A layman’s progress

Monthly reflections from Terry Hawes, lay preacher at St John’s

September 2020

Humankind has wondered at the cosmos since our earliest beginnings, the caves of our ancestors are covered with paintings of the sky above & the animals around.  It is something we have remained endlessly fascinated with, many of us hooked on the programmes fronted up by David Attenborough or Brian Cox, to mention only two.

Most people have heard of St Francis of Assisi.  Maybe you think of him as someone like Dr Doolittle, talking to the animals.  I think he probably did that, but he did a lot more.  You may not know that he was a bit of a lad in his youth, embracing the culture of his time, fighting in wars & generally living it up, until a battle injury left him laid up for a while, in which time he had a profound change of career, as we might say in 2020.  Having discovered God he became the first green Saint, someone who promoted harmony with the natural world, writing hymns about the sun, moon & stars, & seeing God everywhere in nature.  In these troubled times, with suicide bombers detonating explosive devices in public places, or driving cars into crowds of pedestrians, we could use St Francis, this being the Christian who journeyed to the far east to meet the Moslems during the holy wars, asking them if there was a way that they could all get along together.  This was a man who took his life in his hands & risked everything to find ways for people to meet peacefully with each other, & live in harmony with the earth on which we all live.  This was a man of his time, who was 1000 years ahead of his time – he died in 1226 at the age of only 44.

So what, you may think.  What can a man who died over 800 years ago say to us today?  Well I say anyone who gave up his comfortable & privileged life to minister to the poor – which he did, anyone who promoted the equality of women with men – which he did, anyone who followed his own principles while actively learning & respecting those of others – which he did, & anyone who embraced the perfect balance of the natural world – which he did, has plenty to say.  And I would suggest that the excesses of our society, in which we each of us apparently produce 400 kg ( almost half a ton) of waste every year, has so much to learn from him, as we watch our oceans fill up with plastic & watch the images from space showing the ice caps breaking up.

St Francis loved trees, I don’t know if he hugged them but maybe he did.  Whether he did or he didn’t, let’s consider the work of a tree for a moment.  There’s probably one outside your window; there will be plenty of them standing silently by the road while people drive by.  And what do they do, those trees?  They take in the waste gases produced by our breathing & by our cars, the CO2 which is deadly poison to our human systems, & they pour back O2, the essential gas to our breathing.  They take in poison, & they give back life.

What a different world it would be if we followed the example of the trees.  As we walk around, as we drive to the shops or the factory or wherever, when we push in front at the queue to the till, or somebody with bigger elbows gets to the bar first, how do we respond?  Well I know what I think, & my first thought isn’t Christian.  And that’s a great pity, because when we meet poison with poison then we multiply its effect & we all start choking.  Jesus said turn the other cheek, & if we could meet aggression with understanding, if we could meet hostility with compassion, & if we could meet hatred with love, then maybe the bombs would fall silent, the oceans would become clean again & the ice caps would begin to grow back.  Black, white, yellow, young, old, Moslem, Christian, Sikh or Jew, what a wonderful world it could be if we smiled instead of scowled.  You may say I’m a dreamer, but it would be sad if John Lennon really was the only one.

In the name of The Father, The Son, & The Holy Ghost, amen.