W hen I was a little girl in the 1970s there was none of this business of living our lives online. We had to get our entertainment and live out our fantasies in simpler ways, writes Peterborough Cathedral Canon Missioner Sarah Brown.
My friends and I glammed ourselves up with fetid perfume made out of squished rose petals, did mostly edible things with cubes of jelly and carnation milk, sucked Spangles in order to get our tongues scarily stuck in the brittle holes that appeared in the middle, sewed tartan patches onto perfectly good jeans as part of the religious fervour of being Bay City Rollers fans, and practised our future signatures ready for when we had finally married the boy of our dreams. Between the ages of seven and 13 I practised quite a lot of different signatures. So many hopes dashed by the brutal fickleness of playground kiss-chase.
Alone in my room I spent considerable time writing letters to alien life-forms. I never got a reply but it can’t have been because they couldn’t find me. I was laboriously specific about writing my address: 19 Church Street, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England, UK, Earth, (Third Planet from the Sun) Milky Way, Universe, Deep Space, Infinity. I see now that there are a few flaws in the logic of this address but at the time it was perfect. I was a citizen of planet Earth. I was proud of that and wrote to all kinds of imaginary aliens telling them what it was like here in the 1970s and why they might like to visit. If we ever get invaded by extra-terrestrials seeking pink Hubba-Bubba gum it could well be my fault. I’m sorry.
I’m still proud of being an Earthling, although I stopped writing to those less fortunate quite a few light years ago. I am excited by the imminent arrival (August 19) of ‘Gaia’, a beautiful scale model of the earth, which will hang under the cathedral tower. It reminds me of my citizenship and yet the artist’s creation of it to teach about the earth’s fragility makes me uncomfortable. How easy it is to take this precious globe for granted simply as an address and forget that it is unique and beautiful and the only place anywhere, as far as we know, that possesses the exact circumstances to enable, not just LIFE but OUR sort of life! It is, when you think of it that way, an absolute no-brainer that we should look after it and preserve it and stop ruining it with our greedy consumption and selfish pollutions. It is in our enlightened self-interest to do so, regardless of any ethical issues.
For a person of Christian faith it is way more than that. God is behind the creation and gift of this home of ours. It is God who gave us the best address in the universe with air to breathe, water to drink and just the right amount of gravity to keep us grounded. It is God who spins the planets and whirls the gases and micro-manages the quarks and the atoms; who moulds the landscapes and paints the intricate details of nature. It is God who gives us the run of the earth but who expects us to take care of it and all that live on it with us. It is God who cares about His creation and grieves when we injure it. It is God who takes the initiative of healing and reconciling the world’s wounds.
For those who profess faith it cannot be enough to casually treat the Earth as our address without responding to the love and life and beauty we receive.
So I’m going to stand under the Earth in the cathedral and promise to do better; to try harder to appreciate and nurture all that we have and to remember that with citizenship comes responsibilities as well as rights. Perhaps you might join me. It’s a wonderful world. Especially now that the 1970s are over.