The idea of celebrating 1 September as a day of prayer for creation was first introduced by Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios in 1989, and was endorsed by Pope Francis in 2015, following his encyclical Laudato Si’ which calls on ‘every living person on this planet’ to care for our shared earth . The period from 1 September to the Feast of St Francis on 4 October, known as the Season of Creation, unites Christians in prayer and action for the protection of our common home.
The theme for 2019 is “the web of life”, highlighting the urgent need to protect biodiversity, a theme that has important connections to this autumn’s Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region.
To help us ponder our responsibilities in caring for creation Mary Colwell has written a series of reflections for the Day of Prayer and for each week during the Season of Creation.
Below, is a short film for the launch of the ARC – Green Pilgrim City Network in Assisi in November 2011 – Alliance of Religions and Conservation – www.arcworld.org
I watched a chiffchaff bathing in my garden, it splashed tentatively in the late summer sun, always on guard. Mainly olive green with a beautiful, subdued yellow eye stripe, it added a touch of the exotic to the normal urban gang of blue and great tits. It must have been on passage south, its breeding season at an end, and I felt privileged it had chosen my garden as a pit-stop. I could easily fit this tiny bird into the palm of my hand – it is feather-lite, weighing the same as a two pence piece.
So small, so slender, it looks as though a gust of wind might damage its lovely body. Yet, it is tiny bundle of resilience, reminding us that not everything that is strong and fit for purpose is obviously robust. As it journeys to its wintering grounds, I hope the autumn storms blow it on its way, that the wild seas are crossed with ease and that the predators are already satiated when it flies nearby. I also pray that the Mediterranean hunters put down their guns and dismantle their cruel traps and that they bow in respect to this marvel of God.
The chiffchaff is shifting its migration in response to a changing climate. More of them now stay in the south of England in the winter rather than heading out for Europe or Africa. Even more resilience from this diminutive miracle.
“Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul” said Emily Dickinson, and so it is. I will be so full of joy when its rhythmic chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff once again fills the spring air. It is tiny feathered prayer, surviving and adapting to a changing planet.
Integrity is the treasure buried in the field, it is a life well-lived and carried out with inner wholeness. It is obvious to all of us at this moment in history that the film dividing fact and fiction, hubris and humility is paper thin – at times it is barely discernible – and so more than ever we need to find daily integrity. It is there of course, all around us. A flower, a bird, a tree cannot be other than entire in and of themselves and assured in their purpose. A robin or a fox cannot be other than what they are, they are incorruptible and incapable of being false. It is not possible for the natural world to break our trust.
The season of Creationtide is perfectly timed. Autumn sees immense transition in nature. The change of guard from blousy flowers to dying leaves, from warmth to chill, has inspired the greatest artists to creative thoughts on our own life span. The season of mellow fruitfulness is almost too cliched to quote, yet we know the meaning of that phrase is heavy with reference to our own experiences. Nature creates in vision a commentary on our deepest understandings and fears. And it also relates those inner thoughts to God.
For, like a grain of fire
Smouldering in the heart
Of every living essence
God plants His undivided power –
Buries His thought too vast
In seeds and roots and blade
The Sowing of Meanings – Thomas Merton
Seeds and flowers, roots and blades are what they are, they live good lives in harmony with a whirling planet that processes around a burning star. We have much to learn from nature about the trajectory of our own lives through quiet, autumnal contemplation.
I was in a wild night of storms a while ago, in the High Sierras in California. I was camping in a small tent and could hear the wind raging down the valley, heading straight for me. The roar was so loud I clasped my hands over my ears; it sounded like a train. When it hit, everything shook and strained. The tent pegs and the rocks I’d placed on them shifted. The thin fabric of the tent looked set to tear. All I could do was curl up and pray as rain battered my shelter. If my tent had failed, I wouldn’t have known what to do. I was alone and at least a day’s walk from any settlement. Sometimes the power of the planet is scary, terrifying even.
That pure energy whipping around the surface of the globe is nothing more than excited air, increasingly agitated by the difference in temperature between the day and the night as we head for the coldness of the winter ahead. Invisible yet dynamic, storms are the manifestation of the power of things unseen. They can be violent and destructive, or merely teasing and playful, but storms are a signature of the start of the change to winter.
People have long been in awe of the ability of tempests to quell even the most dominant human force. The bible tells many a story of God providing shelter and protection from storms, an image that must have been so comforting in lands that can experience extreme weather.
My tent did survive, I got home safely to love and security. For many people in the Bahamas this year, things did not turn out so well. Hurricane Dorian took away their things, their security, even lives. It is good to remember and pray for those who stand in the path of the planet’s power and for the strength to build their lives once again. And we have to understand that the loss and grief caused by Dorian is yet another sign that climate change is not gradual transition to another reality but a dramatic change in state.