In between All Souls, All Saints and Remembrance Sunday we are witness to COP 27, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, beginning on the Sunday 6th November. This is an international meeting which the UK has chaired. We are handing the Chair to Egypt and for various reasons our Prime Minister has indicated he will not attend it. King Charles has been advised not to attend. This hymn, written in 2019 and used last year in Durham Cathedral emphasises our responsibility to be stewards of the creation (Psalm 8: 6-8). 1 The care of our planet, the threat of extinction, alerts us to need to be stewards of the earth: this place of great beauty, our God given tenure, the place of our nurture, the globe of our birth. 2 This place we must guard for each new generation, to leave as we found it or, better, restored; to share each resource without greed or pretension, not barring the needy, not plunder, nor hoard. 3 The banquet of God is for all of God's people, communion companions are both rich and poor, our ultimate end will remove all distinctions, no birth right or creed can obstruct heaven's door. 4 God's commonwealth love can encompass all nations, but here in this place we must all make a start: a life of acceptance of sister and brother, the practice of loving, a God given art. Andrew E Pratt (born 1948) Words © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk. Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd. Tune: STREETS OF LAREDO; ST CATHERINE'S COURT Used at Durham Cathedral on Climate Sunday, 17th October 2021.
I was reflecting on creation and climate change, global warming. Tablet art enabled me to produce fiery images.
This would not be impossible with watercolour but here I was able to swirl colour together. If anything went wrong I had the facility to erase and correct. With watercolour this is more difficult. In the first image I went to Genesis 1 for inspiration the image of the earth ‘without form and void’. Science, cosmology, art and the Bible enabled me to envisage creation as a conflagration, a ‘big bang’, with interrelated matter and energy being brought into being. But then, on reflection, planets condense to spherical, or near spherical, form and so the first image is that swirling orb, formless but seeking an equilibrium and at the centre of the void will be Earth…or…
Without form and void…
As scripture unfolds, epiphanies, revelations of the divine, ‘the Other’, are described. They take many forms. One such narrative again brings together matter and energy in an enigmatic spectacle with no matter being consumed within an evanescent fiery, burning bush. ‘The Other’ has no name, utters no words, yet converts, forms and inspires humanity to action.
The colour palette of the creation image was retained for a burning bush. The flaming fire was ‘painted first’. Different tools allow the colours to merge in a variety of ways. The merge can be smooth, watery, bubbled or perhaps rough edged. The bush was then lined in over the fire and the ground finished last.
Beyond the life of Christ, through incarnation and resurrection there is further revelation of the nature of God. Pentecost offers that image of fire again, with its contradictory character of energy, warmth and destruction, yet power and inspiration.
The fire was, again, painted first. The black, square blocks were formed using a template like a page frame but then filled using a fill tool that you may be familiar with in photo-editing software. The sky was similarly filled in, as it had been in the burning bush image. Subconsciously the colour I had chosen for this was very much reminiscent of some of David Hockney’s choice of pigments.
In the same way that scriptural and human inspiration interact in forming the images, paradoxically for humanity, that same divine presence of fire in creation and revelation offers humanity the capacity for self-destruction as global warming engulfs what might have been the ‘City of God’.
And is this the anticipated end of humanity? ‘Ashes to Ashes’? And is this the end, not just of each of us individually, but of all creation? Humanity’s knowledge, grasping the divine gift obliterates humanity itself while creation collapses back into the void from whence it came…
For the final image I used a copy tool to take the first image. I then used a sandpaper tool to scuff and scrape at the ‘surface’ of the image. I darkened it, mixing and merging colour to suggest, not just our planet, but creation returning to void and chaotic darkness.
Ashes to ashes…
Text and images © Andrew Pratt 2022 adapted from ArtServe Magazine Issue 33 Summer 2022
Climate science is like a lighthouse – useless unless we notice it AND ACT the earth becomes barren…
iPad painting copyright Andrew Pratt 10/11/2021
22 The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. […] 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5: 22 – 23; 25 – 26; NRSV)
These past years have changed us. Yes, we long for a return to normal. But whatever normal we inhabit will be different, if only because we are different.
Life is inestimably more valuable now. We have come closer to death. Touched it perhaps – in family, friends or neighbours. Life has become fragmented. You in your small corner and I in mine.
I’m reminded of my mother picking up a remnant, a scrap bit of cloth, piecing it with another, sewing and making something good out of leftover material.
Biblically the remnant was that group of people who survived when times were rough, through famine or illness. Perhaps we are not unlike that remnant.
Our purpose now. To take broken lives, a broken world, and in our particular part of the world, at least, to begin the patchwork quilt of reparation, using what we have however little, who we are however frail, to work as stewards with God. Seeking the Kingdom is not something material. It is to do with living together as though every neighbour of every race, colour, creed, gender, orientation was as Jesus to us and among us.
The new hymn ‘Such a fragment, just a remnant’ reflects on this.
I have a friend who likes jigsaws. A thousand pieces make a picture. Just one missing and it is incomplete. Every person on this planet is as valuable. Each important. All of us have a place. That ought to affirm us. It also ought to open our eyes to affirm one another. All God’s children, ‘brother, sister, parent, child’ as the hymn ‘For the beauty of the earth’ has it.
Psalm 8 says, God has given humanity
…dominion over the works of our hands;
you have put all things under our feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
This earth, this planet…our home has been lent to us. Others lived here before us, gathered a harvest, fed on the fruits of creation. Yet over the years we humans have become arrogant, kings of some evolutionary castle, top of the pile. Humanity, we, have seen everything as ours to use, from which to benefit, or to plunder.
Yet the Bible saying that we have dominion over creation is not suggesting we dominate and ruin, but nurture and conserve what has been handed to us. Others will follow us. What will be left for them, our children and our children’s children will depend on us. Whether there will be a harvest next year, in ten years, a hundred years at the moment is down to us, our generation of humanity.
But to care for the planet is just too big a task, and we are numbed by all the calls for climate change, for recycling and all the rest of it. You or I alone can’t achieve what is needed. But bit by bit together we can make a difference – separating out litter, walking when we might have driven, re-using what we might have thrown away, travelling less or in different ways, using different sources of energy.
God in his love for us lent us this planet. Let us love it as if it was our own, of infinite value. Because it is. But it is never ours to possess, but simply to share and value and hand on to those who come after.
May our faithfulness mirror that of God’s faithfulness toward us and may we be faithful one to another and to our neighbours and descendants on this earth.
(Based on a Harvest Festival Service at St Andrew’s Methodist Church, Winsford, Cheshire, UK; October 2021)
The earth pleads for justice, the harvest is wanting The earth pleads for justice, the harvest is wanting, in fire, flood or tempest our crops are destroyed; the Spring, once predicted, is desolate, silent, excuses are hollow, we’ve done all we can? The mountains have echoed, or is that God’s whisper, the quiet consternation of one in distress? A prompting, a question that answers our calling, is that your defence, that you’ve done all you can? While continents crumble and ice caps are melting, you sit on your hands, you do nothing at all. Wake up to the danger still growing around you, and do all you can till your passage is through. And now in the present let’s work for the future, still others will follow, they wait in the wings: this planet, its future, its people our neighbours, join hands, sing our anthem: ‘we’ll do All We Can!’ Andrew Pratt 13/9/2021 Written at the request of Margaret Parker for Cheadle Hulme Methodist Church to celebrate All We Can (Methodist Relief and Development) Words © 2021 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England firstname.lastname@example.org . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd Metre: 126.96.36.199 Tune: STREETS OF LAREDO/THE BARD OF ARMAGH (Ancient and Modern 551 - YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJPxNjLRhEM ); ST CATHERINE’S COURT (Hymns & Psalms 660 - Hymnary - https://hymnary.org/media/fetch/205294 )