On our way towards foundational Ecology

On our way towards foundational Ecology

I lift my voice in wailing. I am afflicted, as 1 remember that we must leave the beautiful flowers, the noble songs; let us enjoy our selves for a while, let us sing, for we must depart forever, we are to be destroyed in our dwelling place. Is it indeed known to our friends how it pains and angers me that never again can they be born, never again be young on this earth. Yet a little while with them here, then nevermore shall I be with them; nevermore enjoy them, nevermore know them. Where shall my soul dwell? Where is my home? Where shall be my house?I am miserable on the earth. We take, we unwind the jewels, the blue flowers are woven over the yellow ones, that we may give them to the children. Let my soul be draped in various flowers; let it be intoxicated by them; for soon must I weeping go before the face of our Mother. Aztec Lamentation. Continue reading On our way towards foundational Ecology

Wilderness & Paradise

Wilderness & Paradise

In recent years some odd theories have been put forward which, in order to highlight the noteworthiness of an active turning to the world and a ‘secular Christianity,’ have deemed it vital to simultaneously bring monastic solitude into disfavour. The ‘contemplative’ life of a religious is found to be of ‘Greek origins.’ Striving with temptation in the wilderness today, is seen as a peculiar and antiquated artefact of a prominent heretical movement of the 2nd-century Christian Church which was called gnosticism, or perhaps some other heretical group. Solitude is revealed as essentially incompatible to the Christian message and life which are generally communal. Simply put, in this context the whole monastic ideal suddenly becomes theologically questionable. 

So how seriously should these idiosyncratic theories be taken? Should they influence a religious to embrace an entirely defensive and apologetic standpoint toward our monastic vocation? Or do we have to whilst remaining true to our vocations as hermits, monks and nuns, find ways of living unmonastically in order to defuse and negate this criticism? Do we need to show beyond a shadow of a doubt that we, hermits, monks and nuns are all intrinsically ‘secular’ too and that our monastic style of behaviour —or conversatio morum— is in actual fact our facing in the direction of the world and not in fact, away from it? 

We are not claiming to resolve this intricate question of the religious’ relation to the modern world. Before that question can even be tackled, the religious must have a concrete perception of what they themselves are supposed to be. If they set about, by compromising themselves they will not be able to avoid ambiguity and compromise in considering his relationship to the world. 

Monastic theology is not merely a search for a few specious texts in Scripture and the Fathers which will excuse or justify the monastic vocation. It is rather a study and meditation of revealed truth which enables the religious to understand how they, in a most special way, can respond to the call to follow Christ in the wilderness. 

Two studies by Protestant theologians, show that the theme of a call into the wilderness, a vocation to recover the paradisiacal life after suffering temptation with Christ in desert solitude, is but a variant of the fundamental themes of all Biblical theology: the pascha Christi, the call of the People of God out of Egypt, through the Red Sea into the Desert and to the Promised Land; the theme of the Cross and Resurrection; dying to sin and rising in Christ; the theme of the old and new man; the theme of the fallen world and the new creation. Not only is a Christian withdrawal to a ‘desert solitude’ excusable, licit and even praiseworthy, but the whole theology of the second Gospel is built upon the theme of Christ in the desert. 

The study by Dr Ulrich Mauser is limited to the biblical use of the desert theme, especially in the gospel of St. Mark. Dr George Williams in his survey of biblical, patristic, medieval and radical Protestant thought, gives us a remarkably interesting picture of a ‘Paradise-Wilderness’ concept running through the entire history of Christian spirituality and playing a most important part not only within monasticism but also in Protestantism and particularly in the universities and seminaries founded by the Protestants in the ‘wilderness’ of the North and South Americas. Both these books are of significant importance to men and women religious, and we will attempt to give a brief survey of their contents here, evaluating their consequences for a monastic theology relevant to our own needs. 

The Eremos, the desert wilderness ‘where evil and curse prevail,’ where nothing grows, where the very existence of man is constantly threatened, is also the place specially chosen by God to manifest Himself in His ‘mighty acts’ of mercy and salvation. Obedience to a divine call brings into this dreadful wilderness those whom God has chosen to form as His own people. The convocation of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai is the story of God leading men on what appears to be a ‘march into the open gates of death’ (Mauser). God places Israel in a seemingly impossible situation where, however, He reveals His name to His chosen, and thus places them directly in communication with Him as a source of unfailing help. On the basis of this free relationship rests the covenant of God with His people. 

YeShimon (Judean Desert), the Place of Desolation where Jesus spent 40 days.

Failure to trust Yahweh in the wilderness is not simply an act of weakness: it is disobedience and idolatry which, substituting the golden calf for the ineffable name, seek to shorten the time of suffering by resort to human expedients glossed over with religious excuses. Only a free act of grace can restore the violated covenant by reawakening in the people a true sense of the meaning of their desert vocation. They must recover their understanding that the desert calling implies a complete and continual dependence on God alone. For Israel, the desert life was a life of utter dependence on a continued act of grace which implied also a recognition of man’s own propensity to treachery and to sin. We know how the prophets urged Israel under her Kings and at the time of the Babylonian exile, to remember the desert time of espousals and to anticipate a new Exodus which would restore the authentic relationship of bridal love between Israel and her God in a ‘renewed wilderness time’. We know that this theme was taken over in the Pauline writings. 

Dr Ulrich Mauser shows that this is the message of John the Baptist at the opening of the second Gospel. The fact that the Baptist preaches ‘in the wilderness’ is of theological significance in Mark, for whom ‘the wilderness is a theme full of theological implications and not primarily a locality.’ John is in fact announcing what the prophets announced before him: One who is to come from God will appear in the wilderness and initiate the final work of salvation. Israel must go out to meet this one in the wilderness in an act of sincere repentance which acknowledges her whole history as one of disobedience and infidelity. The Baptism of John is a sign of recognition that God’s people are under judgement. Even Christ is baptised, thus showing His willingness to ‘endure God’s judgement’ and indeed to die for the sins of the people. Immediately after this, Jesus goes out to be tempted in the desert, for ‘only Jesus fully realised what it meant to go out into the wilderness: it meant the determination to live under the judgement of God.’ His going out into the desert is then the necessary outcome of His baptism. 

For all others, baptism is simply a gesture of temporary repentance. They return to the cities. But Jesus goes on into the wilderness as the sign that His baptism is fully serious, and that He is ‘the only true penitent whose return to the desert is (not merely a token gesture) but unfeigned’. One might argue that Christ’s stay in the desert is itself only a temporary retreat, a pause for thought and recollection in preparation for his active mission. Not at all; ‘The forty days,’ says Dr Mauser, are not ‘a period passed forever once Christ starts his public ministry,’ but as in the case of Moses and Elias, the desert retreat ‘sounds the keynote of his whole mission.’ 

Mauser then traces the development of the wilderness theme throughout the whole Gospel of Mark. ‘Mountain’ and ‘Sea’ are variants of the ‘wilderness’ in Mark. Invariably all stories of Jesus, in Mark, which have an ‘epiphany character’ take place in the ‘wilderness’, that is to say ‘on the mountain’ or by or on the sea. The underlying concept of Mark is in fact the confrontation between Jesus and Satan in the wilderness, the overcoming of the powers of evil in the world by the struggle in the desert, the agony in the garden and death on Calvary. Hence the whole Gospel of Mark is, for Dr Mauser, a development of the struggle of Jesus and Satan in the desert. To live in this state of struggle with the adversary of God, and to sustain this conflict in direct and complete dependence on God Himself, is the ‘wilderness life’. Even if one lives this confrontation far from the actual desert, one is in fact living ‘in the wilderness’ and ‘with Christ in the desert’. We see here the basic idea of all monastic theology firmly rooted in the second Gospel. 

What of ‘contemplation’? The Gospels do not use the expression ‘contemplative life,’ but the idea is expressed in other language. Christ is transfigured on the mountain, i.e., in the wilderness. The cloud, which would later have such fruitful destiny in Christian mystical literature, is since Exodus a permanent feature of the desert tradition: the ‘visible form of the governing, guiding yet hidden form of Yahweh’s presence’. The desert life is not only darkness and battle, it is also light and rest in the Lord who is our only help. ‘The epiphany of the glory of God is an indispensable element in the desert tradition.’ In fact, says Dr Mauser, the transfiguration is the sign of the Father’s approval of the obedience of Jesus in His desert vocation, His fidelity to a life of persistence in the desert.’ 

This persistence will of course lead finally to death, because the mountain of Calvary is the culmination of the desert vocation. ‘Jesus’s determination to persist in the desert … finds its conclusion in His decision to suffer and to die.’ Why? Because the very secret of life itself is that by renunciation one overcomes death and suffering (Mark 8:35) and enters upon life everlasting. The disciples of Christ who are called in a very real sense to follow Him ‘in the wilderness’ do not really understand the meaning of their calling. They are to a certain extent blind to the teaching of their master and to the significance of His life. The real cause of this blindness is their incapacity to surrender totally to their own desert vocation. ‘The unwillingness to endure tribulation and persecution, the care for security in the world, in one word the unwillingness to suffer — prevent the disciples from seeing and accepting all the implications of Christ’s teaching in their own lives.’ 

Even the apostolic mission of the followers of Jesus is marked with the sign of the wilderness. They are, in fact, called ‘on the Mountain’ and this, for Dr Mauser, is the ‘indication of (the) basic condition of their mission’. When they are sent out to preach in Mark 6.8 ff, the instructions given them are similar to those given to Israel at the beginning of the desert journey. In one word: the disciples of Christ are to be kept alive by nourishment from God, and they must not waste time and energy caring for themselves. The miraculous feeding of the multitudes in the wilderness in Mark 6 represents at once the convocation of the new Israel in the desert and the messianic and eschatological rest of God’s people with their King in the desert which has become His Kingdom and where He feeds them with His might in the new manna, the eucharist. 

From this brief resumé we can see at once that Dr Mauser has given us a monastic reading of Mark’s Gospel which is more thorough and more solid than almost anything we have in monastic literature since the Fathers. As monks we owe him thanks for a treatise in biblical theology which sums up the whole meaning of our own vocation to follow Christ in the wilderness, in temptation, to the cross, strengthened by His epiphany in the ‘cloud’ of contemplation, nourished by his eucharist and by the hope of the ‘eschatological rest’ with Him in the paradise of the transformed and flowering desert which is His Kingdom. 

The intricate relationship between the themes of desert and paradise is developed in a fascinating manner by Dr George Williams. The Church of the martyrs believed that the desert had become the arena, the sandy place where they fought the beasts and overcame the adversary of God in their agonia. Then the monks went out into the actual desert as Christ had done and their monastic struggle with temptation became a ‘martyrdom’ in witness to the faith, in obedience to Christ, in direct dependence on God for the grace without which one could not resist. This struggle was rewarded and the Church of martyrs and monks became also a ‘provisional paradise’ in anticipation of the eternal Kingdom. 

These themes are quite familiar to anyone who has read the monastic Fathers. But what is particularly interesting about Dr Williams’ book is the way in which he traces the development of the wilderness-paradise theme through the medieval universities (with their traditional autonomy from outside control) to Protestant sectarians who sought refuge in the ‘desert’ and ‘paradise’ of the New World, and who there built seminaries and colleges as ‘gardens in the wilderness’. Dr Williams sums up his thesis in these words: ‘Many major and minor movements in Christian history have been in substantial degree the history of the interpenetrations of the biblical and post-biblical meanings of the wilderness and paradise in the experience of God’s ongoing Israel’. 

Besides exploring the wilderness-paradise theme in the Bible, especially in the prophetic writings, Dr Williams gives special attention to Qumran and to Christian monasticism. Qumran was an ‘apocalyptic community that imitated the ancient sojourn in the wilderness of Sinai’, seeking to prepare the way for a priestly and a royal Messiah (two Messiahs in fact) by a paradisic covenant and communal life. The aim of Qumran is summed up in a phrase that has most fruitful implications for monastic theology: ‘the purity of paradise truth recovered within the fellowship of a disciplined wilderness encampment sustained by the Spirit’. Williams traces the themes of desert and paradise through Christian monasticism, shows the gradual interiorisation of this theme in the mystical literature of the Middle Ages, especially of the Victorines. He demonstrates that it persisted in the spirituality of the Mendicants and in the Universities, and quotes many texts from radical Protestantism which have the authentic ring of ancient monasticism, except that they apply to sectarian communities rather than to conventual families living under monastic vows. 

Puritan of the Massachusetts Bay Colony New England, on their way to church. December 22, 1620.

These texts incidentally offer much food for thought to anyone interested in ecumenical dialogue with Protestant visitors to our American monasteries. They show how completely a theme which is fundamental to monastic theology was taken over in the theology of radical Protestantism in the seventeenth century and hence entered into the formation of the Christian ideal of North American culture that grew up out of the Puritan colonies of New England. These words of John Eliot, a seventeenth-century New England Puritan, might equally well have come from one of the Trappist founders of the Abbey of Gethsemane: ‘When the enjoyment of Christ in his pure Ordinances is better to the soul than all worldly comforts, then these things (the hardships of the wilderness) are but light afflictions.’ Roger Williams is said to have practically ‘made an incantation of the word wilderness.’ Kentucky, we know, is still haunted by the thought of that ‘wilderness road’ through the Appalachian Mountains, over which the settlers came from Maryland and Virginia, including those Catholics who gathered around Bardstown where the first Cathedral west of the Alleghenies was dedicated in 1816. Bishop Flaget of Bardstown invited the first monks to North America. 

In conclusion, one very important aspect of Dr Williams’ book must not be passed over in silence. He is acutely aware, as too few Americans still are, of the criminal wastefulness with which commercial interests in the last two centuries have ravaged and despoiled the ‘paradise-wilderness’ of the North American mountains, forests and plains. The struggle to protect the natural beauties and resources of this country has not ended, and it is by no means to be regarded as an eccentricity of sentimental souls, bird watchers and flower gardeners. The disastrous storms of the thirties in the south-western dust bowl finally brought home more or less to everyone that conservation of soil and natural resources was an absolute necessity. Yet this does not prevent wastefulness, stupidity, greed and sheer destructive carelessness from going on today. So Dr Williams says, in words that monks above all should be ready to understand and appreciate: ‘Ours is the age of the bulldozer as much as it is the age of the atomic bomb. For good or ill, we need no longer conform to the contours of the earth. The only wilderness that will be left is what we determine shall remain untouched and that other wilderness in the heart of man that only God can touch.’ Anyone who reads the book will find this theme developed with its theological and religious implications. Meanwhile we might reasonably draw at least one obvious lesson from it. If the monk is a man whose whole life is built around a deeply religious appreciation of his call to wilderness and paradise, and thereby to a special kind of kinship with God’s creatures in the new creation, and if technological society is constantly encroaching upon and destroying the remaining ‘wildernesses’ which it nevertheless needs in order to remain human, then we might suggest that the monk, of all people, should be concerned with staying in the ‘wilderness’ and helping to keep it a true ‘wilderness and paradise.’ The monk should be eager to preserve the wilderness in order to share it with those who need to come out from the cities and remember what it is like to be under trees and to climb mountains. Surely there are enough people in the cities already without monks adding to their number when they would seem to be destined by God, in our time, to be not only dwellers in the wilderness but also its protectors.’ This judgement may, admittedly, reflect a personal preference. The two books discussed here certainly show that even a monastic life in an industrial setting can also find a theological basis in the Bible and monastic tradition provided it is in fact a true ‘wilderness life’ in the spirit of the theology of the apostolate in the Gospel of St Mark. 

Continue reading “Wilderness & Paradise”
Do animals have a soul?

Do animals have a soul?

For many cultures the dog has always been synonymous with a certain physical vigour linked to the fear it arouses towards a stranger; dogs were often trained to fight, just think of the great molossoid breeds such as the Adronicus Mastiff whom are still used as war dogs today, the African Boerboel  used for leopard and boar hunting or even the Staffordshire bull terrier originally a fighting dog (now a companion dog)
Continue reading Do animals have a soul?

You don’t have to live like a hermit or monk to live sustainably!

You don’t have to live like a hermit or monk to live sustainably!

The hustle and bustle of working in the city, polluting traffic, schedules, overcrowded commuting, fast food restaurants, coffee bars and pubs, colossal buildings, blistering asphalt, these are our surroundings at work. It is easy to forget that once this city of London was a small town called Londinium with archaeology dating back to 4800 BC, and before that were you live now would all have been land, mountains or forests. We are more connected to nature than we thought. Celtic Christianity reminds us that this connection and the importance of caring for the environment go beyond recycling, stopping meat consumption and animal products. The ancient Celts honoured the force of nature; they were animists meaning they had a world view that non-human entities — such as animals, plants, mountains, rivers, lakes and believed that inanimate objects-possess a living soul. They also believed that humans could establish a rapport with these living souls. The Celts who were originally pagan, viewed the presence of the supernatural as central to, and interwoven with, the material world. Every mountain, river, spring, marsh, tree, and rocky outcrop contained a living and breathing spirit and therefore was considered to be alive. There is so much about our own planet that we do not know; for instance science has recently proven that trees are far more alert, social, sophisticated —and even intelligent— than we could ever have believed.

Trees of the same species are communal, and will often form alliances with trees of other species. Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony. These soaring columns of living wood draw the eye upward to their outspreading crowns, but the real action is taking place underground, just a few inches below our feet.

Celts and Nature

The Celts, Christianity and nature has been linked from the very beginning. The traditions and beliefs of the Irish Celts associated with nature played a strong part in shaping Irish mythology, surviving after Ireland’s conversion to Christianity and playing an important role in Ireland’s cultural identity. Considering this it’s easy to see how Ireland’s myths and legends are famous around the world. 

In order to live more sustainably you do not need to live as a hermit, but in imitating the early cultures such as the Celts, we can take steps to adapt our lives accordingly, we can do this and stop putting a strain on the planets natural resources. Go and meditate under the branches of a nearby tree. According to the Celtic worldview, nature is not something that is independent of humanity (after all we would not survive without it), it is an integral part of humanity and therefore must also be so within people’s spirituality and their commitments.

In 2009, a global poll found that the majority of people, including 77% of British people, wanted their governments to do much more about climate change. But in August of this year, another global poll found that in the biggest most-polluting economies, concern about climate change had fallen sharply in the last two years. Hearts and minds have not been won over. International climate talks have reached deadlock and, not unsurprisingly, carbon emissions continue to increase.

Mucknell Abbey, Worcs.

For the past year, the Guardian’s columnist Clare Bryden lived with the monks and nuns of the Anglican Abbey of Mucknell —The Society of the Salutation of Mary the Virgin— in Stoulton, Worcestershire, a contemplative Benedictine community in the Church of England. There are few more hidden lifestyles, but they have precious insights to offer the instinctive idealist.

Novices within religious orders follow the rule of life written by their founders. Over the centuries there have been many rules; the Rule of Saint Augustine, Anthony the Great, St Pachomius, the Rule of St Basil, the Rule of St Benedict. Benedict of Nursia (AD 480 – ca. 547) wrote his monastic rule in AD 516. Benedictines make vows of obedience, stability and conversion, let us take a closer look at their meaning:

  • Obedience comes from the Latin word to “listen”.
  • Stability refers to the importance of both community and commitment in life. The vow of stability also articulate our concerns with regard to the current environmental crisis — because if we remain steadfast to the earth we begin to learn how to become good stewards of all that was created.  
  • The third vow, conversatio morum is literally translated as “conversion of life,” Conversion has more of a sense of a “U-turn,” an inverting, and is not confined a single event in time.   This vow tells us that we must acknowledge that conversion and always remain attentive to it.  For those who are not within the confines of a monastery conversion continues to be an ongoing process as well, helping us to continually walk within the presence of God.

Conversatio Morum of life incorporates both poverty and celibacy, yet is more broadly understood as one’s orientation toward God. I truly believe that it is worth the effort to grasp the true nature of conversatio morum, because it is germane to the world today. It comes from the Latin word to “listen intently”. 

Through our Christian faith we know that God created the earth and all that it holds which He then entrusted to us as caretakers. Love for God must be reflected through our contributions to that environmental stewardship. The vow of stability roots an individual to their one common home and therefore we need to ensure that we take every possible step to protect and care of it. The vow of conversatio morum, or “conversion,” requires nothing more than simplicity of life and communal sharing of goods and resources, its quite easy. Humility, or fear of the God, calls us to be aware that God is within everything and that we are connected to God through nature. As Christians, as monks and nuns we have a shared moral imperative or duty with every other person on this planet to be the stewards of God’s creation.

God the Father shows Adam Paradise By Arnold Boecklin

The responsibility is upon all of us to listen to each other and to God attentively; we have an individual duty to comprehend what is being asked and what action is required of us. As a matter of fact, the copy of Rule of Benedict that I have, dated 1865, begins with the word “harken” listen. This is the word to which monastic communities often return to. Harken, listen and pay attention, to God and to His word; to our weaknesses and how they drive us; to other members of the community; to our neighbours near and far; to the place where we live and to the whole planet. We need to understand the impact that our attitudes and actions have upon others.

Saint Benedict had been extremely practical in his ordering of the life. Discerning the value of balance between prayer, manual work and study within the daily rhythm of monastic life. In a monastery one might live with the day-to-day practicalities of renewable energy and rainwater harvesting, mucking in and getting your hands dirty in the kitchen garden, learning about the diversity of nature. As a result, one is far more connected with the food and shelter and one’s environment.

Community life is often romanticised by novices and visitors, but they are very quickly set straight. Religious are real people, we live together at close quarters (unless you are a hermit) and we quickly get to know each other’s eccentricities. Benedict was well aware of everyone’s distinctive weaknesses, and imbued the rule with self-discipline and restraint. So this nostalgic quixotism needs to yield to a healthier idealism rooted within our present reality and oriented in hope to values such as hospitality, generosity, neighbourliness, compassion and cordiality toward all; growing into the image of God; and sustainability, both physical and spiritual. The Benedictine order founded its first monastery at Subiaco a commune in Rome circa AD 529 and has continued to flourished for 1,492 years, and I believe that it will be a sustaining presence for many years to come.

So how do we live sustainably 

During the Coronavirus pandemic we had an opportunity to rethink how we can live more sustainably. Many would have worked from home for the first time and found that you’re using far more electricity and water than you had before, you’ve probably had to cook a lot more than usual at home. In all probability you will have also noticed the impact it has had on your bank account and how much si actually consumed and wasted within your household every day. Did it make you become more careful or did you simply continued as normal?

What is meant by being sustainable?

Sustainability is a complex concept that can be somewhat difficult to define in just a few words. In short, sustainability is a term used to refer to humanity’s responsibility to care for our planet so that it can remain safe and habitable, and have the resources needed for all future generations to continue. We can achieve this for our world and future generations by implementing enforceable laws with severe fines (or loss of business licence) and better conservation and protection strategies.

Why should this be so important?

Our species has already caused irreparable and irreversible damage to our planet, filling the air and seas with toxic industrial waste which continues to this very day, —and in some cases completely unchecked—, technologies, irresponsible consumption and mountains of refuse and plastics. Plastic contains toxic chemicals which leach out and have now been found in the blood and tissue of most human beings causing cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other ailments. Plastic is not biodegradable; it can only break down into smaller and smaller particles.  It’s estimated that between 1.15 to 2.41 million tonnes of plastic are entering the ocean each year. Despite our impotent efforts to address the global problems things are still getting worse, and before we know it, the earth’s temperature would have risen to a critical point from which there is no turning back and a reversal is no longer within the realms of possibility. This would make many areas of the planet completely uninhabitable. The air will be of such poor quality that it would become impossible to venture outdoors without wearing respirators and protective equipment. The oceans continue to rise, as flooding spread more land will be permanentlylost to the ocean, which will be so toxic that days on the beach will be a thing of the past and eating sea food will be a story relegated to myths and legends. We are at a tipping point. Simply put, the time to act is now despite what politicians and industry tell us. The objectives of Industry and by default politicians concern one thing only, their shareholders and their 30 pieces of silver to the detriment of all others.

Are we able to work from home in a sustainable manner?

Saving the planet is no easy feat and it certainly isn’t something that will occur over the course of one night. But you can do a lot of little things in everyday life to help reduce your carbon footprint. Imagine if everyone took the time to cultivate little habits and make small adjustments that prioritise sustainability. The long-term impact would change the earth! The preservation of this beautiful planet will begin to seem much more achievable. A good place to start therefore is in one’s own home, especially if your house or apartment also happens to be your place of work. Here are some simple pointers you can utilise in order to live a more sustainable and meaningful life whilst working from home. You can also use these pointers if your home is not your workplace.

Please note that the links we have provided below are for you to research the equipment yourself should you wish to purchase them. We cannot endorse products nor take responsibility for the content material, this is solely at your discretion, thank you for understanding. 

1. Adjust your thermostat

Growing up, most children quickly learn that the thermostat is hands-off. After all, Mum and Dad aren’t paying the heating bill to heat outdoors. Now that you are somewhat older, you would probably agree that paying an arm and a leg for electricity and gas is not a leisure expense. Not only does it hurt your pocket, but it also has negative environmental impacts.

Lowering the heating and boiler temperature slightly during the winter by just a few degrees can significantly lower your monthly bill and help fight global warming. You can also invest in a smart meter, like the Google Nest Heating & Hot Water Smart Thermostat or Hive Wireless Thermostats, which can learn your preferred temperatures and automatically adjusts to scheduled times in order to save energy.

2. Use energy efficient lighting

You can also save energy by choosing Eco-friendly lighting. For more information on lightbulbs please see Which? LED lights explained. Led lights tend to save 80% more energy than normal bulbs and last up to six times longer, so over time you will buy less. They also contain no toxic chemicals, so you don’t have to worry about polluting the environment once you dispose of them. If you want to conserve even more energy, consider buying smart bulbs for example the Veho Kasa Bluetooth smart LED light bulb. They are super affordable and compatible with smart devices that you may already have, such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home. You can even get colour-changing bulbs that are great for creating ambiance lighting.

3. Unplug all household electronics when you are not using then

Electronic gadgets such as televisions, microwaves, computers, and even mobile phone chargers continue to draw power when not in use. These “energy vampires” (yes, that’s a real term! It surprised me too) are constantly consuming energy, even when completely turned off. The best way to kill energy vampires is to unplug electronic devices at the source when you are not using them. Alternatively, you could use smart power strips (see BestReviews) to conserve energy and contribute less to environmental degradation. The keyword here is smart. A normal power lead will still waste power when plugged in. A smart power strip can recognize when an electronic device is not in use and cut off the power.

4. Choosing Eco-friendly office supplies

There are a myriad of options to choose from when it comes to stocking your home and your office. Unfortunately, many of them are not made with the environment in mind and are often used once and then thrown away. You can make a positively impact upon the environment by being more aware of the products you buy. More companies are beginning to source their materials from single sustainable source to make all of their products. There are plenty of Eco-friendly suppliers who utilise bamboo, cotton-based acetate, recycled plastic, and other biodegradable alternatives. Everything from paper and pencils to phone cases and laptop sleeves can be made whilst remaining considerate to our environment and planet. You can even have Eco-friendly business cards printed on recycled paper! It just takes a little research to find the best green products suitable for you.

5. Buy less, whilst reusing more

When looking for your planet-friendly office supplies, look for products that are reusable, refillable or durable. If you need to use paper, buy a paperless notebook, such as the Rocketbook which has a system that connects traditional handwriting surfaces with the power of the cloud. It comes with a specially designed microfibre pen and cloth. Just write, scan your work and erase to use again! If your morning routine involves you stopping by your favourite Colombia Pastor with hints of red apple and caramel or the Seven Seeds-Guatemala Rosma espresso with notes of brown sugar and peach coffee at your local coffee bar, skip the paper cup they give you, after all you are just going to throw away. Get a reusable coffee mug instead and bring it with you. Another great way to reduce and reuse is to buy refurbished office equipment. There are many online marketplaces that list products for sale locally, such as office desks, chairs, and bookshelves, computers and other essential equipment. It does not have to be new. Checking online just now I found twenty-two different suppliers in my area.

6. Learn to recycle (the correct way)

People have good intentions when it comes to recycling. Still, many are not doing it effectively,  or even correctly. I made that mistake myself some years ago quite innocently, which is why most recyclables end up in landfill. Waste Management website describes these three general rules for recycling (these may change depending on your local authority, best to check their website):

  • Recycle clean cans, bottles, and flattened cardboard.
  • Leave food or liquids in your food recycling caddy (Yes to all food including meat and fish (cooked or raw) including bones, Tea bags and tea leaves and coffee grinds. No to Any fats solid or liquid, Pet poo (yes you’d be surprised), 
  • Do not recycle loose plastic bags or items that are bagged.

You can recycle food and drink bottles and containers, but the caps are often not recyclable, so be sure to throw them away in your non recyclable waste. You also cannot recycle plastic wrap, film, and cups with wax or plastic coating. Also, anything that can get tangled in recycling machines, like plastic bags, are non recyclable.

7. Food shopping

We all need to eat and drink its a fact of life, but how we do it sustainably and with zero waste, and achieving this without causing a major impact on your carbon footprint is important. You can search for a sustainable grocer near you online.Food needs to be nutritious, wholesome and safe for you and your family. Try if you can to find organic products, when getting started go small at first. Shopping sustainably starts where you shop at and encompass what you buy once you have arrived at the store. Whether you’re buying fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market or meat and fish at the supermarket, there are questions you should ask to learn more about how that food was grown or raised to make the most sustainable choice possible. There are tips and resources to help you steer a course of the market stands and grocery aisles and for making sense of food labels and what they claim.

  • Eat more plant based foods (I’m not saying go meat free but its a start)
  • Eat more variety, the WWF and Knorr we have identified the Future 50 Foods that can help reduce the environmental impact of our food system download their pdf report here.
  • When possible try to include seasonal produce from your local farm shop or greengrocer in your diet.
  • Buy fish responsibly. By eating climate friendly seafood you would make a difference.
  • Grow your own vegetables and fruits (if you have a garden)
  • Get Giki. Giki is a free mobile app that provides ethical and sustainability information for more than 250,000 products.
  • Buy Products that are Fair Trade
  • Look for Organic Produce
  • Choose Plastic Free Packaging
  • Buy Sustainably Sourced Ingredients
  • Always choose Free Range Meat & Eggs
  • Buy Seasonal Fruit and Vegetables (which reduces their carbon footprint)
  • Completely avoid all GMO’s
  • Only buy what you need and do not be tempted by buy one get one free unless you know you will use it or give it to someone else

Do your part to safeguard the Earth.

It cannot be said enough that we all have to collaborate and work together to save our planet. Small gestures like unplugging electronic devices and shopping for groceries or green office supplies are a good start to living a more environmentally conscious lifestyle. Right now, the Amazon is burning and the products that we are buying are part of the system which drives this continued  and unchecked devastation. We don’t need to burn or cut down one more tree, there’s more than enough land to grow food to feed 2 billion more people by 2050. You should press your member of parliament (find them here) or join a group that lobbies Government on these issue by demanding deforestation free food. Use Ethical Supermarkets (bit hard to find in the UK but they are there), where products are sourced and processes are in place to ensure that there is no exploitation in the food chain — of people and animals.

As Christians we have a duty to be good stewards of the environment, which is God’s creation for us. We believe that there is a relation between ecological practices and christian spirituality.

The Hermit of Saint Bruno (Celtic Hermit) at St Mary’s Hermitage has made a Commitment to Sustainable Stewardship

Stewards of Creation

Sustainable stewardship is one way in which Hermits (and Monks) can participate in God’s intention and care for our world. To this end, the St. Mary’s Hermitage has consistently used ethical and sustainable grocery and utility suppliers. We use natural and traditional building methods for projects and adopted sustainable and energy efficient equipment for all of our utilities.

Our Sustainable Vision

  1. To use only sustainable materials and techniques to safeguard the environment and the beauty of the our rural location and the Kent countryside.
  2. The energy consumption at St. Mary’s Hermitage is clean, renewable, and cost effective
  3. All of the buildings St. Mary’s Hermitage meet the needs of this eremitic community, now and in the future.
  4. Externally obtained goods and supplies must meet sustainable and ethical criteria.
  5. We have a system of rules that promote replenishing and limit our depletion and pollution.

How does St. Mary’s Hermitage maintaining a viable quality of life, and sustainable practices

  1. We have a consistent and transparent worldview where both scriptures and scientific research defines our worldview;
  2. We have a strong social capital network of relationships among us enabling us to function far more effectively;
  3. We use critical reflective change based on values; and,
  4. and an appropriate and tested decision-making process.
Continue reading “You don’t have to live like a hermit or monk to live sustainably!”
The Canticle of Brother Sun

The Canticle of Brother Sun

St. Francis reaffirms the divine character of Creation also in its material aspects, against the Cathars, who in those same years claimed that God had created the spiritual reality, while the material reality was of demonic origin. St. Francis of Assisi also argues against the mercantile mentality that was rapidly spreading throughout the known world and for which nature was being exploited simply for economic purposes, while the saint from Assisi argues that nature provides man with everything he needs and therefore invites us not to worry about scrambling about continuously, seeking ever greater but useless material goods. Continue reading The Canticle of Brother Sun