Day 5: John of Damascus: Advent Book Club 2017: Unearthly Beauty by Magdalen Smith

Once again Magdalen loses me by the line she chooses to follow. A self-confessed visual person who has studied Art History, icons hold deep meaning for her and I know they do for others. I find them flat, obscure, alienating. And I have tried… I simply don’t “get” them.

This book seems to be very church-oriented and as such very narrow in focus much of the time.

However, the subtitle of this section: “Matter matters” is something to which I can relate. It’s just such a shame that Magdalen chose to pursue such a narrow train of thought.

Matter matters – and the glory of God, of the Creator, shines out in a beautiful sunset, a tree silhouetted against the sky, the black-and-white of a snowscape, the face of every person we pass in the street. The provision of God is evident in every mouthful we eat, the yarns which form the clothes we wear, the choice in the supermarkets.

Matter matters – and how we interact with that matter matters.

As an example of the possible consequences of an unthinking interaction with matter, I refer  you to a recent episode of Blue Planet II which showed graphic scenes of the plastic choking our oceans and the creatures that live in it. Here is just one horrific image of what our unthinking throwing away of plastic waste can do: turtlesix-packs-so-sadHow many times do we throw something away without thinking about the consequences? How many times do we use plastic without considering the implications?

This issue of plastics use has come to a head for me. I’ve started to notice just how much I use without even thinking about it – bags to freeze the bread I bake, frozen vegetables and fruit, those flimsy little bags into which we put fruit and veg at the supermarket… I thought back to my childhood in an effort to work out how to manage without all this seemingly essential plastic. I recall going with my mum to the greengrocers (no supermarkets in those days) and she would hold open her bag (one for veg, one for fruit) and the greengrocer would weigh out the produce in his scales and then tip it into the bag. At home my job was to sort and put it away – veg into the veg rack (no fridge in those days) and fruit into the fruit bowl. And no plastic. So yesterday – after a lifetime of using plastic without thinking about it – I cycled to the supermarket 2 miles way instead of driving, put loose sprouts and potatoes in my basket, went to the self-checkout so no-one could insist that “regulations mean we have to put it in a bag for you”, weighed the produce and put it into my own cloth bag. Sorted! To continue with this I will need to think seriously about how to live my life differently. It will take time and effort – not least because our local supermarket doesn’t have a deli counter and cheese only comes in plastic vacuum pack – I’ll need to go a bit further to one which does have a counter and persuade them to weigh the cheese and put it into my own containers brought from home.  I will have to let some other things drop – or maybe not once I work it out. And some things may prove impossible at the moment to fix. But now I know the effect of my throwaway plastic usage I can’t in all conscience continue because Matter Matters. To use respectfully, in veneration, every scrap of Matter (and not to over-use or through my own use to abuse other creatures) is, in my experience, to draw near both to the heart of the Creator God who saw all that was made and behold, it was very good and to the Incarnate God who inhabits our flesh and 2000 years ago slept in scratchy hay amidst smelly animals and suckled at his mother’s breast in order to survive.

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