It’s hard to do something new in a creation care-focussed book these days, apart from updating the (usually acutely worrying or depressing) facts and figures. But if statistics such as ‘The UK is one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries, putting us in the bottom 10 per cent for biodiversity’ or statements like ‘The hope is that ours will be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it’ aren’t enough to make you buy this book, there are plenty of other reasons for giving it your attention.
Nicholas Holtam was the Church of England’s lead bishop in environmental concerns for eight years until 2021, and on his retirement was commissioned by the Archbishop of York to distil his experience into this book.
Holtham has not only included up to date news from the worlds of science and policymaking, but has brought a fresh perspective to the conversation. Using paintings as a jumping-off point for each week of reflections, he not only suggests practical solutions and brings the all-important note of hope that we all need, but he also looks at what it means to be human, and ways in which human behaviour can change.
In week two Holtham uses the Alcoholics Anonymous twelve steps to think about how we might seek healing for our addiction to fossil fuel. He recognises the anxiety and paralysis some people feel in this area, and calls for the church to be motivated by love, not fear. In week three he looks at what it would look like if we lived out our lives in all their fulness, which includes making the most of our talents and living undivided lives.
The entry for St Nicholas day moved me to tears. Holtham describes how in his time at Salisbury cathedral he kept the medieval tradition of giving the bishop’s throne to a child on the Sunday nearest to St Nicholas’ day, putting the mitre on his or her head and a ring on his or her finger. Nicholas wrote about this day,
‘The child bishop preached the sermon. The ten I heard in my time were all brilliant. It was a humbling experience – not in a demeaning kind of way but in one that was profoundly humanising. I was reminded of who I am as a person, and like any parent, I was delighted to be taught by a child.’
He goes on to say that his children and grandchildren are both concerned and knowledgeable about the environmental crisis, and that ‘On these issues, we need to listen to our children and feel what the care of God’s creation means to them.’ He asks what it would look like to be generous to the next generations, as St Nicholas was famously generous to his parishioners. ‘As we prepare for Christmas, what are the gifts you most want for the young people you love?’
This is an unusual topic for an advent book, but it works. Leading up to Christmas day using some of the traditional themes, readings and songs – as well as plenty that are less usual at this time of year – it is an imaginative and refreshing take on advent in a time of climate crisis.