Saturday 3 October 2009

View from the pew - The glass is more than half full!

View from the Pew is a regular column I write for Newslink, the magazine for the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe - this article appeared in the October 2009 issue.
NAMA, Lisbon, the Budget – and Copenhagen

“NAMA, Lisbon, and the Budget – these are the three immense and immediate challenges facing Ireland”– so said An Taoiseach Brian Cowen to the business luminaries of the Irish diaspora assembled at Farmleigh for the Global Irish Economic Forum.

Brian Cowan addresses the Global Economic Irish Forum

These are important issues, as we all know. Political and media attention is constant and shrill - and focussed on these three almost to the exclusion of everything else. The decisions to be taken are important – they will shape our country for many years to come - so let us pray that they will be the right ones.

But in all the hubbub, could there be a danger that we lose sight of other things? Climate change is by far the biggest challenge we all face in the 21st Century (for the facts see Two Degrees, One Chance). Within a very few years, every single one of us - in every country - must change the way we live and work, in order to protect our fragile planet for our children and grandchildren and the rest of creation. World governments have promised to agree workable and comprehensive action at the UN Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen this December. It may be the last chance to do so before the planet passes a point of no return and suffers catastrophic run-away heating. So let us also pray for an effective and just agreement in Copenhagen.

This is what Nenagh Union will be doing on Saturday 3rd October in Teach an Leinn in the centre of Nenagh from 11am to 3pm, together with our brothers and sisters in Christ from local Roman Catholic, Methodist and (we hope) other independent congregations, in a joint day of prayer for climate change. Passers-by of all faiths and none will be invited to drop in for as long or short as they wish, to hear prayers and readings, share quiet time in reflection, and find out more about climate change.

So many crises, so many important and difficult decisions to be made! I would be spoilt for choice if I wanted to write about such grave matters – and looking back over the archive perhaps I do so too often. Are we in danger of losing sight of joyful things too? Forget all the dismal crisis talk – let’s be cheerful, it is a Christian virtue! Let’s think instead of how much we have to be thankful for – our faithful God has blessed us with so much.

Harvest Time
We have been blessed by September’s Indian Summer, haven’t we? It’s amazing how the spirits rise with a bit of dry, sunny weather - mine certainly do. Last Saturday I spent a glorious day in Cloughjordan at the Eco-Village open day and energy fair. I was much too hot in my tweed jacket and woolly jumper – I had to strip them off. In the balmy weather it was hard to remember that creation is in crisis!

2009 has been difficult for those who are farmers, the third bad summer in a row. Many will be disappointed with the return they have got from all their planning and hard work. But the settled September has allowed tillage farmers to salvage something from the difficult season. Yields may be down here in Ireland, but elsewhere in Europe they have been higher than expected, and the total world crop looks set to be a record. Prices will likely be low, but this will be a boon to those short of fodder because of the weather - Teagasc advises not to buy in expensive silage this winter, but to feed cereals.

Many more of us will be anxious about the economic recession and market collapse. Worries bubble up: Is my job safe? What about my savings and my pension? How can I stretch my income to pay the bills?

But let us see the glass as half full, not half empty! Just reflect for a moment on the breadth and variety of our harvest. We have the staples: we have wheat for bread and butter to spread on it, oats for porridge and milk to pour over it, barley for beer, hay, silage and meal for cattle. But there is so much more than staples for us to enjoy, isn’t there! There’s meat and eggs, cheese and yoghurt, fruit and nuts, vegetables and mushrooms, and gardens full of flowers! Many of us keep animals, and there are this year’s foals, and calves and lambs and chicks. But there’s also the fruit of our own bodies - our children and grandchildren born this year - thank God for them too!

Cause for celebration

Some of the produce from Joakim's Garden

My own harvest is as a gardener. In the picture you can see some of what my wife and I are enjoying at the moment: runner beans, beetroot, carrots, onions, potatoes, parsley, garlic, French beans, spinach beet, tomatoes, autumn raspberries, apples, pears, and wildlings from the hedgerow, blackberries and damsons or bullaces, as my mother used to call them. I forgot to include the frisé lettuce (plants a gift from a neighbour) and courgettes. And coming on there are romanesco broccoli, brussels sprouts, leeks and purple sprouting broccoli for the spring. We are freezing pounds of beans to enjoy over winter. Nothing tastes so good as what you have grown or picked yourself. And it is just as enjoyable to be able to give away the surplus. If this sounds like boasting, I can’t help it - God has been very good to us this year!

Above all perhaps we should thank God for our health and strength, and also for our intellects, our God-given cleverness. As every farmer knows, this bountiful harvest does not appear from heaven as if by magic: it takes hard graft and intelligent planning!

In this rich corner of the world today, we will not starve, as our forefathers so often did after a bad harvest. With the gift of cleverness we have invented ways to store food and to transport it, and economic and social systems to distribute it to where it is needed. If we consume a little less, it will probably be good for our health; and perhaps the whole planet will benefit. So let us be cheerful and follow the good advice of Deuteronomy: ‘You shall set the first of the fruit of the ground down before the Lord your God … Then you shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you.’

Let us all celebrate and enjoy our harvest!

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