Holy boldness: Caroline Scott’s Family Prayers

The Gothic Revival architect George Gilbert Scott was devastated by the death of his wife Caroline and troubled by guilt that he his flourishing career had left her too much alone. Just as he never designed his own house but let his professional work stand as his legacy, so his monument to her was not to design a lavish grave, but to publish her own creative legacy, a volume of Family Prayers, ‘on which’, Scott writes, ‘she for many years spent much of her leisure time’.

In the model of the pious household, the head, George, would be expected to lead family prayers, but as he was so frequently absent the task would devolve onto his second-in-command, Caroline, who was thereby given free rein to be both leader and liturgist, a role she could never have taken under the gothic arches her husband was building for the Church of England itself.

Caroline’s little services, with titles such as ‘Monday evening’ or ‘Thursday morning’, 430 pages of them, luxuriate in the idiom of the Book of Common Prayer. She included the familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer and Doxology in most of the services to give them an element of participation, with perhaps one response from the set of responses in the Prayer Book offices. When she said ‘O Lord open our lips’, her family would automatically respond ‘And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise’, without need for a prompt. The services typically included a few verses from the bible, one of the collects (short prayers for particular occasions) written by Cranmer for the BCP, and often a few verses of one of the canticles set for daily offices in the BCP. All these are easily identifiable for the historian who also happens to sing Choral Matins and Evensong.

In addition to this familiar material, the meat of Caroline’s services is other, often longer petitions, all in the musical, antiquated idiom of the BCP (as antiquated to Victorians as to us, but familiar as the language of Religion), but not quoted from it. In his preface her husband wrote, ‘I am not able to tell which parts of them are original; but I know that they were composed, or compiled, with constant reference to all old precedents and authorities to which their writer had access; and, perhaps, more largely than others to those of Bishop Jeremy Taylor’. Here is a sample, the second-last prayer in the book, A Prayer for the Evening:

Almighty Father, who givest the sun for a light by day, and coverest the earth by night with the robe of darkness; vouchsafe we beseech Thee, to receive us this night and ever into Thy favour and protection; defending us from all evils. Save, defend, and keep us evermore; and may our souls be sanctified by Thy Spirit, and glorified by Thy infinite mercy, in the day of the glorious appearing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. — Amen. p.429.

I have an advantage over Scott, which is that I have at my fingertips a global searchable database of digitised books, which includes the works of Jeremy Taylor. So I decided to paste some samples of Caroline Scott’s prayers into Google, and find out where her words came from.

Sometimes she edits and adapts the Bible and prayer book. Here she cuts a line from the BCP Collect for the thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, refocusing it from human failure to human possibility:

Keep, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church with thy perpetual mercy; and, because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Here, she re-works some advice from James 4.8-10 into a liturgical call to confession, replacing his self-flagellatory language with her own idea of a more measured, constructive repentance:

Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. and make confession of your sins unto him, with a hearty sorrow and humble hope — begging for mercy at the throne of grace.

Early in my searching I found a quotation from the kind of source I was expecting, the Anglican writers who in the seventeenth century wrote a great deal of devotional and theological material in the BCP idiom. Caroline quoted from an Exhortation to the Candidates for the degree of Master of Arts in the University of Edinburgh by Robert Leighton (1611-1684) Archbishop of Glasgow. Excited by the prospect that this method would enable me to re-create Caroline’s library, I googled on. Yet every other unfamiliar prayer I looked up returned only one result: Caroline Scott, Family Prayers. I found nothing by Jeremy Taylor. My small sample suggests that many of the Family Prayers are indeed Caroline’s own words.

O merciful Father, who invitest all penitent sinners to come to the fountain of mercy to be pardoned; all the oppressed to be relieved; all the sorrowful to be comforted; admit us, O gracious God, to partake of these Thy loving-kindnesses — that we may not only hear of Thy mercies, but may participate in them; not only see the gate of the Kingdom of Heaven set wide open, but may we enter in. Wedneday Morning, p.29

What was her theology? There is much about sin and repentance, although as the edits above suggest, Caroline rejects the powerlessness suggested by the BCP Calvinism in favour of a theology of participation and possibility:

O enable us, most gracious Father, to work out our own salvation, knowing that Thou wilt work with us, and wilt assist us by Thy grace; for we know that he who heartily endeavours to please God, and searches what His will is, that he may obey it, certainly loves God, and nothing that loves God can perish. — Tuesday Morning, p.25.

I was reminded of the Scottish theologian Thomas Erskine, who rejected the legalistic direction which Evangelical theology was taking in the 1820s in favour of a relational spirituality: salvation meant encountering, imitating, and eventually participating in God. Caroline’s prayer are similarly warm, relational and personal, with little interest in church or society, all about oneself and the universe. There are not many degrees of separation between them: Erskine was closely connected to the Sandfords in Edinburgh, probably a member of Bishop Daniel Sandford’s congregation in the 1810s and 20s, and at his death given his final communion by the Bishop’s grandson, Rev Daniel Fox Sandford, Rector of St John’s. The bishop’s daughter — and rector’s aunt, Frances, had married the bishop’s curate Charles Lane and settled in Wrotham, Kent, where the Scotts spent the summer of 1868. ‘My wife […] greatly enjoyed her stay there, and the more so, as the country around is very beautiful, and as she there made several very agreeable friendships especially with Mr and Mrs Lane at the Rectory’, wrote George (Personal and Professional Recollections ed. Gavin Stamp 1995, p.259 and 465). Frances was a serious theologian herself, as the letters to her father the bishop in answer to her questions demonstrate. Her husband’s theology focused on the Holy Spirit. ‘You know his favourite theme so well’, said the preacher at his funeral sermon. ‘We know how earnestly he himself daily prayed for an outpouring of the same Holy Spirit; and what a special day in his calendar was Whitsun day!’ (J.H. Jaquet, In Memoriam (London 1879) p.12) All these writers seem to share a warm, relational theology distinct from the legalism of evangelicalism, the mysticism of Tractarianism or the erastianism of the ‘Broad Church’.

Caroline’s themes in her prayers combine a sense of the epicness of God’s universe combined with the practicality of the Christian’s daily task. I was struck by her use of the phrase ‘holy boldness’ for one Sunday Morning prayer:

Give us, we beseech Thee, O Jesus, a holy boldness to confess before men, that Thou art the Sovereign whom we will serve. We have received from Thee the bounty of Thy grace. O assist us to be Thy faithful soldiers and servants unto our lives’ end. — Amen.

The phrase ‘holy boldness’ is not, to my knowledge, biblical, but Caroline didn’t make it up. I’m not sure what source she was likely to have found it in, but it is widespread in devotional writing and seems to be a translation of the Hebrew chutzpah.

My very brief sampling of Family Prayers could give me little more than an admiration of Caroline’s command of the religious idiom, her familiarity with her sources, and her confident filleting and reworking of them, with a great deal of her own material, into an original theological text. Digitisation, however, raises the possibilities of studying the theology of women from their unreferenced, private texts like these in ways that would previously impossible: reconstructing reading lists, identifying original passages, and then analysing theology in the light of contemporary ideas of their male counterparts in churches and universities. I should like to see church historians write a great deal more about the chutzpah-theology of women like Frances Lane and Caroline Scott.

St Michael’s Longstanton: a Gothic Revival role model

I read about St Michael’s Longstanton on Friday, and found myself in the next Cambridgeshire village on Sunday. And the sun was out. And there was moss! I wouldn’t like to discourage Serendipity by ignoring such opportunities presented by her to test my ability to explain the principles of gothic revival. There’s a great deal I don’t say in this very short summary, but I hope it sparks your interest.

West end of St Michael’s Longstanton, with its ancient well and churchyard wall.

St Michael’s is important in the gothic revival because in about 1842 the Cambridge Camden Society’s journal The Ecclesiologist identified it as perfectly embodying the principles of gothic architecture as set out by Pugin in the ideal form for small village churches — such as were required in countless colonial settlements. As a result, St Michaelses popped up all around the world.

What gives a gothic building away is the windows: the revivalists called it the Pointed style. They divided the gothic into three phases, easily identifiable by the window tracery: 
  • early, with simple tracery, regarded as full of energy but underdeveloped
  • middle, decorated or flamboyant, regarded as the high-point of the style
  • late or perpendicular, in which the vertical bars go all the way to the top, regarded as degenerate and enervated

The early thirteenth-century St Michael’s was built in the decorated style which the Ecclesiologists liked best.

Decorated tracery in St Michael’s nave. The pulpit and lectern are on either side of the nave, at its junction with the chancel.

Whereas the earliest gothic revivalists, such as the writers of gothic novels in the late eighteenth century, were interested in the romantic and sublime possibilities of the appearance of gothic decoration, Pugin and the Ecclesiologists were interested in structure. St Michael’s fits Pugin’s principles of architectural authenticity. Firstly, he appearance of the building should show:

  1. how it is engineered
  2. what materials it is made of. 

There may be plenty of decorative carving and painting, but no veneers or, for example, a plaster ceiling imitating a stone vault, or sandstone pillars veneered with wood painted to look like marble.

Secondly, carved decoration is not gratuitous but ornaments structural features, such as the window tracery, or the alternating rounded and squared pillar heads below: it is decorated construction, not constructed decoration. Pugin observed that this was the case for all gothic decoration. A larger building than St Michael’s, such as a cathedral, had a more complex structure and therefore more opportunity for ornament: foliated pinnacles, for example, add important weight to a flying buttress, while grotesque gargoyles are decorated drainpipes.

St Michael’s is an honest building: you can see its pillars and arches holding up the roof, decorated pillar and window heads, wooden ceiling, tiled floor, stone walls, and thatched roof.

What made St Michael’s really ideal for the Ecclesiologists, however, was that it incorporated, in pocket-sized form, all the features they considered essential for the proper liturgical ordering of a church. For Christians of the Enlightenment it was the intellectual content of worship which was important, if the sermon argued the truth persuasively and the prayers expressed the right petitions, worship could take place in any convenient hall. But for Christians influenced by the Romantic movement, this was too dry. As physical, emotional beings, people needed to worship in sensory spaces which appealed directly to their feelings and physically embodied their spiritual principles. The shape of the space was therefore very important. They made a list which included such items as:

  1. a clearly separated nave and the chancel, with more ornament in the chancel
  2. a porch to the south
  3. a bell tower suitable to the scale of the church
  4. three steps up to the altar
  5. an east window with three lights, to represent the Trinity

St Michael’s had all these and many other essential liturgical details which made it the perfect model of a small church. It was copied all around the world. 

St Michael’s has a south-facing porch, bell tower, clear separation of (larger) nave and chancel (in the foreground), and buttresses supporting the walls.

The modern visitor’s eye might be more likely to be caught by the imposing key you borrow to get in, which goes in and turns the opposite way to modern keys, and the ancient, perhaps pagan, well, with its stone cross cut into the rear wall: the local tradition is babies can only be baptised when the morning sun shines from the east through the cross and into the well:

But if you visit St Michael’s — or any church built in the Medieval thirteenth century, or the Victorian 1840s, have a look for Pugin and the Ecclesiologists’ principles of gothic: visible engineering and materials, ornamented structure rather than constructed ornament, and liturgical ordering in the architecture. For them, this wasn’t just a pretty, interesting, or convenient building, it was, like the faith it was built to house, intended to be a true one.

George Gilbert Scott and the Scottish Episcopal Church

I’m four days in to a new project looking at the neo-gothic architect George Gilbert Scott and the Scottish Episcopal Church. This 16-month project is part of a larger Leverhume-funed one led by Professor Sam McKinstry at University of West of Scotland, investigating Gilbert Scott’s highly-successful business networks.

George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) was the leading neo-gothic architect of his day in terms of the scale of his practice, successfully employing a large number of people who worked in a ‘house style’. You can find out easily about Gilbert Scott, but history has often judged him harshly. It was an unfortunate feature of the architects, musicians and theologians of the nineteenth-century church (as in wider culture) that their high sense of drive and progress necessitated looking down upon their immediate predecessors, and even on their own earlier work. Their biographies and autobiographies bequeathed this patronising attitude to historians, who only recently have begun to learn that deficiencies based on what they couldn’t have known yet might be less important than their insights and wisdom which were subsequently forgotten. I don’t know a great deal about gothic revival architecture so ask me again what I think of Gilbert Scott’s architecture in a few weeks.

George Gilbert Scott designed six Scottish Episcopal Churches:
1855 St Paul’s Dundee
1858 St Cuthbert’s Hawick and St Mary’s Broughty Ferry
1861 St James the Less, Leith
1871 St Mary’s Glasgow
1876 St Mary’s Cathedral Edinburgh.
He also designed or revised elements of the Episcopal Churches in St Andrew’s and Kilmarnock and the clergy training college at Glenalmond, and designed memorials for two of the most famous Victorian Episcopalians, Dean Ramsay and Bishop Forbes.

This was a motley mixture. The churches in Dundee, Leith and Glasgow were the original Episcopal congregations of those places, thrown out of their parish churches when Presbyterianism was established in 1689. Hawick and Broughty Ferry were both new missions in towns that had no Episcopal congregation. The Dundee and Glasgow churches were later raised to Cathedral status, but only St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh was actually designed as a Cathedral, a new foundation in a small city already well-stocked with large Episcopal Churches.

The Duke of Buccleuch appears to have been an important link between the Episcopal Church and Gilbert Scott, with whom he shared a surname. Buccleuch commissioned Gilbert Scott to provide plans for a chapel at Drumlanrig Castle: these were not executed although a chapel was opened in 1850. Buccleuch appears to have funded the mission at Hawick, and laid the foundation stone of St Mary’s Edinburgh.

The bishops of the dioceses, Forbes of Brechin, Terrot of Edinburgh and Trower of Glasgow, were largely responsible for instigating the projects and in three cases were commissioning churches for their own use. They were a mixture of Scottish and English, High and Broad church influences.

Gilbert Scott, whose early Evangelicalism mellowed into Broad Anglicanism, appears to have followed a similar spiritual path to Bishop Terrot, as several clergy did who, like Terrot, began their career under Bishop Sandford of Edinburgh. It is no surprise that, when spending a summer at Wrotham in Kent, the Gilbert Scotts formed a warm friendship with the local rector and his wife — Charles Lane, Sandford’s former curate, who had married the bishop’s clever daughter Frances. Gilbert Scott, like Sandford and his followers, were well-disposed towards the High Church although they were not part of it, admiring its combination of missionary zeal, social concern, and passion for historical tradition, and he gained his first Scottish commission from the Episcopal Churches first, and for a long time only, Tractarian bishop Forbes.

My hope is that investigating the contacts and networks which led to the construction of these churches will provide an insight into the importance of Gilbert Scott’s own spirituality in his highly successful business — which will involve unearthing a great deal of Episcopalian history along the way.

Please do get in touch with me if you have a particular interest in Gilbert Scott or in these churches, which I’m certainly hoping to contact and visit in the course of the year, and follow me on Twitter @eleanormharris for future updates.

In Defence of Bankers

I’ve just been watching a very poor BBC2 documentary about big, bad bankers. In a tone of impending doom, the narrator catalogued thirty years of now-familiar events which led to the ultimate crisis. For twenty years it seemed delightful: but we knew that it would all end in mis-selling, crash, small business owners in tears, and bankers facing the condemnation of society with a united viciousness I don’t think I’ve ever seen exhibited against any other group of people before.

The condemnation of bankers and their `culture’ is comprehensive. Bankers are thieves, swindlers, lacking `any common decency or honesty’. We will never trust a bank again. I can’t remember ever hearing anybody, politician, commentator or acquaintance, in public or private life, defend a banker since the crash.

Well, the anger of the woman whose hotel will have to be sold to pay for her mis-sold insurance is entirely understandable, and she may easily be forgiven for not having a cool and detached perspective on the question. However, I believe the bankers deserve to be defended. 

Not that I never did `trust’ them either (but my friend Rob has already written eloquently on this side of the question, about other forms of business for whom the issues are exactly the same). But I don’t condemn them, and I don’t think anyone else who is in a position to take a considered view of the matter should either.

In fact, this kind of condemnation is the best way to avoid fixing the problem, and so ensure it happens again.

In a capitalist system, banks like all businesses are required to compete. They compete within rules, but within those rules, their task is to do everything they possibly can to out-compete the others. This, we believe, produces better results: if bread-production is nationalised, you will end up with horrible bread. If there is a free market, bakers will compete to produce ever-tastier loaves to entice customers.

Suppose it wasn’t banking: suppose it was the Olympics. Within the rules, the athletes can, and must, do everything they can to win the game. If they break the rules, for example by taking drugs, or sabotaging another athlete’s wheelchair, they will be fiercely disciplined.

But suppose one athlete realised that it would be more exciting for the spectators if she lost a few rounds of the game, so deliberately did so and perhaps then lost? Or suppose he knew that his rival’s grandmother had just died, so let him win out of compassion? Athletes with such attitudes would probably not have made it anywhere near the Olympics. What about the athlete in the boxing, or shooting, event, who had a moral objection to boxing or shooting? That’s just silly — such a person couldn’t even come into existence.

Sometimes the rules of the game require to be changed, to make it safer for the athletes, or more exciting for the spectators. The athletes’ task is not to make the rules, but to compete within them, although a responsible athlete might notify the organisers of a change which they thought ought to be made. If the organisers refuse to change the rules, the athlete can put up with it, or pull out of the competition.

The best, most honourable athlete is the one who, at the end of the games, stands on the top of the podium and is awarded the gold medal. Only in very extreme and unusual situations does an athlete gain more credit for losing than winning. The Boston marathon runners who stopped yards from the finish line to help competitors injured in the bomb attack lost the competition, but were more than compensated, in terms of honour, by the excellence of their unselfish actions.

Sometimes there might be an athlete with a moral qualm he could not overcome which put him at a disadvantage, like the evangelical Christian Eric Liddell who refused to compete on a Sunday. If, despite this, he is selected for his team and wins competitions, he wins extra admiration: he has proved both high-minded and superhuman. Yet no-one expects athletes to handicap themselves with moral qualms, and those of more ordinary abilities who do so will have fallen out at far earlier stages in the competition.

So to return to the banks. The stakes are higher, but the structure is exactly the same. The bankers compete within the rules laid down for them. They are responsible to their customers and shareholders to do the best they can, as the athletes are to their team and the spectators. To discharge that responsibility they must be as ruthless and competitive as they can, within the rules.

The bankers themselves are not required to regulate their competition, but a responsible banker might suggest regulations which ought to be changed, and if they are not he must put up with it or leave the industry. I suspect quite a lot of bankers have done all these things over the past thirty years. However, I suspect the majority, like the majority of athletes, have been content to play their assigned role, and to leave the rule-making to those with that expertise. Indeed, athletes — or bankers — who were continually demanding changes to the rules might be criticised as impertinent, interfering, or not paying proper attention to their assigned task.

So when the banks increased their range of products, centralised branches, encouraged aggressive sales through performance-related pay, they were not thieves, or swindlers, or abusing trust: they were playing within the rules of the game they had been given. If they had backed off sales to allow their rival who had suffered a bad year to catch up, or used company money to give interest-free loans to poor people on a philanthropic basis, they would be rightly fired as ineffective bankers, or even prosecuted by shareholders for misusing company funds. Many people did leave the industry as the competition grew more cut-throat; so the individuals who remained were indeed the toughest and the most ruthless. Yet to condemn them for their culture or their ethics would be like condemning the boxer for hitting his opponent. They played within the rules.

Now, of course, those `values’ of `trust’ and `decency’ to which everyone is appealing have become, literally, valuable. 9 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, is being redeveloped as the headquarters of Scoban, a new bank promising `stable long-term client relationships’, `no legacy “baggage”‘, `clean reputation’, `respected and experienced banking and treasury staff’ and `risk averse culture’. This is very nice, but I suspect that, in a free market, such commodities will fetch a high price, beyond the reach of most of us. (By the way, I can’t help noticing that they have no women on their board, and only two on their senior staff, one of whom is the HR manager. That’s another product, I believe, of the rules: not of some condemnable mysogyny of bankers — but it suggests to me the rules might benefit from further change).

For twenty years, the game appeared to be benefiting everybody; a banker who foresaw the crisis that evolved would have been more far-sighted than the politicians who encouraged them or the customers who bought their products.

The BBC2 documentary ended with an orgy of vituperation against the big, bad bankers. At the last moment, however, the last word went to Justin Welby, who in my opinion spoke the first sensible words in the programme. He didn’t condemn the bankers, blame them for creating a destructive `culture’, or appeal to vague notions of `decent common basic traditional values’ as voice after voice had been doing for the past ten minutes. He deplored the situation, and said, `we now have a chance to change the architecture, the structure of banking’.

It’s not about trust, or decency, or good or bad. It’s about deciding what rules you want to put in place. Stop blaming the bankers. Give them better rules, and get them back in their game.

Over the Hills and Far Away

Never mind the Lake Poets: Beatrix Potter is one of the most evocative and romantic of authors. I mean, look at this!

Over the hills and far away! Your dinner wrapped in a red pocket handkerchief, your clothes (in a style evoking a freer era before railway travel and crinolines) all fresh and neat, the ways parting, the hills blue…

It makes my heart beat faster: it always happens when I go up the Pentlands at the Edinburgh end: from the top of Allermuir you look south, and see the blue hills stretch away, away, ready to be skipped over, to … where?

I looked on a map and found it was Carnwath, so I booked a B&B in Carnwath and on Friday caught the bus to Penicuik and, humming ‘Tom, Tom the Piper’s son’ – or for a change ‘Lilibullero’ (I’ve got the eighteenth century on the brain) danced over the hills and far away.

It began through the woods around Penicuik House (the eighteenth century is pursuing me, I tell you), which dripped with that other current obsession of mine: moss.

 It also dripped with rain. All the way up into the hills I kept thinking it might clear up, but it set in heavier. And heavier. Every time I got my map out it turned slightly more to papier mache, and soon the wind just blew bits of it away each time I got it out and I got well and truly lost.

My navigation descended to, Look! A feature! A kind of low point on the skyline! Let’s head for it and see what we can see… I discovered later this was called Cauldstane Slap, which seemed appropriate.

The thing was, even in the pouring rain, what appeared from far off like the bleakest and most featureless of landscapes, is, under your feet, the most intricate, gorgeous tapestry of bright colours, rich textures and dazzling forms.

It’s like an illuminated manuscript so fine and detailed that from any distance it looks mushy brown: only close up you see the radient emerald, wild red, bright gold, delicate grey-green.

I had swithered as to whether to find someone else to walk with this weekend. I find myself pretty irritating company, but I really wanted to test myself, have a sense of achievement, and not be held back by having to plan a sensible walk, and then hang around while they put their waterproof trousers, or stop for lunch (I’m a snacker-on-the-march), or argue about navigation. As it turned out though, I didn’t have to put up with my own company, because the hills were my company, demanding my endless interest and attention with finding the route, battling the wind and rain, watching my step and finding my way over the pathless ground, and unrolling this stunning, endlessly variegated tapestry of moss, lichen, sedge, grass and heather under my feet. By the end of the walk I felt more chilled out and distracted from all the stuff than I have done for months.

However, I still didn’t know where I was. My map had turned to mush (memo: get plastic map case). I was getting wetter and wetter in a pathless wilderness. But this was the reason I was doing this in the Pentlands and not (say) on Rannoch Moor: I knew reaching civilization would always be within my capabilities. I could see woods and a reservoir, and although I was sure it wasn’t where I wanted to be, I decided I’d just better go for it.

It turned out to be ten miles up the A70, not a good road to walk along, but at least I knew where I was. I headed south about through fields, buggering about delicately in my perpetual fear of a. scaring lambs, b. trampling crops, c. damaging fences, d. committing some other blundering city-dweller transgression, until I reached a minor road which I could identify on my soggy shreds of map. It looped around half West Lothian. I went around three sides of a wind farm which I came to hate with a cordial hatred. I had the Binns and the railway line to Carstairs ahead of me — places definitely in the ‘over the hills and far away’ category. But it did at last bring me to Carnwath.

I’ve never been so glad to arrive at a B&B. They said I was the wettest guest they’d ever had. I’d walked about 25 miles.

SO the next day dawned completely different.

The map although somewhat shredded was dry and solid again. My new boots were a triumph. I was restored with steak pie, sticky toffee pudding, nine hours sleep and full Scottish breakfast, so I set off to do it properly.

The southern end of the Pentlands really are romantic. I didn’t meet a soul in the whole two days, until I got all the way back to West Kip. The featureless wasteland of yesterday formed itself into evocative places: the high-point Craigengar; the Raven’s Cleugh (I’m sure I’ve encountered that in literature? Walter Scott? John Buchan?). Most romantic of all, when I came down Bleak Law (!), the Covenanter’s Grave:

all wreathed in lichen, ‘…covering with strange and tender honour the scarred disgrace of ruin, laying quiet finger on the trembling stones to teach them rest…’

Several miles on, a lonely rock formed the next significant feature in the landscape, all harlequinned in white, black and bright green:

 Everything was drenched and soaked and dancing with yesterday’s downpour

Merry with a million fountains

Despite going by a reasonably sensible route, it was still at least 23 miles, or more given that even in the better conditions I faffed amongst low hills that all looked the same. I came over, I think, Cock Law — the placenames just got better and better — and got a sudden view of the Kips and Scald Law and all the familiar Pentland range with the Forth laid out lazily behind, all sunlit and homely-looking. But it was still about six miles to Penicuik, and although for the first time on the walk I was on paths, they seemed a very, very, very long six miles. I became obsessed by the thought that ‘don’t people sometimes do extreme sport things and then SUDDENLY DIE?’ Going back through the woods south of Penicuik I had to keep having little sit-downs on fallen trees, where I pondered whom I should text to tell them my netbook password and to ask them to publish my novels posthumously. After about 50 miles of walking, I was pushing myself. I’d found my limitations.

I hadn’t conquered the Pentlands, and they hadn’t conquered me, but I’d got completely immersed in them, and come out clean and refreshed. It feels amazing. And I’ve been there: I’ve been over the hills and far away.

Remembering Bishop Sandford

Last night I gave a lecture to the Old Edinburgh Club on Daniel Sandford (1766-1830), Bishop of Edinburgh 1805-30. This article is my personal response to that history, which is that the name of Daniel Sandford deserves to be remembered, both by his Church of St John, and by the people of Edinburgh.

Daniel Sandford founded the only congregation in Britain, as far as I can tell, where it was possible to be passionate about the enlightenment, passionate about the gospel, and passionate about Scottish Episcopalianism, all at once. It was hugely popular: his congregation outgrew two buildings in twenty years.

Thanks to this unique theology, Sandford drew the tremendous wealth, talents influence of hundreds of Episcopalians in the New Town into participation in ‘Improvement’ – getting the Enlightenment out of theory and into practice, in the structure of Edinburgh society. Without him, the history of Edinburgh might have been very different. When he died, he was affectionately remembered:

‘By all who venerate wisdom, sanctity and virtue, let this stone be held for ever sacred. In memory of the Right Reverend Daniel Sandford D.D.  In the Scottish Episcopal Communion Bishop of Edinburgh, to record the gratitude of a church, which, to his piety, prudence and meekness, was mainly indebted for its union and prosperity, and of a congregation, which for thirty eight years, he led, by teaching and example, in the way of truth, peace and Godliness, this monumental tablet was erected by the vestry of the Chapel of St. John. Born July 1st 1766 Died January 14th 1830.’

Yet Sandford was forgotten.

He was a peacemaker, seeing good in apparently opposing traditions. He encouraged Evangelicals for their warm, lively faith; but he would not countenance their challenges to official doctrine. He championed distinctively Scottish Episcopal ideas, but he objected to Episcopalian introversion and mysticism: his religion was for everyone. As a result, he was condemned by both sides in the partisan world of eccesiastical history. He has never had a champion – until me!

Sandford was serious-minded and shy in company. So he missed out on the other route to fame taken by his assistants Sydney Smith and E.B. Ramsay, whose witty and frivolous anecdotes kept their books in print and their bon-mots repeated to this day.

Meanwhile, forgetting why he was important, his own church of St John’s carelessly lost him. His memorial in the sanctuary was removed to the baptistry in the 1880s when the sanctuary was enlarged. However, in the 1980s, the baptistry was converted into the church office, and Sandford’s memorial, with its touching epitaph, is now completely invisible.

From inside the church, the top of Sandford’s memorial is just visible in the alcove at the back, below the coat of arms

Sandford is buried just outside St John’s, alongside some of his family. Yet his own modest, white gravestone has weathered into illegiblity.

Sandford’s grave, hidden in a shady corner behind the showy Dean Ramsay Cross

Sandford also founded the Choir of St John’s which is reason enough for me to champion him. I sit in the choir each week staring at the memorial of his successor as Bishop, James Walker, far better known but (in my opinion) far less distinguished.

I’m not sure Sandford would have wanted a big statue or giant cross. But hope that, sometime, the vestry might bring their predecessors’ affecionate memorial tablet back down into the church, and remember the name of their gentle, influential founder.

‘We could still prevent climate change’

Today New Scientist published seven reasons Climate Change is worse than we thought. It makes depressing reading. Most of us want to believe that humanity has the capacity to fix the problems we created and put our civilization on a sustainable footing; yet it is increasingly clear that our democratic, capitalist processes, so adept at producing economic growth, are completely incapable of meeting this challenge.

In theory, I think the human race could save its civilization, but we’d have to start now. We have newly appointed leaders in the US and China so maybe now’s our chance. Here’s my manifesto for what they’d need to do:

1. All human rights to remain respected at all times during this process, with the single exception of the temporary suspension of democratic processes.

2. For five years from today, the leaders of China, USA, EU, India and Brazil, African states and other countries as appropriate to form a united `climate cabinet’ to restructure the global economy on a sustainable footing. Democratic processes will be suspended for this period. Opposition to this process will be illegal, and persistent objectors may be humanely detained.

3. All fossil fuel supplies to be requisitioned by the climate cabinet and distributed as necessary until transition to a fossil-free economy is complete.

4. Armed forces to protect forests and other natural areas from black-market exploitation.

5. The global construction industry to be conscripted to:
a. convert global housing stock to be carbon neutral and electricity generating.
b. install desert solar panels and a network under-sea cables sufficient to meet global electricity needs.

6. Global food production to be requisitioned and fairly distributed by rationing. Individuals to be encouraged to supplement supplies by growing their own.

7. Global medical resources to be requisitioned to provide immediate and comprehensive contraception and family planning advice to every woman in the world.

8. A global `land army’ to implement a comprehensive programme of habitat restoration, tree planting etc.

9. Safe methods of carbon capture and storage to be implemented.

10. On 20 November 2022 existing constitutional law to be restored and all detainees released.

11. Capitalist economics will thereafter be allowed to develop the re-structured economy (for example, to complete the electrification of transport which will be required following the ban on fossil fuels), although certain regulations will remain in place including:
a. A global ban (cf. CFCs) on the burning of fossil fuels; their other uses to be carefully regulated.
b. Protected natural areas to remain unexploited.
A United Nations environmental police force to remain in place to enforce these regulations.

Well, you say, that will never happen! You will give me twenty good political and economic reasons why such a programme is unfeasible, impractical and impossible. You may be right: in that case I’d say we have perhaps ten to twenty years of this global civilization of ours left; in which case, seize the day, put your trust in God, and spend your pension.

By all means let us keep our faith in humanity, let’s discuss what we must do, and let’s work out how we can do it. But let’s do it honestly, using the facts at our command truthfully, and being honest about what a `massive global effort’ really means. The time for vague talk of `political will’ and `technological solutions soon to be developed’ is long past, and it would be a shame if we wasted the last years of our history in such discussions.

Put on Sackcloth

Fractal Time

Human beings are bad at judging scale. ‘I could just run up there,’ I think, contemplating the tempting green slope of a shapely mountain: an hour later, plodding over rock and heather, I realise how distorted my perspective was.

History is the same. Biologists, speaking of evolution and extinction of species; geologists, speaking of tectonic plates and the creation of rocks; astronomers, speaking of star formation, all construct chronologies which look very similar to the chronologies I, a historian, construct of the development of the New Town of Edinburgh: important events, long trends, and generalised details in between.

Yet the generalisations of one are the detailed chronology of another. Time (our various chronologies) and space (my underestimated mountain) tend to be structured fractally: the detail looks very similar to the big picture. The best way to understand this is to dive into the Mandelbrot set. The detail of this mathematically-defined shape is unlimited, and repetitive: the original lumpy shape keeps turning up in the infinitesimal threads which spun out of it:

If you want more control over your exploration of the Mandelbrot set, have a play with this interactive version

It’s a mathematical construct, but it’s also a deep insight into the way nature is constructed.

Important Events

While scientists and mathematicians have taught us a huge amount about these great timescales of Earth’s history — extinctions, tectonics, climate shifts — we have not experienced any of it.

This graph shows marine extinction intensity through time: the coloured letters at the top are geological era, the figures at the bottom millions of years. The spike marking the end of the ‘K’ era (Cretaceous) and the beginning of ‘Pg’ (Paleogene) is the disappearance of the dinosaurs, 65.5 million years ago. Our genus Homo evolved 2.3 million years ago, the last tenth of the 50-0 division on the graph. Homo Sapiens around 250 thousand years ago, the last twohundredth of that last division. You would have to zoom a long way into that graph, as you zoomed into the Mandelbrot Set, to find the significant events of my history research — or the significant events on your facebook timeline. Yet, like the Mandelbrot set, they’re all on one line: the History of the Earth.

You will quickly perceive that it is statistically very unlikely for a human being to witness a mass extinction event. All the generations of humanity that ever lived are encompassed in that smudge at the end of the graph, where the extinction rate happens to be very low. The typical human need not fear that the earth they inhabit will be disrupted by events from the bigger chronologies.

Stastistically unlikely. Yet we are not dropped at random into the timeline of human history: we are at the end of it, living it forwards; and the scientific consensus is that a mass extinction event, caused by human activity, is likely to occur in our lifetimes:

We now face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation. Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean. It is notable that the occurrence of muliple high intensity stressors has been a pre-requisite for all the five global extinction events of the past 600 million years. (Summary of the conclusions and recommendations of the international Earth system expert workshop on ocean stresses and impacts, 20 June 2011)

Ocean biodiversity may seem rather abstract to us land-based creatures, but it is the indicator biologists use to measure the health of life on earth, on which we clearly depend for our survival. Have you ever been faced with the question ‘Where will my next meal come from?’ I am lucky enough that I never have: perhaps you have, but in generally it will be an unusual situation for readers of this blog. Our civilization is based on the highly efficient farming of animals and crops, requiring a stable climate, a reliable water supply, pollinating insects, genetic diversity, oil, mined phosphates — all of which are critically under threat, running short, or (in the case of oil) compounding the problem.

This Financial Times article explores the disastrous consequences of the unseasonable drought in the US for food prices; while the wet weather in Britain threatens disastrous levels of disease. If such unstable weather patterns become, as is predicted, typical of higher carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere, then it is easy to see how yields will fall, the question ‘where will our next meal come from?’ will occupy more and more political and personal attention, and ‘there is no next meal’ will be the final answer for more and more of the poorest on this planet — not in future generations, but in forthcoming decades.

What did you have planned for future decades? I was planning to write great books, travel more, sing, form deep friendships and have exciting love affairs. I’m in my prime, healthy, educated, and ready to live life to the full. I want to keep my human timeline safely within the unimportant detail of the biological and geological timelines. I am not interested in an apocalypse.

But… but… I can’t live other than by this maxim:

The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to /see/ something, and tell what it /saw/ in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion — all in one. (John Ruskin, Modern Painters, pt.4 ch.16 para.28)

All I can do is tell what I see.

 

Apocalypse

A mass extinction event, within a generation and caused by us. It could not have been predicted two hundred years ago, when the man I envy most in history, Henry Cockburn, could write this from his house here in Edinburgh:

My hope is in the ultimate force of truth, reason and common interest. By these I hope for a union of all wise and good men in the common cause… till by the correction of evils or abuses, even the lower orders may be interested in the preservation of their privileges and more acknowledged rights… International rights and intercourse growing and more respected every day! The press making the world one audience, capable of receiving at once whatever instruction wisdom may have to give, or whatever feeling virtue may have to inspire! Our sons may see the fulfilment of these glorious things. Happy are we who have been permitted to ‘scent the morning air’. (Henry Cockburn to Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, 30 December 1830)

Who amongst us writes about the life of the generations ahead of us? What would we write if we did? We are too terrified to acknowledge our terror. Most of us scramble to participate in collective events to reassure us that the global community is OK: the Jubilee, the Tour de France, the Olympics, Harry Potter, Fifty Shades of Grey. The courageous and dedicated, ready to face their fears and find solutions, scorn such escapism and pour the best of their resources and abilities into solving the global economic crisis and into seeking ways to direct the Arab Spring towards flourishing democracy. The wise and enlightened work to remedy the lingering injustices that corrupt our societies: gun crime, homophobia, oppression of women, child poverty, financial scandal. The sensible disengage from the global perspective altogether and seek to live harmlessly on our little spot on earth: with real friends, a vegetable garden, creative interests. The environmentalists continue to talk in terms of solving the problem: successful conservation efforts, achievable international agreements, little actions you can take which add up to global solutions. It is the only way they know to ‘sell’ their message; but increasingly the ‘achievable solutions’ are so blatantly unachievable that they are merely an extra screen to help them shield them from the truth. Here’s a great example, by myself a few years ago, depicting a ‘green’ lifestyle:

Living in an Age of Mass Extinction

It is likely that (unless we are killed off early in the process) the rest of our lives will be spent watching the collapse of life on earth, and the collapse of human civilization. It’s fairly likely the adaptable Homo Sapiens will survive the experience, just as Inca genes probably survive somewhere in the population of South America, but I’m certain that almost all our culture won’t. To me this is a spiritual problem. I can deal with my own mortality — knowing that the things which made my life worth living don’t die with me: love, poetry, music, larks, literature, laughter, Christmas, harebells, history conferences, discussions about the meaning of life which last until two in the morning. It’s that reassurance that I’ve been denied.

What I see terrifies me.

For a start, it’s a very lonely experience, because no-one else is talking about this. Am I in fact wrong and insane? — a far less terrifying prospect than the possibility of being right. But suppose I’m not insane? Suppose I’m talking sense, and you’ve read this and followed my thought process. Now you are terrified too. Here we are, enlightened, rational, educated, sensible people, starting to think in terms akin to the more ridiculous of history’s religious apocalyptic movements, terrified.

What do we do?

Well — I’m not sure. I have tried to see things clearly, and I’ve tried to tell you what I’ve seen. The two responses I’ve generally had when discussing this are either ‘I don’t think it’s as bad as you make out’, and ‘right then, let’s work out how to fix this’. If you are inclined to give the first response, I would like you do a bit of research and back it up by evidence please, as my argument is. If you’re inclined to give the second, I’d suggest we’re too late: we can’t fix it, because we are seeing the beginning of consequences of damage already done.

It is noticeable how the advice of the scientific community has moved from ‘averting dangerous climate change’ to ‘adapting to climate change’. This is one perhaps valid approach, which will appeal to all of you who need to be doing something active, and I suggest you start your studies at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who have recently published a special report on this topic.

However, I am pessimistic about the possibility of action. All the important indicators — burning fossil fuel, global population growth, biodiversity loss — continue to accellerate. The fact that oil companies are likely to start drilling in areas made accessible by the retreat of Arctic ice due to climate change is symptomatic of how we are not changing. The global consensus and transformation of priorities required at every level of policymaking and personal decision making is too enormous. We imagine that it is fairly easy to bring the world to one mind, because the world all collectively said ‘Ahhh!’ when Will and Kate got married. But that is a very different thing from being prepared to change our lifestyle completely. If you are for action, are you prepared to lead the way? Reduce your environmental footprint to 15 hectares?

The story I keep coming back to is one which has had little relevance in our enlightened civilization: the ancient Jewish story of Jonah* (Please refer to footnotes if you are troubled by the religious turn in this article) Once all that whale saga is out of the way, the story continues in the bald narrative characteristic of old texts:

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. He began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 

When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: 

“By the decree of the king and his nobles: 

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” 

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

The fictional people and King of Nineveh faced catastrophe, just as we do. The important thing to realise is that they knew they were completely powerless to stop it — just as we are — and being powerless was just as horrible and terrifying for them as it is for us. Jonah told them ‘Nineveh will be overthrown’, not ‘Unless you change your ways, Nineveh will be overthrown’. They didn’t dress in sackcloth and fast because they thought it would work, but because faced with the knowledge of their certain imminent extinction due to their own fault, repentence and mourning was the only possible response. And once they had stopped everything they were doing, and truthfully faced the enormity of the disaster they had brought upon themselves, they unexpectedly found a glimmer of hope.

We don’t really do mourning and repentance in our culture: we do action and fixing — but that is how the Nineveh is depicted too. They weren’t fasting at the drop of a hat, like the godly commonwealth of seventeenth century Scotland: they were much more like us. Mourning and repentance wasn’t ‘their thing’, but faced with Jonah’s news, they couldn’t do anything else.

Mourning and repentance is my response to this situation, which sounds like more completely counter-cultural lunacy than saying that environmental disaster is upon us. ‘Don’t beat yourself up with guilt, but look forward, become the person you wish to be!’ my religious traditions tell me, as they campaign optimistically for gay marriage and women bishops. No, I reply: you have two thousand or more years of tradition behind you, but you have forgotten it, and live in the paradigm of the beautiful new humanist myth of the happy Henry Cockburn: ‘My hope is in the ultimate force of truth, reason and common interest… Our sons may see the fulfilment of these glorious things…’

In fact, ‘our activities are at high risk of causing the next globally significant extinction event‘. I think we need to mourn, I think we need to repent: I think doing so will mess up our lives monumentally (Sackcloth??), but I think our lives are going to get messed up soon anyway. And then once we’ve stopped, and mourned, and repented, then I think we need to ask, how do we live well in the face of environmental catastrophe? Most writing about ethics we hear is consequentialist: ‘The US must tackle gun laws because 32 people are murdered with a gun each day’. More foolishly, much that masquerades as virtuous and grand is about pride: ‘We are proud to be Scottish’, for example. Consequentialism and pride, which form so much of our ordinary moral compass, are meaningless in the face of environmental catastrophe.

Yet things like compassion, generosity, hospitality, humility, mercy — the more curious and inexplicable virtues, the ones which appear in stories of the guillotine or the gas chamber — they seem to ring more true to me than they ever did as I contemplated enjoying my prime like an enlightened Jean Brodie. When the destruction of all our loves and hopes and longings is just a blip buried deep in the fractal timeline of the universe, I think I want to know that humanity encountered the catastrophe in a way that gave it a little transcendence.

Put on sackcloth.

And when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And music shall untune the sky.
John Dryden, 1687.

Notes

* The non-religious amongst you needn’t worry that all that miraculous whale business seems unlikely: whereas some Biblical characters like Jeremiah are semi-historical, I don’t think Jonah was ever intended to have been thought real: they are like Thomas a Becket and Robin Hood in our own history: one real, but surrounded by legend, the other fictional, but highlighting important aspects of the society which dreamed him up. If you don’t like ‘God’ please interpret the word in as unreligious a way as you like: my own understanding of ‘God’ is more of a ‘collective life force’ — the sum of the consciousness of biosphere and civilization — and therefore facing just as bleak a future as the rest of us. ‘God’ as I understand the word does have a sort of mysterious transcendence which we encounter in our more spiritual moments, but no ‘external existence’. I’m not sure if that explanation will put off my religious or secular readers more quickly — but I would remind you that we are facing imminent catastrophe, and this is not the time or place for arguing about definitions of ‘God’. ‘Let everyone stop and think clearly about what we are facing: who knows, maybe by doing this we will start to find a way through’ might be a secular rephrasing of the King of Nineveh’s command.

**I’m addressing religions not to the exclusion of the non-religious, but because their purpose is to proclaim the truth and advise on how to act accordingly, and that’s what I’m attempting to do too; and because it’s a constituency I’m familiar with, who are likely to form a large proportion of my readership, and who might be most likely to understand what I’m getting at.

Making History

As a member of the Choir of St John’s Edinburgh, I am part of the same spiritual community whose predecessors, 200 years earlier, I am researching for a PhD. Today, more than ever before, I had a sense of being part of an event which was important in the history of the church: the choir sang at the first blessing of a civil partnership between two men. There is now an entry in the church registers unlike any before it.

St John’s, Edinburgh, November 2011.

There is also an entry in the congregation’s registers for November 1811. William Arbuthnot’s son Henry Dundas Arbuthnot was baptised by Bishop Daniel Sandford, the first rector of St John’s. William Arbuthnot was an important Edinburgh civil servant, a founding vestrymember of St John’s, with a large townhouse in Charlotte Square, and a long landed pedigree in Aberdeenshire. He became Lord Provost in 1815, and again in 1822 when he hosted the memorable visit of George IV to Edinburgh. His baby son was named in honour of his political patron Henry Dundas, the ‘uncrowned king of Scotland’. Dundas held unshakeable dominance over Scottish politics throughout the period of the Napoleonic Wars, and, while he did much to make Scotland and Scots significant in Britain and the Empire, he was also severely criticised for his  illiberal regime, run for the benefit of his friends.

Baptism of Henry Dundas Arbuthnot, November 1811

Two hundred years on, St John’s gave its blessing to, and entered into its registers,  the partnership of two people from a group who for hundreds of years have been misunderstood, hidden and persecuted in very real ways, for simply loving each other. The significance of this struck me very powerfully during the service. Although we in the choir didn’t know the couple, we too were invited into the circle which formed around the altar to witness their vows and exchange of rings. Singing the final hymn in this circle, the choir felt strongly the generosity of the welcome we received.

Those who know me will know that I’m pretty cynical about churches. I’m too conscious of their William Arbuthnotiness: on the right side, knowing the right people, attempting to dish out spiritual benefits from their position of confident establishment: spiritual benefits which are too often rotten.

But today I watched an institution which purports to purvey good news to all of the love of God really do just that. There was no room for cynicism. I’m quite proud to be a Christian. I don’t think I’ve ever said that before.

But let’s not be too hard on our poor predecessors, celebrating the baptism of little Henry Dundas Arbuthnot in November 1811. The congregation had been part of the Scottish Episcopal Church for less than a decade. Less than twenty years earlier, it had been illegal to be Episcopalian, and only six years before they were still regarded as marginal and unacceptable. Through close communication with Scottish Episcopalians to resolve the remaining issues, joining his prestigious congregation to the Episcopal Church, and deliberately generous and inclusive preaching, Rev Daniel Sandford demolished that remaining prejudice, as his successor Rev Donald Reid demolished prejudice today.

In the history of a spiritual institution, it is right that it is events and individuals  characterised by striking humility and generosity which shape it and become historic, rather than glorious talent or brilliance. But there is a big challenge, both for the spiritual institution and for those nourished by it — whether the gay community or a cynical historian. I said I felt proud to be a Christian today: I hope the couple were too. But how easily, as the memory of persecution fades, to keep the pride, and forget the humility and generosity by which we earned it.

So when in 2211 some successor of mine writes about this moment in our history, what new persecution and exclusion might we, in our pride, have created? And how can we make a history which ensures they never have cause to write about it?

Creationtide: Year of Forests

Here are the Intercessions I wrote for St John’s Church on the first Sunday of Creationtide (which runs from now until 10 October), marking International Year of Forests. You’re welcome to make use of these in your church or other contexts: please leave a comment to let me know.

Father, root of our being; Jesus, apple tree in us,
Spirit, oxygen in us: One tree of life, our salvation, hear us.

Root of existence, life from whom all life has sprung, now ground us.
Fashion humanity new in your ancient image: gardeners
nurturing, cherishing, planting the woods of the future. Fill it a-
gain with mercy, compassion, humility, grace, love, justice. As
spring in the earth brings forth her bud, bring forth your righteousness
over the nations.  Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Tree of life among us, laden with fruit and green, of the
stem of Jesse, nourish your Church that we may be fruitful.
Drive out with heaven’s abundance the idol of wealth that cheats us with
scarcity, makes us efficient with greed and careless of justice:
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Oxygen, life-breath, stirring, sustaining, rekindling hope now,
heal our brothers and sisters in need, despair or in sickness.
So as the natural tree by light makes the poisoned air healthy, for
fears by your grace all-divine we receive back hope. In the silence we
breathe them to you ……………………………………………………………………
………………………………………………….Lord in your mercy Hear our prayer.

Father, root of our being, ground us,
Jesus, apple tree with us, redeem us,
Spirit, again photosynthesised here to sustain us,
Make us planters of trees and proclaimers of you.

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