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Preacher: Canon Maggie McLean, Canon Missioner
Date: 3 September, First Sunday of Creationtide
A highlight of a visit to Peru last year was a trip to Lake Titicaca.
The largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world. It is equivalent to more than a third of the size of Wales.
On the visit I was able to spend some time with descendants of one of the ancient peoples of Peru, the Aymara. Known today as the Uros islanders this is a community that lives on floating reed islands, continuing to draw on the lake to meet the basic needs of life. Of course, tourism now supplements that life, but during the pandemic the Uros simply disengaged from wider society and returned to their traditional way of life.
One of the things we learned was that Lake Titicaca is unusually full of water. At least a metre above its normal level. At first that sounds like good news, a plentiful supply of fresh water for both Peru and Bolivia. However, the reason behind this increase is the rapid thaw of glaciers that feed into the Lake. Slowly but surely this frozen reserve of water is filling the lake but, when it’s gone it’s gone.
Like many people around the world who rely on the natural environment for many of the necessities of life, the Uros are fearful about what the future will bring. Many of these communities are vulnerable to even modest changes in the natural world, and their survival seems to be teetering on the brink of disaster. Last year a report calculated that every 40 days another language becomes extinct. The changes taking place in our world are not simply about human survival but involve the loss of cultural richness and diversity. Often, as with the Uros, the cultures being lost are some of the least climate-damaging in the world.
When Jesus was conducting his ministry in Galilee, Jerusalem and Samaria, the natural world probably seemed a place of permanent patterns. Yes, there were better seasons for crops and seasons that were worse. There were years with hot summers and years when it was untypically cool. But the overall experience of the climate was probably fairly static. When there was a period of exceptional rainfall, it was burned into the memories of many people in the Middle East, not only the Israelites.
The flood of Noah’s time is echoed across the world in the myths of 200 or so different cultures. It was an extreme weather event that became lodged in the cultural memories of people, thousands of years after it had taken place.
In the Church of England we are now in a period of the church’s year called ‘Creationtide’. A month dedicated to God as the Creator and Sustainer of all life. Perhaps there will be those who see this as another ‘woke’ initiative in a church that bends too easily to the latest fad or liberal anxiety. Well, if there are, I suggest that they simply stop and listen to the lived experience of people like the Uros. Or read in the Bible of the devastation, fear and loss that resulted when exceptional flooding washed over the face of the earth.
The Church of England in its history has been deeply, deeply connected with the land. The Book of Common Prayer contains prayers for fair weather, prayers for rain and prayers in time of famine. Rogation days are appointed for prayer and fasting as we petition God for a good harvest. If anything, as a church, we wandered away from tradition when supply chains removed our reliance on what grows in the fields of North Yorkshire or is caught off the coast of Whitby. Today when we pray for places that supply our food we are praying for countries that are often far, far, away.
In his discourse with God in our first reading, the Lord reminds Job that human knowledge only goes so far. When Professor Brian Cox addressed the clergy of Leeds Diocese a few years ago he took time to emphasise the sheer vastness of the universe. It is beyond human imagination in its scale and complexity. It is akin to the scope and splendour of the opening words in our Gospel reading this morning.
Who amongst us can imagine all the way back to the beginning when the Word was with God. It would be a remarkably arrogant people who thought that they knew everything about something so enormous and profound.
Creationtide calls us to consider afresh our connection and reliance on the world we inhabit. To renew a relationship with the land and our environment that is deeply rooted in the Church of England’s heritage and spirituality. To listen to the people for whom change brings the greatest risk, and to handle with care the world we inevitably pass on to our children.
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