Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Cormorants and Ashes

Ash Wednesday. I feel angry: I've just watched an item on the breakfast news about cormorants. An angler (Britain's favourite "sport" apparently) was complaining that there are too many cormorants on the rivers and lakes where he fishes, and in order to survive they are eating all the fish he'd rather catch himself. Cormorants should be culled, he said, because (and I quote) "they are so good." Good at what they are do, he meant, brilliantly designed, but what a statement! Another angler even complained that kingfishers and otters are eating "his" fish (but these creatures need not worry yet, because apparently this is the cormorant's fault too.)

The other day I read an article advocating fishing as a form of therapy because it encourages exercise and contemplation of nature. So it surely is for many people, though not for me, but are there not other ways of being, connecting, interacting with nature - fostering the "long loving look at the real" that is contemplation - than seeking to compete and dominate? It is C S Lewis's devil Screwtape who claims that "'to be' means 'to be in competition'".

Ash Wednesday. And, by happy synchronicity, last night brought a new Moon. As I  wait to see the crescent - the sickle of springtime pruning - I consider what might need to be pruned away from my life this Lent, to make room for new growth. Soon I'll be setting off to go to Mass and receive the ashes. I wonder which words the priest will use. I've always preferred "remember that you are dust and to dust you will return". We are indeed dust: we are stardust, quite literally, for the iron in our blood comes from the heart of a star. In Rebecca Rupp's book The Four Elements we read that we are "the products of cosmic infernos, children of nebulas.  It’s a wondrous and briefly enobling thought.  Briefly, that is, because a moment’s reflection reveals that our glorious origin is shared by slugs, slime molds, and driveway gravel."

The alternative words for the distribution of ashes,"repent and believe the Gospel", have always seemed blander to me. But as I reflect this morning I wonder if they mean the same thing: turn around, align yourself to the Good News, the Truth that the Word of God has become incarnate, one flesh with the stars, the dust, the driveway gravel, and us. That's the challenge: to see Christ - and myself - in both the cormorant and the greedy angler I am so keen to judge. I am one in kinship with both the good and beautiful bird and the  person who demands the right to have him destroyed. I too seek to dominate and compete: I may not do it with a rod and line but in the growing light of the Lenten Moon I'll  see the other ways I do it.


  1. Thanks Antonia! Lovely looking blog space, and a great reflection. I like the perspective about competition. Do you read Jack (John) Shea who talks about the spiritual life has nothing to do with the world of comparisons? Best to you this Ash Thursday!

    1. Thank you! No, I haven't read Jack Shea yet but will look out for him. Have a blessed Lent!


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