I admire my younger daughter Bethany’s committed vegetarianism.
This week, I was reading Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Laudato Si’ (‘Praise be to you my Lord’) on the care of the planet and the interdependent web of creation. The Pope reminds us of the words of St Francis: when we worship, we do so in union with Brother Sun and Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Sister Water, Brother Fire.
The encyclical addresses the ravages of pollution, water shortage, the loss of biodiversity which sees 1000s of species of plants and animals disappearing every year, and the scandal of global inequality. The Pope’s vision is that care for the planet and care for the disadvantaged are two aspects of the one Christian ministry.
He reminds us of the madness of pursuing ever-increasing consumption and economic growth which Earth can’t sustain.
We need an awakening, a breaking-away from the group-think which blinds us to the necessity for urgent action. But often it’s hard in the middle of busy lives to remember the bigger picture.
Which is why Bethany’s vegetarianism inspires me.
On that issue, I don’t think you can make a strong case for vegetarianism from the Bible’s teaching. Christians emphasise the uniqueness of human beings, distinct from animals though part of the one family of living creatures. There seems to be a general biblical understanding that God intends us to be meat-eaters. Jesus ate certainly fish, and probably meat as well.
But you can make a robust defence of vegetarianism on grounds of compassion and kindness to living creatures, and I am drawn to Bethany’s principled stance.
But the Bible doesn’t primarily present theological and ethical ideas – rather it captivates us with story and poem through which we see reality more clearly than in our struggling attempts at doing theology.
This week, a story and a poem have helped me in my reflections, both shared by my friend Iain Macritchie. Iain is a hospital chaplain, Practice Education Lead for Spiritual Care for NHS Scotland and priest at St Andrews Cathedral Inverness.
He told me about his grandfather, a crofter on the Isle of Lewis. This man knew intimately the sheep in his flock, knew them by name, knew the genetic characteristics of each. When he approached the common grazing and called his own sheep, they raised their heads and came to him.
When the time came to kill a sheep for the family table, he would take it apart from the others, and give it a quiet space in the byre. He would feed it well – not just to enrich the meat, but as an expression of gratitude to the beast. When the time came, he would look it in the eye and say in Gaelic, ever so gently ‘Thank you,’ and then quickly take its life.
If we are to eat the flesh of living creatures, then surely this models the respect and gentleness with which we should treat these fellow-members of God’s creation? Today, factory farming methods condemn many beasts to lives of discomfort and misery. How can that sit easily on our consciences as Christians?
And then Iain shared a fine poem he had written, A walk in the woods. (I have posted it here: http://hiltonchurch.org.uk/a-walk-in-the-woods/) Like all fine writing it gives to each of us according to what we bring to it.
It’s about reaching a dark place in life, and the slow-awakening realisation that there is purpose, meaning, playfulness and joy; that nothing is wasted, nothing forgotten. Sunlight shafts into the clearing, and finally ‘knowing blazes out and you find yourself lost, and lose yourself found in Love.’
As we struggle to make a difference in the wounded dark forest of our world Love is with us. And Iain has made a difference in the creative act of writing these lines, blessing those of us who read them. He has made a difference by being himself, by doing what comes naturally to him, using the gifts and insights he has been given.
And it is when we do what we do best in all the ordinary conversations and actions of life, as well as our creative interventions that we make a difference. My small voice joins the voices of Papa Francis and Saint Francis and Bethany’s and Iain’s and billions of other voices celebrating God’s gifts and protesting against their misuse, mouthpieces all of us for the one great Love.
We realise as Pope Francis prays that ‘We are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.’
And we believe that the time will come when, in the walk of creation through the dark thickets of history Iain’s prophetic words will speak of the cosmos of a whole: ‘you find yourself lost and lose yourself found in Love.’
(Christan Viewpoint column from the Highland News dated 1st July 2015)