generation since the Book of Genesis with the potential to destroy the entire planet. This warning seems more necessary that ever in the light of present relations between the United States and North Korea.
Yet the need for a change of direction, which underpins Pope Francis’ 2015 letter Laudato Si’ (addressed “to all people of good will”), comes not from any specific confrontation of world leaders, but from long-term ecological concerns.
Francis’ experience as bishop in Argentina convinced him of the need for a theology “del pueblo” – of the people – and specifically for the Church being a Church for the poor.
A world where 7,000 die of hunger or hunger-connected disease every day should make us question the relationship between the poor and the earth, from which we all feed. That earth, and we have only the one, is being depleted, damaged, exploited and degraded. When 80% of the world’s resources are consumed North of the Equator, how do we stand in regard to “Thou shallt not kill”?
Pope Francis’ stress is on the earth as our sister: we are family. When she is whole, so are we. When wounded, we likewise. It is for this reason he addressed Laudato Si’, not just to Catholics, but to “all”.
And his call is for structural change: he cited Francis of Assisi embracing a radical poverty – “preach the Gospel [by your life], and if necessary use words”. Nietzsche sees gravitas in the churches – gravity, pulling us downwards. We need to rediscover a God of the dance- to celebrate creation. Which is different from “nature”. “The word creation has a broader meaning than nature, for it has to do with God’s loving plan in which every creature has its own value and significance. Nature is usually seen as a system which can be studied, understood and controlled, whereas creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion.” (#76 LS)
Frank spoke about our destiny being a divine life. Of God becoming human so the human might become divine. That we are slowly ascending, known and loved by God from the womb, as with all creation. Our soul is the relationship between God and ourselves. We are temples, open 24 hours, of prayer of the spirit. Creation is a spin-off from the relationship of the Trinity.
Asked what was there to be positive about, Frank reminded us that even in the midst of the Black Death, Mother Julian was able to write “All manner of things shall be well”. Our vocation is to follow Christ, to redouble our efforts to “Do this in memory of me”, since that memory is fading. Frank spoke of there being echoes today of Noah – violence upon the earth, Noah being the saving figure. We have to build a Church that will be a saving space, and need to respond to our situation, be that one just person, in the space we occupy. The glory of God is to be seen in the person fully alive. And in right relationship with others. Making the sign of peace.
Martin Davis, Cheltenham Green Christian convener, 7 September 2017