The first example was told me by someone from Scotland. It happened in a park where a flock of wild geese had settled to rest on a pond. One of the flock had been captured by a gardener, who had clipped its wings before releasing it. When the geese started to resume their flight, this one tried frantically, but vainly, to lift itself into the air. The others, observing his struggles, flew about in obvious efforts to encourage him; but it was no use. Thereupon, the entire flock settled back on the pond and waited, even though the urge to go on was strong within them. For several days they waited until the damaged feathers had grown sufficiently to permit the goose to fly. Meanwhile, the unethical gardener, having been converted by the ethical geese, gladly watched them as they finally rose together, and all resumed their long flight.
My third example was given me by a friend in Hanover, who owned a small café. He would daily throw out crumbs for the sparrows in the neighbourhood. He noticed that one sparrow was injured, so that it had difficulty getting about. But he was interested to discover that the other sparrows, apparently by mutual agreement, would leave the crumbs which lay nearest to their crippled comrade, so that he could get his share, undisturbed...
(With thanks to Rev Feargus O'Connor for these words by Schweitzer on "Altruism")
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Albert Schweitzer, one of the great figures of the twentieth century. He was incredibly gifted. By the time he was thirty he had achieved more than most of us could even dream of doing in our lifetimes. He was an accomplished musician, minister, theologian and university professor. Then in his early thirties he qualified as a medical doctor and devoted the rest of his life to serving the medical needs of the people of Africa. In 1953 he was awarded the Nobel peace prize.
“Reverence for Life” though is more than ethics, it is a religious imperative. Hence the appropriate use of the word “Reverence”. “Reverence” is a word of real power. “Reverence” literally means “profound, adoring, awed, respect”. “Reverence for Life” has the power to transform, to change the way that life is experienced. Through it an ethical person not only respects life but experiences awe and adoration for every aspect of creation. It is the “Golden Rule” in its purest and most universal form. Through it you see all life as your neighbour and and you love all life as you would wish to be loved yourself.
The Great twentieth century theologian and Process philosopher Charles Hartshorne recognised this and as a result urged people of faith to widen their circle of kinship beyond the confines of their own species. He described the universe as a living network rather than a collection of inert forces or senseless objects, He asked: "Is it likely that God takes no delight whatever in the more than a million other living forms on this planet, yet does delight in, derive value from contemplating, the one human species lately emergent on the planet? If such an idea is not sheer anthropomorphic bias, what would be such bias?" Schweitzer did not suffer such speciesism, even as a young boy he recognised God’s love for the animals as he wrote “As a small child, I could not understand why I should pray for human beings only. When my mother first had kissed me good night, I used to add a silent prayer that I composed for all creatures.”
Today on the day that the congregations I serve pay homage to the animals and the gifts that they freely share with all life I would ask you the reader to also pay homage to Albert Schweitzer and his lasting legacy. When he died, more than 50 years ago, on 4th September 1965 he left a legacy which in my belief is very much at the core of liberal religious thought. This great humanitarian, musician, theologian, medical doctor and ethical philosopher believed that all life should be revered. That life really mattered, that each and every one of us matters, that this world matters and every living creator living in it matters too. That we do not live purely from or for ourselves and that we are connected and held together in so many ways. That if we share our suffering that we can together begin to lift ourselves from this suffering. That we, each of us, have within us the power to make the difference. I did not say change the world, but make a difference. You never know one small act of compassion might just begin a tidal wave of compassion that can impact throughout all life.
It can happen you know. You’ve just got to believe and then make that belief an action. It simply begins by recognising the Divine in all life. It begins with “Reverence for Life”
I'm going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with the following meditation by Kenneth Collier. I have grown to love the stillness of deer in recent weeks, they bring out an awe filled reverence in me...
“The Deer” by Kenneth Collier
And that is what it is like. It is like the sweet, almost immovable deer. It sounds green, like rain falling through leaves. It sounds blue, like wind across the bay and the sea. It sounds silver and black, like the sky when there is nothing left of the day but sleep and soft sounds of breathing and dreams that drift upwards like smoke and disappear.
It moves as slowly and carefully as a heron stepping deliberately through the still water of the pond. And it is almost silent. Almost. Not quite. Silent like the falling snow is silent. It whispers against the window, or sings, or even hisses like a fire made of apple wood hisses.
Or maybe you won’t know it is there until it stops. Until the whispering is hushes. Maybe you won’t know it is there until it is not there. And then you will long for it, like the dry grass longs for the rain, And all you can do is be still and wait.
But do not worry. And do not hurry. For the clouds will gather eventually and the rain will fall with a rattle into the grass. The whisper will return like the deer that moved its ear and you will sigh a long, sweet sigh, And I know that it is there.
But maybe you ask, “What is this thing?” What is it that moves as silently as snow?”
And what shall I answer? It is nothing but the deer.