A Call to Re-Enchantment
Call to Re-Enchantment
A Message to Friends in the Church of Ireland
Published in The Presbyterian Herald, Church of Ireland, Northern Ireland, June 1990, pp. 9 & 11, based on an earlier version in The Friend, 26 January 1990, pp. 111-112. Click here for South Pacific pictures that illustrate this piece.
Why poverty; suffering, evil? Perhaps the answer was glimpsed by such visionaries
as Irenaeus and Mother Jullan who saw an apparently imperfect world as necessary
for drawing us towards love’s deepest fulfillment. Let me tell you about some
encounters I had last summer (1989).
a development worker, I revisited Papua New Guinea and other nations in the
Pacific ‘ocean of peace’ which covers nearly one third of our Earth’s
Papua New Guinea a guerrilla war was raging between villagers and government
over land rights on the Island of Bougainvilie. Some 50 people are dead and
1,600 homes destroyed.
of the biggest copper mines in the world, run by a subsidiary of Rio-Tinto Zinc,
has caused slow ecocide which amongst other things has rendered 480 square
kilometres of river network essentially devoid of fish.
soldier told me how be bad spent three months flushing out the “militant”
landowners by burning their villages. A woman said that aid and compensation are
like sweeties -something you give a child to stop her crying when you want to
take something precious away.
In the Solomon Islands I saw the rainforest being logged right up to
village boundaries. I asked women who were gathering debris to sell as firewood
how they felt about it. “We agreed to the Taiwanese coming so it’s OK”,
they said gloomily.
forestry officer explained that they were frightened to speak freely because I
was white and might be in a position to bring recriminations. I slept that night
in a village where they rarely had fresh fish now because population growth and
deforestation had damaged the marine environment.
Vanuatu - the New Hebrides - a Catholic Bishop told me how church lands had been
forcibly logged. I made comparisons with what had load to the Highland
Clearances some 150 years ago in areas like the old Hebrides where I had grown
Back in Papua New Guinea the Chief Justice was recently stabbed in an assassination attempt provoked by political embarrassment over his twenty-volume report into corruption in the logging industry.
Down to Australia, where after speaking to the
Melbourne Rainforest Action Group cum Peace Fleet (who kept away the British
nuclear warship, Ark Royal) I developed, one sleepless night, an overwhelming
sense of brokenness in what C.S. Lewis called the deep magic of the earth, put
in place when time began.
Yet, through the fissures, Spirit was gushing, animating us all across
the world who are struggling for change. “My heart is moved”, said Adrienne
Rich, “by all I cannot save. So much has been destroyed. I have to call my lot
with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world”.
I saw this Spirit in the young Papua New
Guinean helping his people log their forests on a low impact, sustamed yield
basis, instead of selling out to the devastating overseas companies.
It was in the Solomon Island nuns who are
getting themselves trained in development education so they can help villagers
distinguish between empowering and disempowering development.
And In the Vanuatuan teacher at a Presbyterian
Church centre, who makes sufficient full length pencils by splitting open what
little stock he had, removing the lead in small pieces, and inserting these
into adequate lengths of bamboo.
I told people about the thinking many of us are doing in Scotland and
the other Celtic nations about our own culture, national development and our
lack of community. I worried that this might come across as too academic. But
no, there was hope and excitement.
“At last,” said one Papua New Guinean
woman, “you white people are beginning to ask the questions we have always
asked of you. I only hope it is not too late and we have not already accepted
too many of your answers.”
But where should we look to discover deep
values? In the past we have often done it by self-righteously separating
Spirit from world and denying matter, including the warm sensuality of our own
bodies. Today’s mounting global ecological crisis shows where this withdrawal
of spiritual salt from the earth has helped get us to.
So what Is the middle way? How do we bridge
the gap between the ascetic who hates the world and the crass, materialist
destroying it? This is surely one of the most important questions of our time.
If we are to succeed In persuading society to live in a way which is globally
sustainable we have to start by proving in our own lives that it is possible,
good, and more fun than ways based on galloping consumption, status symbols,
wealth accumulation, ripping up the lands of tribal peoples and having 1,000
folk sleeping rough in Edinburgh every night
Our crying need is for new ways of seeing and
being. We must learn not to value unduly things on which the world places an
artificial value. Instead, we need to learn the richness of ordinary things:
friendship, work, music, the earth. As black feminist poet Alice Walker puts it:
“We alone can devalue gold by not caring if it falls or rises in the
marketplace.... Feathers, shells, and sea shaped stones are all as rare. This
could be our revolution: to love what is plentiful as much as what’s
Shakespeare in ‘As You Like It’
—expressed similar sentiments: “And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good In
do we call this enhanced consciousness? Perhaps we need to rehabilitate the
word, ‘enchantment’, in the English
language. We must learn to re-enchant the world: to recognise that God is
incarnate as well as transcendent: “All that came to be was alive with his
life, and that life was the light of men (John 1:4, NEB).
Friends in the Church of Ireland, the Spirit
is on the move across the world. Abuse of the Earth is now so great that either
we change, or global suffering will intensify as this disenchanted planet
shudders to rid itself of our parasitism.
Let us reflect on George Fox’s truth that “we are written in one
another’s hearts”. Let us prepare. Feel. Think. Change. Love and be loved. Witness.
Let us not be found wanting .... at least, not
Remember, as the Faslane Peace Camp puts it, “Any fool can live in
conflict - it takes guts to live in peace.”
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