Updated: Mar 1, 2022
Portrait of the nature lover as a young man
The rolling fields of Oxfordshire called us and together, gumboot clad, my brother and I tramped through mud, squeezed through hedges and climbed trees. Flocks of lapwings, each bird with its bold colours and tell-tale crest, gathered in the meadows. We watched hedgerow birds engaged in their cycle of building, laying and then feeding their hungry young. Water voles hid among the reeds in the nearby stream.
There followed distracted years - years of study, getting married, starting a family - when life was too busy and responsibilities too pressing. The need to provide for our own ‘nestlings’ took priority. It was a time of forgetting.
‘Waking up’ in Kathmandu
During seven years as a family in Nepal, living in the middle hills many hours’ walk from a road, the rhythms of the natural world emerged again into our consciousness. There was no switch to throw for light, no knob to turn for gas and no tap to open for water. The cycles of light and dark, warm and cold, plenty and dearth which are artificially hidden in the developed world were the context in which we lived. It being Nepal, there was also such beauty – nearby the rice-filled paddy fields and beyond the snow-laden Himalayas.
Back in the UK, once more, the norms of Western life reimposed themselves. Yet the memories and the blessings of Oxfordshire’s fields and Nepal’s hills were never completely eclipsed. We experienced a growing uneasiness as we questioned what we saw. We were wasteful with energy. We came to expect food out of season as the norm. We travelled unnecessarily and indulgently.
Then, in 2008, we returned to Nepal. The once-green Kathmandu valley had lost its greenness and the Himalayas were losing their snow. The paddy fields that lay either side of the Kathmandu Ring Road 20 years before were now no more. The snowline had crept up and snow load on the towering peaks was noticeably less.
Family Young on the Kathmandu Ring Road 1983
Kathmandu Ring Road 2008
Where were the Christian voices?
Back in the UK, there were voices crying out against these things but, in the main, they were not Christian. Thankfully, there were some, like A Rocha, who were passionate and faithful, but not yet loud. So, the care for what our God made, loves and entrusted to us seemed to have been left to those who did not recognise him.
Around this time, the small and faithful group of believers in Atworth, in rural Wiltshire, asked me to preach at their harvest service. I turned to Psalm 104 in preparation and there, loud and clear, were laid out the rhythms we were missing and the diversity we neglected. That Sunday I shared from my heart the wonder of our creator God and the urgent call to repentance for our abuse of His creation. How fired up I was to share this passion with my own church family!
One year later, Peter Harris and Dave Bookless of A Rocha, were leading at Widcombe’s harvest service. They brought the message that the gospel is the only real hope for God’s world and that creation care is an essential, but too often neglected, component of Christian discipleship. It was powerful truth.
Tom and Elizabeth to the children
Dave Bookless speaks
The voice of history
Past generations of God’s people have been called to address the issues of their day. Christians have condemned slavery and other abuses. They have joined with others who cry out against injustice. Creation care is also a justice issue, for the vulnerable will disproportionately suffer from the impact of failed creation care.
As God’s people, we are called to share the good news that the God who made this world entered this world, died for this world and will renew this world. God calls people to saving faith and also to right living. Right living has always included creation care but, given our human impact in the last 200 years, it is all the more pressing now that right living expresses care for all that God loves.
When I think of my grandchildren now, I realise I have come full circle. I hope that they too will get the chance to pull on gumboots and be thrilled by the sight of lapwings, nesting birds and water voles.
Alan was an Elder at Widcombe Baptist Church for some years. He stepped down from this role last year.