I caught up recently with Jean Leston, whom I originally met through WWF-UK. We discussed Jean’s recent multi-faith pilgrimage to Paris, as part of the build up to the UN Climate Change Conference in December 2015 (COP21).
We talked about the growing movement among faith communities to respond to the challenge that climate change presents as a justice issue, particularly as the world’s poorest are worst affected by climate change but have done the least to cause the problem. The importance of caring for the earth is something that many people of faith share, and can form the basis for interfaith dialogue which is important at this time of religious conflict and division.
As a Christian, Jean’s first circle is Creation, which for her is the most appropriate word to start with. More than just ‘environment’, which suggests our surroundings, and more than ‘nature’, which tends to distance humans from the rest of the ‘natural order’. Creation sets everything in the frame of a Creator who has made all things.
“All of Creation is interconnected. Man, as well as plants and animals are all a part of Creation.”
We got to talking about the state of the world, and the way in which our lifestyles pollute, spoil and tear apart habitats and threaten species. I shared the feelings I often had at the end of the David Attenborough Life on Earth programmes I loved watching while I was growing up. As I remember it, the last words were generally, “but all this is threatened by changes that humans are bringing about…”
Whilst Jean recognised this, she also pointed to the growing Christian interest in reconciling a wounded planet (Jean’s second circle), by rebuilding the broken relationships between us and Creation, as well as between us, God and others. Other words we talked about were ‘rebuilding’ and ‘restoration’.
In this light, our care for Creation is one way we can live out our values – one way to show our love for the Creator and all he has made. It is also a way to ‘love our neighbours as ourselves’, considering how the climate impact of our lifestyles affects other people.
Unsurprisingly, Jean’s final word was pilgrimage:
“If ‘what brings you closer to nature’is the key question, it’s my love of pilgrimage, walking along spiritual paths in the natural world, that really brings together my ‘circles’.”
I was very encouraged by our conversation, which pointed to action, to hope and to looking forward rather than backwards. There is obviously a lot left to do, and there is a level of apathy and inertia within faith communities that needs to be overcome, but there are also so many signs that people care and are doing something about it.
I am also excited by the idea of pilgrimage as it speaks of journeying in other people’s footsteps and walking with purpose, but at a pace that allows for conversations, shared experiences and seeing the world with new eyes.