A Lenten Reflection – The Ordinary Naturalist

The ordinary person who wants to care for the Earth does it in ordinary ways. Simply being an observer of nature is a good place to start.

Some years ago my family went to stay in a cottage by the sea. On entering the house I heard pecking. Before long I found the source: a blackbird had fallen through the flue into the wood heater below. I opened the door and the bird flew into the room in a panic. I caught it in a towel when it landed on a windowsill, took it outside and freed it. It flew up into the blue sky with an unforgettable bell-like song.

A few days ago I saw a bee on a bottlebrush shrub. Its furry body with its bands of honey-yellow caught my eye. As I watched it, a bird swooped and snatched it. I stood up to look at the bird, but it had flown into the cover of the garden. It was a female blackbird; I knew from its size, flight and the colour of its wings. 

These creatures and their habitats are our companions in daily life. Shall we attend to them and treat our common Earth with respect?

I once read a nineteenth century account of the tender way that German farmers in South Australia cared for their sheep. The writer observed the animals were calm and biddable, the workers had an easier time of their job, and there was harmony between the animals and people.

Jeremy Bentham elevated the connection between ourselves and animals when he pronounced “The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they suffer?” Ecological theology moves us to contemplate Bentham’s insight.

Lent is a time for that.

As we receive the ashes on our forehead, we receive the ashes of the Earth in crisis. 

But with God’s grace, we can rejuvenate Earth and its creatures great and small. We can gently brush up the spider we see inside the house and put it in a hospitable place outdoors instead of crushing or poisoning it.

We can raise our voices against poorly conceived plans that will degrade a part of God’s paradise.

We can contemplate the poem God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ and pray his love of nature takes deep root in us. 

This Lent, we can find our way little by little to caring for the Earth – like the owner of the seaside cottage who replaced the cap on the flue.

About the author:
Lucy Bastecky is an Australian who loves nature and appreciates the spirituality of St Ignatius. She enjoys creating biodiverse suburban gardens and has taken up drawing plants and the small creatures that live in and around them.