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Hedgerow parables

02 September 2016

Adam Ford considers meditations that link to the natural world

The Lives Around Us: Daily meditations for nature connection
Dan Papworth
Christian Alternative £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70



ARE we the neighbours from hell? Dan Papworth poses this question and answers it in a similar manner to that adopted by Jesus, when responding to the lawyer’s question — “Who is my neighbour?”— with the story of the Good Samaritan.

How can we be good neighbours to the natural world around us, Papworth asks — to the fox and the water vole, the ash tree and the oak, the mayfly, shrew, and mushroom? Answers, among others, lie in the restoration of habitats, the limit­ation of pesticides, oppor­tunities for the rewilding of nature, and the championing of organic solutions.

The Lives Around Us is a collec­tion of 40 meditations, each focus­ing in detail on some element of the natural world (information gleaned from extensive searches on the internet), followed by a quot­ation from scripture and some sugges­tions for contemplation and prayer.

The links with scripture, it has to be said, are sometimes entertain­ingly strained, even obscure: can our relationship to God be like that of the sulphur polypore, a fungus that burrows to the heart wood of a tree? Or are we happy to adopt the shrew-like qualities of Jesus, or become more badger-like?

Many of the author’s meditations, however, make one sit up and think, and then reread the passages. We will not always agree, though much we will enthusiastically affirm. I loved his piece on the meteorite in the Oxford Museum of Natural History, inspired by his own hands-on experience.

Papworth is a spiritual director of the Cheltenham Forest Church, and many comments throughout the book reveal that he does not sit easily with institutional religion. He reflects, for example, that rosebay willowherb thrives, Christlike, on the fringes of society, and he com­ments that “In Britain today there are many who are spiritually alive, and lively, but they will not thrive in the shade cast by the Church.”


The Revd Adam Ford is a former Chaplain of St Paul’s School for Girls.

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