Monday, 7 June 2010

oil stained window

There is a lovely rose window in Waltham Abbey church. I spent many a choral evensong in the early 1990s gazing at it while I daydreamed; though I preferred to call it prayerful preparation before preaching. The window was designed by Edward Burne-Jones in the 19th century and depicts the creation story. One of the scenes in the window is of sea creatures including a whale, fish and various birds playing in the ocean. There is something simple, innocent, unspoiled and beautiful about the scene.

As I have been following the unfolding horror of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico the rose window keeps coming to mind and I wonder how such a sea scene would be depicted today? The sea birds would be covered in oil and floundering in the surf. The fish would be floating lifeless on the water’s surface, poisoned by the oil dispersal chemicals. The whale would be lying on the deck of a Japanese whaler, her flesh ripped off in the name of ‘scientific research’ if she had managed to avoid the spill.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the oil spill is the apparent recklessness of those involved in the deep water drilling enterprise. There seems to have been no plans to cope with the potential problems of oil extraction in these conditions. Each attempt to stem the steady flow of massive volumes of oil appears to have been a desperate improvised response with little hope of success. Finally BP seem to have hit upon something that might just bring the disaster under control, but not before a terrible toll has been paid by the surrounding environment. How is it that the oil industry can develop the technology to extract oil in such extreme conditions and yet have given hardly any thought to what to do if things went wrong?

What strikes me about this tragedy is the sheer lack of humility shown by some of those involved in the oil industry; the misplaced confidence in technology and the arrogance which views creation as something to be exploited at all costs. The statements of the chairman of BP have been breathtaking in their insensitivity to the families of those whose loved ones were killed by the initial oil rig explosion and to the many whose livelihoods have been wrecked by the oil slicks.

Back to the rose window. At its centre is not Adam and Eve but God. It is God’s creation and as human beings we are part of the created order, dependent on God for all we are and all we have. This is the proper orientation of our understanding of our place in creation. We are reminded that this world and all its resources belong to God and that we have a high calling not to exploit but to steward what God has entrusted to us. If we put God in the centre of our world view rather than ourselves then perhaps we might see the glory of God’s creation with fresh humility and sense of wonder; treasuring and tending rather than exploiting and destroying.


maggi said...

isn't that a pelican? According to medieval folklore, the pelican had the deepest of maternal instincts and it was believed that if she had no food to give to her chicks, she would peck her own breast and feed them with her own blood. The female pelican therefore became an icon of Jesus, feeding his church with his own body and blood through the ritual of the Eucharist

Philip Ritchie said...

You are right Maggi and that is why I thought of the window when I saw the horrific images of the oil stained pelicans in the news. When I was in Jerusalem a couple of years ago I visited the Cenacle on Mt Zion and there is a Crusader capital with the pelican feeding from her breast. A very powerful image.

maggi said...

yeah, I hope they survive and breed after this awful accident. I saw loads of pelicans in Oz a few years back, they are amazing creatures