March 2019 Letter

Dear Friends,

February began with the announcements that both the USA and Russia would be withdrawing from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. No surprise, perhaps, but the predictability does not make the thought or reality of a new arms race any less frightening. When we hear headlines about nuclear weapons or environmental catastrophe looming on the horizon, I sometimes wonder how the next news item about some target or other for thirty or forty years time makes sense. Equally, I wonder why it is that there is so much pressure on children and young people to achieve in a narrow range of academic disciplines, and why the worth of university degree courses are measured in terms of the graduate’s earning power, when there is so much more depth and richness to education and life. What does it all matter if humans cannot learn to live selflessly and generously and at peace with humans and the planet which gives and sustains life? I applaud the school pupils who went on strike on 15th February in protest at political inaction over the escalating ecological crisis.

The other evening I caught a snippet of Joe Cornish speaking on Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ about his film set in a contemporary divided Britain, but rooted in Arthurian legend,  ‘The Kid Who Would Be King’. It was a storyline he thought up as a 12 year old in the 1980s when he felt there was the same sort of apocalyptic atmosphere in the air which lots of kids feel now. As a small child growing up in the ‘80s I too was very aware of the threat of nuclear war. I comforted myself with the imaginary thought that if things got really bad Margaret Thatcher would distribute extra strong sleeping pills to every household. I also felt I was doing something positive by attending peace rallies with my parents and it’s not a complete coincidence that my youngest child’s initials are CND! Memories of CND, and saving up my pocket money to join the WWF at age 10 were part of what became a calling to work in the church, working for life, love, hope and the protection of God’s beautiful, precious creation.

Ash Wednesday falls on March 6th this year and we are reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. This is a reminder of not only our own mortality, but of the fragility of the world in which we live. Perhaps also the shape of the cross we make with the ash can remind us that God meets us in fear of nuclear war and environmental catastrophe. There is no fear, no darkness, no despair, no pain of ours which Christ does not share. We could say, that Christ descended into the hell of famine and hurricane, of holocaust and of nuclear war.

The task of making peace in our world, and the related task of caring for creation, can seem so overwhelming and complex, especially when treaties designed to do just this are abandoned by global players. I have personally felt great sadness and despair over the souring of relationships and tensions caused by Brexit and the thought that air miles don’t matter in our trade deals.

There are things we cannot change but we can all make a difference. In his best-selling spiritual guide, ‘God of Surprises’, the Jesuit priest, Gerard Hughes, finished with a chapter on ‘God and the nuclear threat’. He described how he would sometimes look out of his window at the beautiful Vale of Clwyd and imagine it a scorched, lifeless valley – this and every valley, town and city across the world destroyed by nuclear war. He came to see the scorched valley ‘as a symbol of myself and of every other human being apart from God……….My self-made security, which keeps out the God of compassion, becomes the means of my destruction…..There is no security except in God, who is love, and who loves all that he has made. Our salvation is in loving and cherishing his creation, in so living that others may have life.’

Gerard Hughes went on to give us a recipe that we might use for our own Lent and post-Brexit Britain: ‘We are called not only to rid ourselves of nuclear arms, but of the attitudes which produce them. We are being called to a radical revolution of mind and heart, so that we begin to see our national security is in sharing, not in hoarding, our welfare is in a spirit of co-operation, not of ruthless competition, is in cherishing nature, not in exploiting it, in trying to understand rather than in condemning, in recognizing the dignity of each human being rather than in rating their value by their earning power or their rank in society.’

God bless you this Lenten season,


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