Saying Yes to Life: Reflections for July 2020
Specially commissioned reflections by Ruth Valerio for July 2020
Trees of Life
My Colombian friend, Juliana, used to live in Cusco in Peru, and was very involved with helping local churches get involved with looking after the land. The highlands of Cusco have been seriously deforested and are suffering terribly from the impact of climate change, with farmers saying that their crops don’t grow like they used to. Juliana helped one Quechua community, many of whom were Christians, plant 32,000 native trees, part of a project to form a forest of a million trees that will cover the bare mountains and replenish the watersheds below.
Trees are a vital part of life on earth. They protect the soil, absorb CO2 and provide habitats for a myriad of wildlife. They are a vital part of
our own personal lives too. Think for a moment – are there particular trees that you can remember from your childhood or that you particularly love
now? And, have you ever given much thought to trees in the Bible? Once we stop and pay attention, we notice that trees feature through the whole
story of the Bible and are present at nearly every major occurrence.
As I consider the appalling consequences of deforestation, I am struck, by way of contrast, with the Jewish festival of Tu b’Shevat, ‘the New Year for Trees’. How beautiful to have a new year especially for trees; a day to pause and recognise the beauty and wonder of trees and all they do for us and the land, and to commit ourselves to looking after them and to planting more.
For me, loving trees isn’t separate to my faith: it’s an integral part of what it means to worship the Creator. And as I seek to live in ways that take care of trees, so too I want to be like the tree of Psalm 1, planted by streams of water, rooted deeply in God through the rhythms and practices of my life.
Consider the Birds of the Air
Despite the very real worries and grief, one of the absolute delights of lockdown for so many of us was listening to the birds singing.
I live in a city, near a dual carriageway, but have worked hard over the years to make my fairly small garden one that is welcoming to birds and other wildlife, and this spring it seemed to explode! As the weather improved, I sometimes sat outside the back door for my online meetings and it was wonderful watching a whole variety of different birds, busily collecting twigs and bits of grass for their nests. People would often comment on the birdsong they could hear when I took myself off mute and I’m not alone in this: in one meeting, every time a particular man went to speak, we could hear a cuckoo calling loudly in the background.
Birds are amazing creatures and our world is full of an incredible variety. One of my favourites is the Bassian thrush from Australia which hunts by directing its farts at piles of leaves, making the worms move around so the thrush can see where they are!
Closer to home, I’ve been reflecting on the sparrows and robins that share my garden with me (one particular robin likes to spread out his wings and lie down in a patch of leafy soil near where I sit, and sunbathe). You may well know this little ditty by Elizabeth Cheney:
Said the robin to the sparrow,
'I should really like to know,
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.'
Said the sparrow to the robin,
'Friend I think that it must be,
That they have no Heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.
As you look at the birds around you, I hope you might let them remind you how much your heavenly Father cares for you and will provide for you. It is a good thing indeed to consider the birds of the air.
Formed from the Dust of the Ground
Jocabed Reina Solano Miselis is a Christian woman from the Gunadule people, brought up on the Guna Yala islands off the coast of Panama. Jocabed told me about the Guna practice of burying the umbilical cord and placenta in the ground when a baby is born. The women cut the cord, wrap it with the placenta and give it to the grandfather who buries it in the mountains, under a cacao tree. Jocabed says, ‘for nine months the umbilical cord and placenta united the baby and the mother. Now the cord ties men and women to the earth. It fertilises the earth from which a plant germinates as a sign of unity and of the hope for future generations.’
We have been created from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7): we are adam created from the adamah (Hebrew for earth or ground)… earth creatures… dusty ones. As such we have an innate connection with the wider natural world - something many of us experienced when we were in lockdown. The change of rhythm and allowance of a daily walk got us outside and we rediscovered how important nature is to our wellbeing.
As earth creatures, we have been created to image and represent God, like a living statue in the temple of God’s creation. With that we affirm that all people have been made in the image of God. There is radical equality here, which is why poverty and the racial injustice that is being increasingly exposed is an absolute abomination to God.
Equality between all people and humble connection with the wider natural world are deeply embedded in what it means to have been created in God’s image, formed from the dust of the ground.
What do those two aspects bring to mind for you? Is there a response you could make that is being prompted within you?
A World Rebooted
One of the strangest weekends for me during lockdown was Easter weekend as the COVID-19 peak was building and a colleague lay in hospital battling
for his life. I heard Jesus’ words to his disciples to ‘watch and pray’ (Matthew 26:41) and knew I needed simply to sit with the unfolding national
and personal tragedy, not rush around and put opinionated statements up on social media, but pray and lament without looking for answers. My
colleague died on Easter Sunday: the poignant juxtaposition of death and resurrection, grief and hope.
Christians look forward with resurrection hope, to a day when there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21: 4). But we also live in the reality of the now, when we see glimpses of that hope but much that also leads to despair.
Through lockdown, there were positive surprises in the midst of the pain. We saw renewed community life as we organised ourselves to help neighbours and look out for each other. We placed a new value on people who sometimes go unnoticed: delivery drivers, supermarket workers, refuse collectors, NHS workers. We rediscovered how important nature is to our wellbeing and saw nature thrive and pollution levels drop. And we learnt that in a crisis we really can act and change ingrained habits.
Will we hold on to those positives or go back to the ‘old normal’? We know the old normal was leading to environmental catastrophe and harming countless numbers of people, around the world and in the UK. We now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reboot our economy in a fair, sustainable way – so that it works for everyone and protects the environment.
Could you reflect on what the positives were for you during lockdown, amidst the undoubted troubles, and decide how you could ensure they continue for you? As people of faith, how might we play our part in working towards a world rebooted?
Tearfund has developed resources to help families, friends and churches explore how we can play our part in building a better world, with a short animation, video and discussion guide. Find out more here.
Dr Ruth Valerio is Director of Global Advocacy and Influencing at Tearfund. This month’s reflections draw on her book Saying Yes to
Life: The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2020, which explores the creation narrative of Genesis 1. Find out more here.