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Benedict and the Climate Crisis

There's an ecological crisis but perhaps you haven't noticed. It seems many people haven't. Writing this I'm staying in a small village on the Norfolk Broads, just one of Britain National Parks. A local resident told me that there was plenty of nature around here. Surrounded by the green reed beds and blue waters it's easy to be lulled into thinking that all is well. But many species shows signs of decline across the country including in protected areas.

The most recent state of nature report (2023) promoted by organisations like the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts recorded a decline of 19% in species overall, with 1in 6 species threatened with extinction. [1] Here in Longdendale, only one spike of Bee Orchid has flowered this year - and that has a protective wire cage around it to keep it safe (see photo). What would Benedict make of all of this?

I think that depends on which community you think you belong to. As a member of a global community of multiple species, the challenge is a huge one. But can the Rule be interpreted with such a vast community in mind?

From Lauds to Compline I am surrounded by this community, praising the Creator in ways I cannot imagine. Each of equal rank, the balance of the global ecosystem is due to the part played by each one. It’s a song that, in the twenty-first century, we must listen to even more carefully.

If the Rule was a challenge to Benedict's own times, as he sought to urge stability and responsibility on the communities he imagined shaping, how much more is it a challenge to our own times?

Benedict's legacy has produced a range of communities embedded in local contexts with a foundation of sustainability. Such stability of communal life is vital to a world slipping beyond tipping point in a climate crisis. But it will also require outward looking communities, fully engaged with the issues of the day. By all means sing psalms but don't, as too often happens, leave out the difficult parts. Pretty liturgy is of limited use. It needs to be gritty. Make your daily Magnificat a clarion call to concerted action. Only the bringing down of the proud can lead to the lifting up of our critically endangered species.

This is not a time for wishy-washy mouthings of the things that can too readily form a comfort blanket. Listening with your heart is what enlarges it and encourages it to open even further, to share a kingdom with the most unlikely species. This morning a wild-life watcher in Longdendale Valley told me that nineteenth century records showed Bird’s Nest Orchids have flowered here in the past. Where are they now? An overlooked species missing from our community, I’m searching for them now.

I look forward to living in a community richer in species: a global holy space, in joyful holy service. But most of all, a holy communion which fully includes and echoes Christ's own words 'This is my body'. All of it.

Photo Credit: Ray Hennessy on Upsplash

Janet Lees


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