Is this not a precious home for us earthlings? Is it not worth our love? … I would like to hope against hope that the Church of England might turn from its preoccupation with its own structures, its own liturgical and doctrinal quarrels, even its own identity, and discover anew, a theology of creation. Prophetic words from a sermon given by Bishop Trevor Huddleston in Oxford in 1983.
Two hundred years ago, in 1816, the world experienced the Year without a Summer. Severe frosts were noted as late as mid June, the sky was always grey. Crops failed, prices rose, millions in Europe and North America suffered hunger, disease, famine and displacement. Food shortages led to social instability, with violent social protest springing up throughout Europe. In England labourers rioted, carrying banners with the slogan ‘Bread or Blood’. Jails were overflowing and many were executed or deported. A major typhoid epidemic broke out in Ireland and in India the summer monsoon was severely delayed leading to the outbreak of a new strain of cholera which spread from Bengal to Moscow.
There were unusual side effects. The loss of grain led to a deficiency in feed for horses, causing a lack of transport. Karl von Drais invented a ‘Laufmaschine’ the precursor of the modern bicycle, to address the problem.
Sheltering in the unseasonable weather conditions by Lake Geneva Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and John William Polidori, challenged one another to tell gothic supernatural stories. The challenge led to the creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Polidori’s novella The Vampyre and Byron’s poem Darkness.
Many years later it was discovered that the reason for the ‘Year without Summer’ was a global climatic crisis caused by the eruption in 1815 of Mount Tambora in modern day Indonesia, one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the last 10,000 years, leading to a significant fall in world temperatures for three years.
A volcanic eruption in a far away place led to rioting in the streets, disease, new inventions and a new genre of literature. The events of ‘The Year without Summer’ cogently remind us of our basic relationship to the earth, our planetary home, and our inter relationship with matter and with one another. That is the nature of our existence, of our world, indeed of our universe. We cannot escape this reality.
Whatever way we speak about our earth, our humanity, we find out more and more how interconnected creation is. Barbara Ward, another great Christian prophet of our time has reminded us that ‘advanced science tells us that in every alphabet of our being we do indeed belong to a single system, powered by a single energy, manifesting a fundamental unity under all its variations.’