I’m on the road again.
A preaching, teaching and conference speaking tour sees me for 10 days in the south of England and with it traffic congestion and hold-ups. Yesterday the M40 between Oxford and London suffered serious delays following a car fire on the southbound carriageway. Thanking God for satnav traffic reports I was able to divert my route and by doing so, altered the pattern of my day very positively. Instead of racing on down the motorway and joining the slow moving car park, the M25, I rerouted and as a consequence called in to see good friends and fellow Northumbria Community Companions Philip and Rosemary at Bridge House, Shillingford.
Following a brew and a delightful catch up, conversation and prayer around the farmhouse kitchen table I then drove through the beautiful towns, villages and countryside of Oxforshire, Berkshire and Surrey, arriving in Horley relaxed, interested and enthralled by the journey. It added 45 minutes to my drive but with no hold-ups and passing through spectacularly beautiful landscapes as summer gave way to autumn, the time spent in the car was very enjoyable.
As Gandhi said, There is more to life than increasing its speed, something I will take up and share this weekend at Ashburnham in Sussex where I am speaking. The relaxed nature of the journey allowed me the time and space to reflect, think through and pray about the many happenings and experiences that summer has presented.
Among the eclectic mix of songs on the playlist that accompanied my journey in southern England was John Rutter’s For the beauty of the earth and Louis Armstrong’s, What a beautiful world“. My spirit was lifted as I listened to the words and observed the beautiful surroundings I passed through on my journey around London, beyond yet parallel with the M25.
The only sadness came as I reflected on what I had been reading the night before, all of which reminded me of how we are scarring the beauty of the earth with our consumerist lifestyles and disregard for the consequences of the way we live and treat this sacred planet.
The remarkable photographs that were heralded on BBC Breakfast News on Tuesday, their beauty and fascination extolled by the presenters but who so singularly failed to see the tragedy in such images. The seahorse carying a cotton bud! Marine life is dying and the whole oceanic ecosystem is threatened. Plastic, so much a feature of contemporary life does not rot away. Every piece still exists on our planet’s surface, billions of tonnes of it ending up in the sea or on the ocean floor. Ocean currents gather to form ‘great nations’, masses of plastic. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which covers an area of ocean roughly twice the size of France, is a mass of floating plastic waste, up to 10 metres deep, which has been collected by the currents.
There are beaches on Pacific islands that appear to be covered in multicoloured sands but under close observation, the blues, yellows and red grains are not sound at all but tiny fragments of plastic.
The plastic that gets dumped into the seas around the UK is carried to the Artcic within two years where it does enormous harm to the fragile polar environment. Plastic is frequently mistaken for food by fish and birds, causing damage to life throughout the seas.
As I pulled over the car and went for a short walk to take in the wonderful woodlands of leafy Surrey I recalled leading a group of family and friends on nightjar spotting walk on my cousins farm in Norfolk this summer as part of my special birthday weekend festival party. It was like leading a pilgrimage as we entered the dark wood and walked slowly to the Heath, stopping, ears cupped and eyes intently gazing out on the night sky. (On this ocassion we neither heard or saw any nightjars – perhaps the cool ssummer had triggred their early departure). But the walk in the woods at night felt special, sacred. It is an area designated as a site of ‘special scientific interest’ but that term doesn’t capture for me the beauty of the place and the awe and wonderment that accompanies it.
There is great power in words, in the vocabulary and language we use, including how we name and describe things. So for my bit, as a friend of heaven who should be at the forefront of being among the Friends of Earth, I think we should name those oceans that we have polluted as the ‘Great Polluted Artic Sea’, the ‘Plastic Killing Waters’ or the ‘Poisoned Plastic Drift’.
And for those areas that in contrast remind us of what the world could and should be, let’s not be too clinical and over technical in describing them as ‘areas of scientific interest’ but let’s put up signs describing them as; ‘You are now entering an area of outstanding beauty‘ with warning signs declaring, ‘keep your eyes and ears open and be prepared to be awed and wooed by the wonders before you”
For the beauty of the earth…