“Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” Romans 8: 21 (NIV version)
Nature conservation is often way too formulaic. We bury ourselves in the latest thinking….rewilding, net gain, no mow. These may all be good things, and just what we should be advancing practically. But we need to remember to ‘feel’ too, and receive the gift of God’s creation, be reminded of why we are so passionate about nature – and that God cares even more.
I was visiting a site in Glasgow not so long ago and was informed that an area of “wasteland” was to be transformed into an incredible community hub with a new play centre, bike tracks, outdoor adventure area and new marked nature trails. As we were led through the area, I noticed a man with a beer bottle sitting cross legged on the edge of a path. The man beckoned for me to sit next to him. “Whisht! Just be still and watch this”, he said. After a few minutes a fox and her three cubs crossed in front of us, only about 10 metres away.
“I love this place!” exclaimed the man. “My life is full of trouble; but every day I come to this quiet corner and see the fox and her cubs, and we have gotten to know each other.” This “wasteland” was home to something remarkable already and a place of refuge. In that one sentence from the man, is everything about why I am so passionate about a radical upheaval in how we care for this incredible planet.
That one man reminded me of the Christ-like hope that needs to lie behind our actions and our words. Our passion for God’s creation is born out of seeing beauty in the ashes of life, just as God sees this in us – a work in progress. We are called to fight for the planet, but also to remember that we are not just dealing with broken landscapes but broken people as well.
With the ever growing need to take drastic and urgent action for climate and nature, where do we go from here?
I recently came across an old English word that has been out of use since the 16th century… “respair”. It summed up everything I think we should be aiming for. We despair for what we have lost. Our groaning creation (Romans 8:22) continues to struggle with climate change, population growth and the legacy of poor soil management, and we lament for our missing birds, bees and butterflies. But we can also be amazing repairers, ready to step in and get our hands dirty, transforming lives, transforming communities and breathing new life into nature recovery schemes.
“Respairing” is the act of bringing new life into dark places, lamenting the lost and yet also rejoicing in the art of the possible. These are very much the worst of times, but they also bring out the best in people: I am privileged in my work to meet many people from all walks of life passionate about doing something, from the big and bold scale to the small and very local.
Together we can make a profound difference, and we can bring real hope to our nation and further afield at a time of great anxiety. We are artists, believers, travellers, mourners, scientists, thinkers. There is power in working together and having the humility to stop, look and listen. Let’s rise to the moment, take action and lean into God as we do so.
This reflection was written by Andy Lester for the Wild Christian email, ‘Nature based solutions’. Andy is Head of Conservation at A Rocha UK.