Being Christian and a Mammal
What it means to be a Human on a Living Planet
On Saturday 9th May, the Bristol region held a discussion morning as the community’s contribution to the Bristol 2015 European Green Capital event. Mary Colwell was the keynote speaker at Being a Christian and a Mammal - What it means to be a Human on a Living Planet with an introduction to Christian meditation by Roger Layet and Hester Jones.
Mary Colwell (www.curlewmedia.com) is an awardwinning freelance producer and writer. She makes programmes on nature and the environment for the BBC Natural History Unit and the independent sector, is a feature writer for The Tablet and has just published a book on John Muir.
An understanding of both who and what we are is essential as we search for solutions to the most pressing problem of our time - the environmental crisis.
- Who we are: spiritual beings with a capacity for communion with God.
- What we are: a mammal that has evolved alongside millions of other species on a unique planet.
Only by bringing these two together will we forge a lasting community that lives in harmony with life on earth.
So Roger linked ecological concerns to the practice of meditation. He quoted Thomas Merton's comment ‘life in all its myriad forms embodies what no one form could express of God' s infinite creativity’. Merton, with the Desert Fathers and others, saw the world as filled with the glory of God, with nothing separated from God. And yet we humans separate ourselves continuously. ‘But once we break free from our false image of ourselves, we find what we are: and we are in Christ’. Which is, of course, why we meditate - to be present to the Presence within.
In meditation we practice awareness and attention. These are surely the attributes we need to be open to the underlying unity that connects all beings to one another, and to be aware of the root causes in our own behaviour that contribute to the fragmentation of self, community and world.
After meditation, Mary explained how mammals developed from a group of tiny creatures, prey of the dinosaurs, to the diverse range we have to day. Along with physical development, mammals also developed society: how they interact as groups, how they are ‘better together’. Humans share many attributes with other mammals – group activities and bonding, gender roles, territory, tribalism and passing information (gossip!). Some, though, are solely human, such as the appreciation of art and music, understanding philosophy, literature and religion, but as those have developed our senses have dimmed and other mammals are far better at sensing vibrations, electrical impulses, sound, light and smells. Mary talked about how sin as we understand it has parallels in other mammalian groups; how the seven heavenly virtues and their opposing seven deadly sins can apply to all group interactions. Finally Mary challenged us with questions of how we as humans react to our history: does it help us to understand who we are; do men and women experience this differently; does Christianity contribute to our understanding of our deep past?
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