Faith Matters

Death of Eden: Contemplating creation and the climate crisis

Climate change has 'brought the Sahara to the emerald glades'. Picture by Getty Images

CHURCHES around the world are currently joined in marking the Season of Creation, which aims to raise awareness and encourage prayer and action on ecological issues.

The initiative, which runs annually between September 1 and October 4, began in 1989, has an added urgency this year, with the latest United Nations report on climate change sounding a "code red for humanity" ahead of November's Cop26 conference in Scotland.

These contemporary themes were identified almost 20 years ago in a poem written by Peter Makem. He takes up the story:

"This poem was first published in 2002 in my collection The Point of Ripeness (Appletree Press, Belfast) foretelling the disasters that are now world headlines.

"It was then named Master and Slave. The central theme is the billion year long development of the world's creatures in their evolutionary journey, but this journey is not of the traditional scientific/biological interpretation.

"It is of the underlying spiritual dynamic of process involving a death and rising in each advance through nature. The mystics and the prophets and their spiritual/poetic works are of this same inheritance.

"This process of life also contains the authentic identification of the elusive notions of Beauty, Truth and Meaning.

"Yet we exterminate this immensity without a thought, usurping the very meaning and privilege of life itself."

DEATH OF EDEN

Master and slave fall in each other's arm.

Side by side spiral, limb crossed on crossed limb.

The soft breeze is gone to gale, early stream

A wrath of torrent. And yet the alarm

Was clear, was known in deep of day and dream

As all around the indifferent calm

Voices from loud and from whispering lips

Spoke cataclysm, spoke apocalypse.

*

They were false who preached to us in these times

That wisdom would rise and be the champion

Of a coming age. They were false whose rhymes

Brandished new worlds, new ways against the tone

Of custom, they and their novel themes

All forgot the frailty of reason,

Forgot tomorrow is an invader

Come to disturb the passion of the hour.

*

How many million deaths and risings came

To shape, to mould each creature to their glow,

Mould them out of the purifying flame,

Out from the pain of all advance into

Their final presence, to the final form,

Each creature posing in the blissful flow

The perfect image of their vast journey,

The perfect image of that destiny.

*

Truth was their quest. Beauty the journey's end.

The prophets and the mystics spoke their call,

Spoke of ways that nature alone command-

Beauty beyond the ethereal chisel

Of Michelangelo, beauty beyond

The dawn-lit dark of Rembrandt, the shell

Risen Venus in her glory. And yet,

All this exterminate without a thought.

*

Maybe this is the final civil war.

Maybe now our hidden darkness reveal

Its full destruction, turn our eyes no more

From the vast waste, our ears to the bell's toll.

We have let the rot take root. Scar by scar

We killed the jungle lungs, raised the sea's swell,

We awoke the polar sleep, rained the floods,

Brought the Sahara to the emerald glades.

*

And so our ever watchful moon looks on,

She from whose early touch life here first stirred,

And mother earth in full lamentation,

The old cries unheeded, the prophets dead,

The great pilgrimage of evolution,

That holy, blesséd journey now betrayed.

And Eden's garden empties once again.

And rhymes arise speaking of redemption.

Peter Makem

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