Friday, 3 April 2009

A View from the Pew – A New Creation is on the Way!

View from the Pew is a regular column I write for Newslink, the Limerick & Killaloe Diocesan Magazine. This article appears in the April issue.

By the time you read this, it will almost be Easter!
During Lent we Christians have been walking the path to Jerusalem with Jesus and his disciples. It is the path that leads him to an excruciating death on the cross on Good Friday. But we know the path doesn’t end there, for it continues on to the resurrection, the ascension, and the promised gift of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

Lent is traditionally a penitential season, a time of sackcloth and ashes, a time when we prepare to greet the risen Christ. Many of us have been marking it with prayer, almsgiving, or self-denial. I’ve given up wine myself – it’s good to prove to myself that I still can! - except for Sundays which I treat as a festival. And the money I save will go to good causes. But soon we shall put away the sackcloth and ashes to properly celebrate the empty tomb. He will rise again!

This path of faith echoes the movement of the seasons.
Winter is behind us now, spring is accelerating, and summer will come in its own good time. I count myself so very blessed to live in the country in a land with seasons, where every spring day brings something miraculously new. Already the first green shoots are showing on elder and whitethorn in the hedgerows and golden celandines glisten in shady places, a foretaste of summer abundance. Birdsong surrounds me on my morning walk, and nesting has begun - today I saw a chaffinch fly off with a feather for her nest. And as I write I can see my neighbour’s mare with her foal cantering around her.

White stars in the garden - Magnolia stellata

Another sign of spring is that I suddenly want to be out working in the garden again. I find it very difficult to work up enthusiasm to do so in winter, when so many jobs should have been done. The grass has already had its first trim and manners have been put on the rambling roses. But now there is soil to be dug, overgrown beds to be cleared and hedges to be trimmed. Will I ever catch up? Signs of spring’s advance are everywhere. The snowdrops and crocuses have been succeeded by daffodils; the snakes-head fritillaries are not far behind; the tulips are poking their snouts up. The early cherries and forsythia are in full bloom; the first white stars have opened on Magnolia stellata; the buds are bursting on the espalier pears. And we have eaten the first spears of asparagus from the polytunnel – just enough to garnish poached eggs!

A new creation is on the way. But we must not get ahead of ourselves: we still have two months to wait and prepare for summer – tender shoots can be killed by frost as late as mid May. And before we can celebrate Easter we must first experience the pain and desolation of Good Friday.

Pain and desolation.
Most of us are anxious and fearful at the moment. We have brought twin crises on ourselves, collectively if not individually, by our hubris and greed - old-fashioned sins to which humanity has been liable since the dawn of time. We live in anticipation of pain and desolation, full of resentment for a cross we do not wish to bear.

Pain and desolation – Rodin’s The Thinker
First there is the global economic crisis. IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn has dubbed it The Great Recession - is this what future history books will call it? The bursting of the asset price bubble has caused growing unemployment, misery and hardship worldwide, and for billions of people things will get worse before they get better. Our Irish economy is particularly badly hit, as we all know. On April 7th, Tuesday of Holy Week, Brian Lenihan will stand up in the Dáil to tell us how he proposes to reduce the public funding deficit by another €5 billion or so by raising taxes and cutting services – that’s more than €1000 for every man, woman and child in the country!

Second there is the gathering crisis of climate change. Reports from a recent climate science conference suggest that past emissions of greenhouse gases will cause a rise in sea-level of between 1 and 2 metres by 2100 - twice that forecast only two years ago. Notice that the scientists are not saying this will happen unless we act on climate change – this will happen whatever we do! If we don’t act, sea-level will eventually rise by much more. The truth is that human kind is faced with a choice between change and suffering - either we change to a low carbon/low consumption economy right now, or we condemn our children and grandchildren to suffer uncertain but probably very nasty consequences, along with the rest of the biosphere.

These twin crises are intimately linked, I think. I suspect climate change has directly contributed to the crash: economic confidence may have been tipped over the edge by the dawning realisation that future material growth is impossible. And I suspect that the only way out of the crash will be to invest and put people to work in a new sustainable, green economy. More certainly, the crash will restrain world greenhouse gas emissions, if only temporarily – Professor John Fitzgerald of ESRI forecasts that Ireland will after all be close to meeting its Kyoto commitments. This will give the world a breathing space in which to begin to change our whole way of living and working. We can and must take advantage of it.

2009 will be critical for the international effort to address climate change. Two years ago world governments signed up to negotiate an ambitious and effective international response, to be agreed at a UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. As you read this in early April, another round of negotiations will be taking place in Bonn. Please God they will be successful, and let us pray for a wise and just agreement in Copenhagen. The alternative is too awful to contemplate.

We must shoulder the cross in Christian hope!
It would be very easy to feel helpless and hopeless in the face of these crises. But as Christians we must shoulder the cross in Christian hope, confident in God’s loving kindness. Christian hope is not a passive, pie-in-the-sky sort of hope: it is what impelled the first disciples to go out confidently after Pentecost to change the world. Christian hope is just what we need now - without it we risk despair and immobility, and the crises would surely overwhelm us. I think our Christian hope is a great gift we can offer to our neighbours of other faiths and none. It will help all of us to pull together to overcome the crises and create a happier, more just and sustainable world, one more like the kingdom of heaven.

Crucifixion is followed by Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost. A new creation is on the way!

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