WHEN I FIRST came to work for Ekklesia in 2009, I was anxious to make clear that I am not a policy analyst. Though anyone writing about current affairs must obviously have a grasp of current policies and their possible developments, I felt it necessary to establish that I came primarily as a writer.
This was generously accepted and it is in that vein that I have been enabled to explore the relationship between the verifiable and the conjectural, and the relationship of these categories to the poetic, the visionary and the transformative.
As COP26 unfolds, and with it, the certainty of conflicts between hope and despair, temptations to rage and contempt, tensions that will tear at us in all these areas, I am encouraged by these words from Ekklesia’s Director, Simon Barrow, introducing COP26 in focus with Ekklesia: “For a single treatment of the whole issue, we thoroughly recommend Quaker thinker and activist Alastair McIntosh’s superb book, Riders on the Storm: The Climate Crisis and the Survival of Being. As Christopher Silver aptly summarises, this is ‘a remarkably accessible précis of the science behind climate change and the pitfalls of denialism and alarmism, followed by an exploration of the ethical and spiritual reckoning these great changes present’.”
As I struggled with the sense of foreboding induced by the absurd, and probably intentionally diversionary French fishing spat with its opportunist and juvenile tit-for-tattery (“two can play at that game”, said David Frost; “Boris needs a Falklands moment”, was the reported opinion of an unidentified Red Wall MP), I realised that to get further caught up in this nonsense could only be destructive. That was when I experienced what Quakers tend to call ‘an opening’,and in a manner which slightly surprised me.
I am not a scriptural scholar. I am certainly not a literalist and I probably don’t read the Bible as often as I should. But a weary impulse on the eve of the Glasgow summit sent me to Isaiah’s vision of the Holy Mountain where there is no hurt or destruction. From there, it was a quick flip through the pages to the book of Revelation in order to look up references to the City of God, the New Jerusalem, where this leaped out at me: In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Here was a reminder of the essential fruitfulness of our world and its capacity to meet our needs when we do not despoil it with greed, but it was the final sentence which most spoke to my dejection. That the nations need healing is surely beyond dispute. How that is to happen, is a subject for our “ethical and spiritual reckoning” and I find that both challenge and comfort.
This is not fluffy utopianism. It is the indwelling response to beautiful language and to a deep-rooted sense that common action for the greatest good is not just possible: it is what we are made for. We will not be abandoned in our responses to the vision offered us through prophecy and poetry.
Jill Segger (England) is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, The Catholic Herald, Tribune, and The Friend, among other publications. Her acclaimed book Words Out of Silence was published by Ekklesia in 2019. She is an active member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and has a particular interest in how spirituality influences our social and political choices. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Jill became an honorary associate director in 2010 and works on editorial issues. She is also a musician and has been a composer. Her recent columns are available here and her pre-2021 articles can be found here. You can follow Jill on Twitter: @quakerpen