On 1st November around fifty people from diverse faith and belief traditions (and none) arrived at Exeter’s Old Deanery to participate in a day of exploration and inspiration around issues of ecology and spirituality. In the run up to the Paris Climate Summit in a few weeks’ time, the voices of faith communities are being increasingly seen as vital in reassessing human values as our industrial consumer society undermines the very Earth which sustains life.
‘Climate Change is everything change’ is a sober reminder of the pressures on the earth’s natural support systems as we continue to pollute and contaminate the air, water and soil, endangering the carrying capacity of the planet to hold abundant life. As the Pope has reminded us in his recent encyclical, the Earth is our ‘common home’, yet we treat her as a trash tip.
So this event encouraged us to recall that the world is special, wonder-full, precious, miraculous – and for many of us sacred and holy. It is essential re-affirm deep reverence for the Earth, respecting the interconnectedness and harmony of all life and to move to more sustainable lifestyles at a time of challenge and transition.
Richard Dealler led a reflective exercise on Pilgrimage in which participants were invited to tread lightly – to walk in the Old Deanery garden, reflect on their rootedness with the ground and to be sensitive to all living things around them. He invited all to focus on the quality of our attention, to slow down in a culture of rapid busy-ness and to quieten our bodies in a time of shared silence. “Silence is the soul’s break for freedom”, he quoted.
The impact of this walking and meditating was later expressed in verse when everyone was invited to put pen to paper and write a poem on their experience in the outside garden.
Different speakers distinguished between superficial wants or aspirations, and a deeper sense of seeking and longing, and of re-connecting in an age of disassociation and disaffection.
Young Exeter Muslim Hamzah Saied spoke movingly about his local upbringing in a global faith tradition, and of his frustration in sharing his environmental concerns with others within his community. Whereas Richard recalled the importance of reconnecting with place, Hamzah reminded us how the prayer rhythms of Islam help with our integration with time and the cycles of life.
Sandhya Dave shared some stories from her Hindu background and again encouraged us to see links between the inward aspects of our beliefs and the outward impacts of our behaviour. Planting trees is both a statement of protest in the face of oppression, and also a statement of hope for future generations she reminded us.
Finally, author and thinker Satish Kumar (a former Jain monk) passionately engaged us in his personal journey of appreciating Nature as that which gives us birth and nurtures us in life. “We are Nature”. Whilst our modern society separates us humans from the processes of ecology, we need to see that we are of the Earth. When we know we are interdependent and part of the whole, we will not use the planet as if it were a slave through ‘human imperialism’. It is time for a re-union – to find ourselves re-united with that which births us – our ‘common home’.
“When God created time, God created plenty of it”, Satish recalled. Let us see time as the great divine gift, especially in an age of transition.
The day concluded, as it had begun, with a shared period of silence, and it was suggested a small group of people from different faiths would continue to grow and meet, and perhaps plan a future event in North Devon and to develop an e-group…
Those travelling to Paris hope to stay in touch and the poems (and Richard’s quotes) will be collected and posted on websites as a resource and reminder of the day. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for 1 minute of courage and prayer for international leaders during the Summit.
Arbolivia, tree planting in Bolivia – www.crowdfunder.co.uk/arbolivia
14 minute video short – www.youtube.com/watch?v=qq3evpr1dkc
Our Voices Network, bringing faith to the climate talks – ourvoices.net
Green Pilgrimages – greenpilgrimage.net
Pilgrimages to Paris – pilgrimage2paris.org.uk
Walking Pilgrimage project – marymichaelpilgrimsway.org
Devon Faith and Belief Forum – devonfaiths.org.uk
Devon Churches Green Action – dcga.org.uk
Deanery Garden Poems and Quotes
Inside and outside
Nature and man’s construction
Old trunks split open – overgrown with creepers, leaves brown, crisp, dry, dull New, rough barked growth twisting upward, sky patches, cawing, new green leaf growth and a nest in the crook.
Nature’s power and intimacy
Quotations and poetry referenced by Richard Dealler
If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature – even a caterpillar, I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature. (Meister Eckhart)
Silence is like a cradle, holding our endeavours and our will. A silent spaciousness sustains us in our work and at the same time connects us to larger worlds that in the busyness of our daily struggle to achieve, we have not yet investigated. Silence is the soul’s break for freedom. (David Whyte)
Your entire life journey ultimately consists of the step you are taking at this moment. There is always only this one step, so you give it your fullest attention. This doesn’t mean you don’t know where you are going, it just means this step is primary, the destination secondary. What you encounter at your destination once you get there depends on the quality of this one step. (Eckhart Tolle)
“Keeping Quiet” by Pablo Neruda
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
Wilfrid Peltier/ Ted Poole, North American Indian Tradition
“ Wherever you are is home
And the earth is paradise.
Wherever you set your feet is holy ground.
You don’t live off it like a parasite
You live in it, and it in you.
Or you don’t survive.
And that is the only worship of God there is.”
Rabbi Nachman of Bretzlav, Hasidic Jewish Tradition
“Grant me the ability to be alone.
May it be my custom to go outdoors each day.
Among the trees and grasses
Among all growing things
And there may I be alone
And enter into prayer
To talk to the one
That I belong to.”
“Praying” by Mary Oliver
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak
Hafez, Sufi poet, Persian Islamic Tradition
A hunting party
Sometimes has a greater chance
Of flushing love and God
Out into the open
Than a warrior