This week we continue our canonization of the saints. Don’t be distracted by that Pope guy trying to steal our thunder. We totally came up with this idea first! One of the joys this year has been the engagement of the community. Several of our saints are on the list because of the passion of people other than me. That puts me in the wonderful position of having to learn about these saints so that I have something to say. I love being taught by the people of Church in the Cliff!
I had never heard of Rachel Carson until Lisa suggested her canonization. As I dive into Rachel Carson’s life and work, I can see why she came to mind. She has been called “the patron saint of the environmental movement,” so we are not the first to trod this ground.
Carson was a marine biologist who spent most of her career working for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries reporting data on fish populations. Through this work, she began to understand how we are all a part of the vast interconnectedness of nature. She also saw how humans have an almost unique power to alter that web of relationships, often for the worse, and sometimes irreparably. She called for a new mindset among naturalists and policymakers, from conservation, the preservation of a few, isolated resources, to environmentalism, a consciousness of our power and our vulnerability in nature.
This was a monumental shift, perhaps enough to achieve sainthood, but it is unlikely she would have had the impact she had if it weren’t for her beautiful and passionate prose about nature. She first showed her skill in 1937 in an article for Atlantic Monthly. In “Undersea,” Carson takes the reader on a journey across the vast diversity of conditions and creatures of the ocean. In an age before we had a dozen nature channels – and long before those nature channels gave up on showing us nature in favor of Nazis and aliens – her writing made this hidden world come to life. For example, she describes the tide and its effects so vividly that it not only makes you see it, but you feel you are involved in it: “Twice between succeeding dawns, as the waters abandon pursuit of the beckoning moon and fall back, foot by foot, periwinkle and starfish and crab are cast upon the mercy of the sands.” In one sentence, we understand how everything is connected and how vulnerable it all is.
She credited her love of nature to her mother and she sought more than anything to pass that love on to others. The last book she worked on before her death, which she didn’t finish, but was published after her death, was called The Sense of Wonder. It is, in a sense, a book of parenting advice about cultivating the sense of wonder in children. But more than that, more than a simple how-to – she would never have made it in today’s world of listicles – she relates in her deft prose her experience of being in nature with her grandnephew, Roger. She took him on walks on the shores and in the forests of her home in Maine before he could even do the walking. She said, “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, and an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.” I’m not yet sure what her religious beliefs or practices were, but that sounds a lot like worship to me. Would that we all might rediscover that joy, excitement, and mystery.
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we remember the life and work of Rachel Carson, the patron saint of environmentalism and a saint of Church in the Cliff.
Grace & Peace,