From tiny seeds in the dark…

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A couple of weeks back I spent a Saturday afternoon with forty other people of all ages in the beauty of Wytham Woods. It was the first gathering of the Oxford Forest Church group, and we’d come together to explore nature and connect with God.

On that clear crisp afternoon we spent time both together and alone, with space to be and to breathe in the woods. Amongst the fallen leaves we reflected on the coming darkness of advent. Our surroundings gave us much to reflect on. From the way the leaves were being shed so that the tree can survive the winter; to the way those same leaves provide essential nourishment, protection and darkness for the tiny seeds from the tree to find life in the spring.

Research has started to attribute certain health and behavioural issues, at least in part, to a growing absence of time in nature. John Muir, the Scottish-born American naturalist, is credited with saying, “I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of God, than in church thinking about the mountains.” And for many of us time outside enjoying nature is good for our souls, as well as our minds and bodies. Wonder and awe are important sources of our spiritual growth, and such transcendent moments, when we feel deeply connected to something bigger than ourselves, often occur in nature. This nature connection can also have a positive impact on wider environmental issues – after all we don’t protect what we don’t care about, and you don’t tend to care about what you’ve never experienced.

That afternoon in the woods was a chance for us to mindfully engage with nature and prepare for the darkest part of the year, and the busyness of the pre-Christmas rush. It was food for the journey, engaging us spiritually in fresh ways. Of course none of this is new or restricted to the concept of Forest Church – it draws on much older traditions when sacred places and practices were outside, and it is just one expression of perhaps a wider thirst for a deeper connection with nature and something bigger than ourselves.* But it could be part of what we need to be physically, mentally and spiritually healthy – as well as respond well to the signs of our times.

As we embraced the falling darkness in the woods at Wytham we reflected on what we wanted to take into this time of advent. Like the tiny seeds beneath the fallen leaves all around us, it might be little and fragile – but making space to participate with nature this advent may be just what we need for mind, body and soul, and enable us to hear the familiar story in a fresh way.

This article first appeared in The Oxford Mail

* Nor, for that matter, is it restricted to Oxford – groups are springing up all over the country – see www.forestchurch.co.uk.

For more information about Forest Church and groups in the Diocese of Oxford see www.earthingfaith.org/forestchurch

Environment and Hope – latest edition of Anvil Journal

Revd. Margot Hodson tells us about the Environment and Hope project…

Serious issues about the environment seem to be in the news on a regular basis. This combined with the lack of progress on international climate change negotiations, have led many people with environmental concerns to lose hope.

Three years ago Margot Hodson and Ruth Valerio met up and realised that their hope was also running a little thin. As speakers, their hope had become less proximate and more eschatological. In other words it had changed from “we can fix it” to “it will all work out OK in the end”. Thus began the “Environment and Hope” project. They first gathered a small group of theologians, scientists and activists in Oxford in October 2011 to thrash out some ideas.

In May 2012, they held a much larger meeting called “Communicating Hope” at High Leigh Conference Centre, with 60 people, many of whom are involved in communicating the news about climate change and other environmental problems to Christian audiences. The keynote speakers included theologian Richard Bauckham, and Andy Atkins, the Executive Director of Friends of the Earth. We then needed to publish all this material, and it was Richard Bauckham who suggested that it could go into a special issue of Anvil, the theological journal.

The “Environment and Hope” volume was published online on 5th September 2013, around three years after Ruth and Margot Hodson began the process. All the papers are open access and are FREE to download at the journal website: www.anviljournal.org

Anvil (Volume 29, Issue 1, September 2013, pp. 1–129) contains the following articles:

  • Margot R. Hodson: Editorial: Discovering a Robust Hope for Life on a Fragile Planet.
  • Martin J. Hodson: Losing Hope? The Environmental Crisis Today.
  • John Weaver: Exploring Hope. Richard Bauckham: Ecological Hope in Crisis?
  • Archbishop Thabo Makgoba: Hope and the Environment: A Perspective from the
  • Majority World.
  • Andy Atkins: Communicating Hope in the Real World.
  • Bishop Geoff Davies: Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI).

Revd. Margot Hodson is author of Cherishing the Earth and Vicar of the benefice of Haddenham