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The sparrows are singing (August/September 2021)

Dear Friends

I always hear them before I can see them. Their chatter is such a delight that I now usually deliberately walk a slightly longer way round to the office at Trinity-Henleaze URC than I need to just to hear them. I first noticed them way back in the winter. They have been gloriously raucous, daily, ever since.

A little flock of about a dozen sparrows are in full song. The RSPB tells me: “House sparrows usually nest in loose colonies and since they don't defend a proper territory, nests can be as little as 20-30 cm apart.” The ones singing to me gather high up on a run of four or five houses in Holmes Grove. They have stationed themselves strategically. A few will be clutching the edge of gutters. One or two will be perched on the roof ridge tiles. A TV aerial will host another, as will a chimney pot. Telegraph lines and poles as well as a lamp post will be the podiums that other individuals have chosen to occupy. Occasionally, as they sing, they flit from perch to perch as if to some secret avian choreography.

What strikes me, daily, is the sheer gift of hearing and seeing them. I always stop. They always make me smile. Here, in microcosm, is the wonder of creation that persists in its glory regardless of us. The birds sing. The flowers burst open. The trees reach tall. The soil refreshes itself as the seasons unfold. The oceans and rivers enfold the life they protect. I’m sure you will have your own moments of magic in which something of the natural world has so broken into your experience that it has left you with wonder, delight and awe. I hope so.

Which, of course, sets us thinking about all we have done, can do, are doing and might do yet to damage creation and navigate nature towards destruction in our greed. Both of our churches are signed up to Eco Congregation and I hope that we will continue to put more and more time and effort, and quite possibly money, into living gently upon the planet God and future generations lend to us. That marvellous evangelist for the environment, Sir David Attenborough, is increasingly stark in his warnings as he brings us the summed up wisdom of so many who have devoted their lives to caring for creation and urging humanity to awaken to nature’s plight:
“The fact is that no species has ever had such wholesale control over everything on earth, living or dead, as we now have. That lays upon us, whether we like it or not, an awesome responsibility. In our hands now lies not only our own future but that of all other living creatures with whom we share the earth.”

Everything is connected. Everything is meant to be connected. That is what we see as we enjoy the nature programmes on TV, as we pick the flower in the window box, as we walk upon the grass beneath the tree, as we listen to the song the sparrows sing, as we look to one another. The choices we make, day after day, impact creation. Climate change, species loss, soil degradation, even far away and out of my sight, impact me. Worse, they do and will make a catastrophic hit upon the world’s poorest and most marginalised people. And, in a hundred years from now, people will look back at us and will know what we have handed on to them. What will they conclude about what we did and didn’t do?

But there are so many signs of hope to set alongside the sadness I can feel. Attenborough’s programmes frequently tell stories from across the world of changes in human behaviour that have stopped strangling creation and let life flourish anew. My first visit to Bristol Zoo a few months ago introduced me to a precious baby gorilla. Of course, it would be better for no captive breeding programme to be needed because the wild was a safe home.

But, until such safety is normal, here was new life kept safe. Generations are growing up knowing what I did not know about the scale of the damage and the possibilities to live differently. Human imagination, that has so shaped the world, can equally reshape the ways we live that the world might recover and prosper. I love the electric car we drive, not least because it seems to me a marvel of technology wrapped up in a bright red box.

Jesus, of course, regularly told stories of the natural world. In one, he captures both the marvel of the mysteries of life abundantly growing and the hiddenness of the work God is doing all the time to shift creation towards goodness, renewal, wholeness and safety: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” (Mark 4: 26-27).

The sparrows are singing. Creation remains the gift it always is. We are given it to share in and to cherish, that it might sustain and bless us all. May you, whatever this summer season brings you, find some deep joy in God’s gift of life.

Yours in Christ,