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 A Call to Re-Enchantment

 Call to Re-Enchantment


A Message to Friends in the Church of Ireland


Alastair McIntosh


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).


As 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 surface.


In 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.


One 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.


A 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.


A 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.


In 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 up.


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 scarce.”


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 everything”.


What 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. Break. Grow.


Let us not be found wanting .... at least, not too much.


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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