A train journey to meet with churches in Caithness provided the opportunity to look through the new anthology from the Unitarian tradition, Cherishing the Earth – Nourishing the Spirit, Edited by Maria Curtis and published by the Lindsey Press: here’s how it turned out.
Cherishing the Earth – Nourishing the Spirit – the Unitarian Laudato Si?
The title connects what should never have been seen as apart: that mutually-blessing way of world-care as self-care. But maybe it needs to be stated and re-stated in an intimidatingly objectifying global north culture. And in religious cultures where the need for ‘self-denial’ brownie-points leads us into spiritually unsustainable actions and commitments. Because we’re not in control, and our individual actions won’t ‘save the planet’ the ones we do choose need to nourish us too. Cherishing the Earth doesn’t happen on flat spiritual batteries. This is a power-pack.
At a time when some spiritual writers are still trawling the Big Name authorities of the late century on creation topics, Climate Crisis debunks the medieval conceit of “midgets on the shoulders of giants”, grassroots worshippers, poets pastors and activists really are better informed -and can easily become so – than those who by definition, could not take into account the urgency of the crises we’re now in the middle of. We honour them by recycling, but not by restricting ourselves to their insights.
This project is both an expression of and encouragement to that rebellion, with a very mixed bag of modes of writing, each ‘essay’ adorned with a postscript of more overtly creative writing, and section introductions which tell you want to look out for before you trip over it. There are aspects of ‘primer’, but also of manifesto here.
Don’t be daunted by a preface, a foreword AND an introduction before things seem to get going. These are part of the value of this book, and not incidental reading.
I understand why our friend Alastair McIntosh’s foreword, which is a delight in itself, doesn’t waste time picking up highlights of the book elsewhere , but contributes his own scientifically and spiritually literate perspective, with the anecdote of his being sternly warned at a Unitarian Conference :“‘Don’t give them too much Christianity”. So I gave them lots!”This collection is rightly bold in giving readers “lots of Unitarianism”, looking for their distinctive gifts, and arriving, blessedly, at what – because I’m seeing them in so many spiritual traditions – need to be recognised as Public Domain conclusions,: taking science seriously, seeking kinship with the non-human, resisting both despair and (permanent) lament, and delighting in the creative recycling of spiritual resources we might hitherto have shelved or even despised.
Thus it’s good to be able to endorse the assertiveness of some of the writers -and indeed the project as a whole – in sticking their necks out to present something which recognises for the first time in any book I’ve yet come across, that our challenge is no longer “what if” and “it might…” but rather, by the standards we’ve heard in our own lifetimes “too late”!
Tipping points have tumbled, the crisis is now! Thus the book is a welcome contrast to the Grand-old-Duke-of Yorkism [to the top of the hill and down again] of British mainstream churches as they struggle to find an appropriately urgent response to a pile-up of crises in which even Unitarians begin to see the point and purpose of apocalyptic modes of speech and thought as a spiritual response to threat, seeking a balance of blessing.
‘Stewardship’ – that comfortable shibboleth of liberal Christians who didn’t like ‘dominon’ but just haven’t grasped the need for kinship and friendship of a Creation on whom we depend – makes only two appearances, and those do no harm.
Thus this compendium of densely-written pamphlets, or perhaps ‘season of lectures’ bound together in one volume bears fair comparison to that other less transparently group effort under the umbrella of a particular tradition, Pope Francis’s ‘Laudato Si’.
The writers are recycling reassessing repurposing the treasures of their tradition, and therefore affirming its value both to them and the kinship of the Earth. Maybe the purpose of faith is to equip us in response to crisis, and here, a liberal faith, priding itself on a relative absence of dogmatic clutter – though here noting with honesty the traditional shackles of individualism – is offered both to Unitarians and others of goodwill.
Despite occasional lapses into bibliography in the body of the text, ( prompting the reader to wonder why they didn’t just go straight to Joanna Macy or Henry David Thoreau ) the struggles insights ands solidarity of these Unitarian writers of the Now, shines through, Like the multiple inventors of television and telephone, shared inspired ideas need to be shared and widely owned, rather than encouraging a copyright mentality of hesitation to express them and own them yourself in your own terms. As a reader who’s a practitioner rather than a student, I’m far more interested in what the writers have to say than in what books they have read.
Don’t swallow it all at once. It’s a menu, and the ingredients are fresh. But read it now. Don’t leave it too long.