Icon by Sue Mansfield, May 2020

This icon is based on the Pantocrator icon in St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Egypt. The first bible is creation, so here i have removed the usual ‘icon’ of the Bible, and put in its place the first ‘bible’ – Creation in all its glory.  The saints more or less seem to find spiritual experiences outside, rarely in our buildings. I have also removed the traditional red surround of the Byzantine icons because creation is borderless, instead the red ribbon that links all beings together.

As I begin to understand that the Cosmic Christ is in everything it changes my perspective that everything has value, a soul and a voice. This changes my interaction with them, everything is an equal rather than an object.  Therefore, I start to treat everything with subjectivity rather than objectivity. The planet as the body of Christ.

Cosmic Christ

Neutrons, protons electrons live in community – So do we.

Connectedness with creation – perhaps a more gracious way to be in the world we are given – is to allowing nature to speak to us rather than dominate it, really realising that it isn’t there for my/our consumption / money-making / intelligence.

St Claire says that nature is a mirror and mirrors back to us.

We are interdependent with creation whether we like it or not.

When we think of nature as ‘other’ – separate from ourselves – it allows us wars, destruction of forests, ownership, property, slavery, scientific explorations, technical development, hyper-individualism, voracious consumptions and industrial growth.

Relationality between us and creation is being found by science and now consciousness is a matrix not just of humans.  A Dignity to everything.

This causes me to ask ‘What is my true identity? ‘What is my way of being in the world?’ 

And ‘How can I walk on the earth so lightly that my/our actions are good for the next 6 generations?’ Which in my humble opinion will need us to rediscover ‘Lament’. Lament is deeper, more inclusive and demanding than ‘forgiveness’ (I mean that in the greatest respect). 

What does health spirituality look like in the time of an Eco crisis?  How do you convict people of what is obvious? ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’ is NOT enough. What does it mean to live in relationship to the wild? Without relationship we just consume, use and abuse. Our current ability to abuse the earth is so much greater with all our machines now.  Earth takes care of you if you take care of her. A reciprocity.

In church we haven’t been taught to lament……so in an Eco crisis we are either in denial and then angry and defensive if anyone points it out or rendered paralysed by the enormity of what we are facing, neither of which is helpful.  Grief gets stuck in us as a type anger, which is unhelpful too. Lament. It seems we need to be taught this …..it needs ‘ritual’.  Religion is good at ceremony but that just keeps the status quo. Ritual allows for an alternative form of emotion, more freeing and engaging.

Lament perhaps by ritual in song, poem, art,  etc., without weaponizing our values – which can be sometimes seen in attitudes towards food.  So not in anger, not in ‘sweeping it under the carpet’, but actually looking at it full on ( in the mirror) and then moving lightly forward.

Our Capitalist culture of money and productivity seems to be more important to us than nature.  If you put the Gospel in the hands of self-referential people, they will distort it on every count, sacraments, bible, priests, ministry, buildings, not worship God anymore, Nature is a Natural cathedral. (R. Rohr)

During the Covid-19 crisis how quickly water cleared, air pollution cleared just 3 weeks and more birds were singing, Mother Nature is ready and willing if we are, but she won’t fight us.  Governments came together in the Covid 19 crisis, so they can do the same with the Eco-crisis too.

The ‘enlightenment’ was a critical analysis, not a conscious communion like the deep wisdom of the ancient – oldest here in the UK is the Celtic.  It is the deep wisdom of what is good for 6 generations we need now more than ever.

Loss and Renewal is the pattern of everything. Note animals don’t fight death like we do. They allow themselves to die and be eaten by other animals and they are back into the lifecycle again.

The icon explained

Christ holds a hedgehog….I was taught these creatures carry fleas….and are prickly.  They are seriously endangered because people like me have used slug pellets for our precious plants…  I feel this small shy creature is missing from my life, I’m missing it eating the slugs and snails of my soul.  Yet here Christ shelters the creature, unbothered by some spikes and a few fleas.  Christs palm is open, this hedgehog can escape, he’s not held against his will, nor are we.

Christ’s hand of blessing hovers of Mother bear, her huge claws a sign of her strength, fearsome strength.  Mother Nature has fearsome strength, and a huge quelling hug.  Bears were revered by our ancestors, evidence that they were even worshipped.

Snakes. In Peru snakes represent the underworld, about which we know little about, but perhaps Christ is a bit more familiar with….what did the darkness of the grave – the underworld teach him that he came back on a different level of consciousness?

Bees and insects. Who would have guessed in the past these are so important to us and our food chain.  Even trying to welcome insects in our small gardens and even pots is all part of moving with the Divine in all creation and joining in with the continuing evolution of all things.

Whale.  Reminds me of the underworld journey Jonah took, mirroring Christs underworld experience and that we are all invited into if we want to really grow up spiritually and fulfil what is only ours to bring to this earth.

Tiger. In Buddhism Tiger represents the transformation of anger into wisdom and insight, will power strength and courage, most of which is missing from us – except maybe miss placed power….

Elephant. Strength power intellect, loyalty, social group – companionship and unity (beat humans on that score!) They live in societies with their own cultures, self-medicate with plants, protect people and other animals in trouble, and PAINT. Paint!

Elephants have such intense social groups that they become extremely upset when one of their own dies. This is all the more poignant as I write this in a pandemic when the death toll daily rises. Elephants have a funeral rite, of own family and of other elephant remains they may come across – remaining very quiet, covering the body with leaves and grass, and if the elephant was a family member they stay with the body for days.

Elephants are such compassionate animals that they’ll even grieve for and bury their number one killer… us. A news report in Kenya told of an elephant that trampled a human mother and her child and then stopped to bury them before disappearing in the bush.

Surely the elephant grieves over what we are doing to the planet too….

Monkey. Mischievous playful, reminds me of the innocent sage…a unique playful wisdom, that can laugh and yet resounds with a wisdom of depth, rare to find.  I kind of felt I was painting the bones of the monkey, the most indestructible part – like the soul is.

Giraffe. What is a giraffe’s perspective? What can we learn from these elegant creatures?  The Grounded-ness to earth and yet the far sighted- ness they appear to have with a flexibility to see both directions and behind.  The phrase ‘sticking your neck out’ comes to mind, being visible, and vunerable.  They are in balance with nature – are we?

Moon. The cycle of the moon — gives us a regular view of the cycle of life.  And many faiths use the calendar by moon cycles.  The beauty of a full moon just coming up and filling the horizon is awe inspiring.  Much mystery surrounds the moon.

Wolf. As symbol of wildness and of family values.  Found in many archetypal fairy tales for reasons we are never taught.  Inner knowing and intuition are some of the qualities that ancient cultures associated with this animal – Celts, Native Americans, Aboriginal peoples etc.  Wolves have been hunted to almost extinction, but now research is showing reintroducing them would help the environment greatly.  These wise animals show great commitment to one another, as well as great bravery if having to go it alone.

Butterfly. In many cultures a symbol of the soul.  Its journey on earth is initially crawling around, eating leaves, then it literally goes into the ‘tomb’ – a chrysalis and becomes like a ‘cell soup’ from within what science calls ‘imaginal cells’ start firing and then this amazing beautifully coloured butterfly appears lasting only a few days.  So, in wisdom traditions this is the descent and return of the soul.  In ancient Greek the word for butterfly is “psyche” which means “soul“, 

Owl. These silent mysterious creatures who have such amazing night vision.  They see beyond seeing, a wisdom we lack, and so are drawn to them.

Koala. Much more endangered now after the horrendous bushfires we have recently witnessed (due to global warming).

Leopard. Solitary animals, persevering for their offspring, such attentive mothers, who are so swift and elegant, stunningly beautiful markings.  Yet powerful.

Turtle. Reminded me of the fragility of our eco system and of the waters they live in, yet they are one of our most ancient fellow beings, what do they know that we don’t?

Gecko. A favourite animal my children so enjoyed spotting (and still do), an animal that fascinated them and they could get close to, have a good look at and wonder; the energy the Gecko moves with and the spark of interest their presence makes.

Chameleon. So well-known for changing to match their environment – oh why don’t we?  What wisdom to be learned from that sensitivity to blend in harmony to our surroundings.  What fascination.

Dragonfly.  I recall the fascination of watching one of these emerge from its skin shed, and this stunning blue creature appearing.

Snail. I put this is because I feel bad about having used slug pellets, and my contribution to the loss of habitat for other creatures because of it.  I’m working on this!

So we need to ask…

‘What is your true identity? ‘What is your way of being in the world?’ 

And ‘How can you walk on the earth so lightly that you actions are good for the next 6 generations?’

How can you/we rediscover ‘Lament’?

‘Ask the questions that have no answers.

Invest in the millennium.

 Plant sequoias.

 Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest.’

By Wendell Berry⁠.

Just as we offer our young children books about animals that they may never see, I read this poem and write this icon and weep…

It’s 3:23 in the morning

and I’m awake

because my Great-great grandchildren won’t let me sleep.

My Great-great grandchildren ask me in dreams:

“What did you do while the planet was plundered?

what did you do when the earth was unravelling?

Surely you did something
when the seasons started failing,

as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?

Did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen?

What did you do once you knew?”

Hieroglyphic Staircase by Drew Dillinger.

Article by Sue Mansfield