Worshipping the Artist – Francis, Creation and the Tau/Tao

Just in time for St. Francis Day – Oct 4

Almost eight centuries after he was born, Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) was named as Patron Saint of Ecology by Pope John Paul II in 1979. The message of the ragamuffin monk in his patched brown habit who talked to the animals, and embraced Lady Poverty has persisted through the centuries against all odds. Francis is respected, if not revered, across several world religions, and is even called a Celtic Saint on some lists – Italy’s first chance to be a Celtic country! What is it that’s so compelling about Il Poverello, the Little Poor One?tau

Well, for one thing he liked to praise the Artist, God, through the work of art, which is Creation. How cool is that! No wonder his ‘coolness’ or with-it-ness survived over eight centuries. Basically Francis felt that nature was transparent to the Divine, that nature is the first book of revelation, through which we see the beauty and goodness of the Creator. This strikes a chord with both a modern ecological desire to highlight the sacredness of nature, as well as fitting in with how many aboriginal people understand God and nature. The Creator is to be revered and all that the Creator has made is to be appreciated, respected and protected.

These links between Franciscan spirituality, ecology and Creation spirituality are not new, although they do merit our ongoing reflection. But here’s what struck me as new last year when I had the privilege of visiting Assisi. Not surprisingly such a popular saint draws in the crowds and the tourist dollars, so the gift shop at St. Francis Basilica was a busy place. Among the items for sale are simple string necklaces with T shaped crosses known as the Tau (see image at top of article). This Tau is the 19th letter of the Greek alphabet, and was used as a Christian cross by some of the early desert fathers in Christianity; and also has some Old Testament or Hebrew Bible references as the mark on the foreheads of those to be spared in Ezekial 9:4, and also it can be an image of Moses with outstretched arms, parting the Red Sea. Francis favored this form of the cross and it is recognized as the Franciscan Cross among other things.

September 2013 in Assisi, I found myself marveling at the similarity between the word Tau and the word Tao, meaning The Way in Taoism. Jesus’ early followers were also known as followers of The Way. The main original Taoist text, the Tao Te Ching (c. 6th century BC) begins with a mysterious humility and caution to look beyond what seems big in the world. Here are some early verses that remind me of the Franciscan way: “The whole world recognizes the beautiful as the beautiful, yet this is only the ugly; the whole world recognizes the good as the good, yet this is only the bad.” (v.4) and “The way [Tao] is empty, yet use will not drain it.” (v.11) and “Highest good is water. Because water excels in benefiting the myriad creatures without contending with them and settles where none would like to be, it comes close to the way.” (v.20) (1963 Penguin translation by D.C. Lau). Water is an important symbol in Taoism because it flows to the lowest places, seemingly without force – action-less action which Taoists call Wu Wei, and yet water can be extremely powerful like hydro-electric power, and destructive as well, like tsunamis. Soft, pliable Sister Water, as Francis called it (Canticle to Brother Sun), can cut through hard rock leaving behind straight crevices as if an incredibly powerful cosmic knife had come through, but no, it was just water! In places with powerful waterfalls, tourists are constantly reminded to keep a safe distance, and yet people regularly get too close and are swept away.

This is only a small sampling of the similarities I’ve found between Franciscan spirituality and Taoist philosophy. Certainly both Francis and Taoism counseled a simple life, close to nature, and as unfettered as possible by material concerns – a life of ‘live and let live’. The Tau and the Tao have much in common – the path of Francis was in many ways the epitome of Wu Wei – so much to be explored in this realm. Meanwhile we can rejoice in yet another peaceful link amongst world religions, so badly needed in our times, given the horrendously volatile and seemingly endless, overtly religious conflicts in the Middle East.

“Happy those who endure in peace” wrote Francis in his Canticle … may it be so in our times and in our children’s children’s time. For the Creator so loves the world that all God’s creatures are implored to treat each other with dignity, respect and love. May all the earth have comfort and peace; may evil fail and good prevail, Amen.

Rev. Dr. Adela D. Torchia
Parish of St David and St Paul 6310 Sycamore Street Powell River, British Columbia
This is the second of two articles connecting with the Season of Creation 2014


Need, not Greed – Gandhian ethics, ecology & inter-religious dialogue

Special to the ACEN – Connection with the birth of Mahatmas Gandhi, Oct 2

This is the first of two articles connecting with the Season of Creation 2014
In spite of his Beloved Bapu stature, Mohandas K. Gandhi could be a cranky old coot. Certainly his friend, the Nobel Prize-winning Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, experienced this when he tried to get by without a daily hour or more at the spinning wheel – Gandhi would not hear of such an exception to his ideal that spinning cotton every day is something everyone in the India of his time should do. In fact, the more public the figure, the more Gandhi tried to impose this duty.

Why was the spinning of homespun cotton or khadi so important to Gandhi? While a full answer is complex, this 1927 khadi spirit quote helps us see both that, and its ecological implications:

If we have the khadi spirit in us we should serve ourselves with simplicity in every walk of life. … Khadi spirit means fellow-feeling with every living being on earth. It means the complete renunciation of everything that is likely to harm our fellow creatures … (Gandhi’s Collected Works 34:520)

So this khadi spirit is a “fellow-feeling with every living being on earth” – Gandhi captures here the essence of the interconnectedness that calls us towards lives of greater compassion. Although Gandhi was born 145 years ago and never used the term ecology, much of his ethics of economics ends up being relevant to today’s ecological concerns. His idea that “Earth provides enough for everyone’s need, not everyone’s greed” is particularly apropos to a world in which about 20% of earth’s population uses 86% of earth’s resources.

Such statistics can sound depressing to the modern mind, supposedly calling for a life of renunciation of all kinds of pleasures. Most world religions used to also counsel some level of asceticism as a necessary physical counterpart to a good spiritual life. But asceticism became unfashionable by the late 20th century, and was seen as life-negating. How can we help promote a new asceticism that is life-embracing, that calls us to the athlete’s ideal of ‘no pain, no gain’ – a positive view of sacrifice as foregoing something good for the sake of something better?

All major world religions have taught about the dangers of materialism, especially its detrimental effect on the spiritual life. In 1986 the World Wildlife Fund sponsored a gathering of global religious leaders interested in the common religious concern to celebrate the sacredness of nature. This meeting produced the Assisi Declarations including statements from Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism – all agreeing that nature is a gift to be honored and respected, and that a human attitude of rapacious greed towards nature is not only morally sinful but a threat to all living beings and the earth itself.

So at least on this subject these religions are finding some important common ground. New doors to greater inter-religious dialogue have been opened and hopefully their unity in this area might lead to greater unity in areas of conflict and strife. Sometimes warring parties can set aside their differences because of a common cause. While the roots of conflict in places like the Middle East go deep, one could dream about a time like that cited in the last chapter of the Bible:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life … on either side of the river is the tree of life … producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. (Rev 22:1-3)

What will it take to bring us to that point – to a world of rivers bringing the water of life to all – life, not death! And a world where there’s enough food for everyone’s need as the trees of life produce fruit. And those leaves of the trees for the healing of the nations – what could that mean? We pray and long for a healing of the nations, and it’s significant that the last chapter of the Bible tells us that the leaves of trees will play a part in that. Just as in the first chapter of the Bible when God says: See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. (Gen 1:29) – human beings are called upon to cherish and protect the earth which God made to nurture all its creatures. The first two Millennium Development Goals set out by the UN in 2000 were: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, and achieve universal primary education; and while we’ll likely miss the 2015 original target for their achievement, compassion calls for their ongoing pursuit.

Consciously moving away from so many forces of greed in our culture, may we grow in our awareness of all our interconnections so that our compassion reaches around all of God’s earth, to all God’s creatures.

Rev. Dr. Adela D. Torchia
Parish of St David and St Paul 6310 Sycamore Street Powell River, British Columbia

Church of Bangladesh takes further action on climate change after Alliance advocacy webinar

15 July 2014

From the Anglican Alliance website at http://www.anglicanalliance.org/

Participants from Bangladesh, who took part in the Anglican Alliance’s recent advocacy webinar, later met to discuss how their church might take forward advocacy on climate change for the most vulnerable.

A group of priests, development practitioners and church leaders from Bangladesh who took part in the Anglican Alliance’s advocacy webinar in June 2014 were so excited by the discussion that they then met to take forward the insights that were shared.

With the Church of Bangladesh’s critical action on climate change, the group discussed a number of areas where advocacy would help take action on climate change.

Key areas highlighted for advocacy included:

  • Fulfillment of financial commitments by developed countries
  • Stronger monitoring systems for the effective use of climate adaptation and mitigation funds
  • Significance given to community based adaptation
  • Funding allocations to be the same for adaptation and mitigation
  • A focus on issues related to climate change, such as food security.
  • Women, children and the most vulnerable should be considered as a priority in climate justice.
  • Anglican eco-bishops* should have strategic lead roles in climate change advocacy.

The participants proposed that the Church of Bangladesh should take more action on climate change and related issues.

One climate prone area in the country may be chosen to initiate a pilot programme, which will seek more effective interventions to address the effects of climate change.

A community based adaptation approach (CBA) would be taken, and learning from the pilot would be shared, firstly to other areas of Bangladesh and then through the Anglican Alliance family of churches across the Anglican Communion.

The moderator Bishop of the Anglican Church of Bangladesh, the Most. Rev. Paul Sarker is keenly aware of the need to respond to the effects of climate change. Archbishop Sarker is a member of the Eco-Bishops’ Initiative, a project initiated by the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, which connects bishops to take action for the environment.


KEEP THE EARTH – Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management Annual Awards

CIWEM’s Annual Dinner celebrates and rewards environmental excellence, addresses the challenges ahead, and supports the next generation of water and environmental professionals.

“We are participants in a web of life, responsible as stewards ‘to till and keep the earth’ – to develop and husband its resources for all the people of the world and also other life forms. Instead of the self serving way of being which has scarred the earth and polluted the waters, we need a greater awareness and a genuine enlightenment that happiness does not come from accumulating more and more but in sharing ‘enough’ with our neighbour.”

This was the powerful message given by The Bishop of London, The Right Reverend and Right Honourable Dr. Richard Chartres, at the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management’s (CIWEM) Annual Dinner, delivered to the 300 strong audience of politicians, senior environmental professionals, environmental artists, consultants and contractors and regulators on 29th May, 2013 at the Draper’s Hall in the historic city area of London.  Hosted by CIWEM President, Paul Hillman, and kindly supported by AECOM, Mott MacDonald, Jackson Hyder, HWH & Associates and Grontmij, this is the premier social event to celebrate excellence in the water and environment sector.

Guests responded to the call to support the next generation of professionals by donating nearly £3,000 for CIWEM’s youth water prize, Tomorrow’s Water.  Tomorrow’s Water is the Institution’s charitable initiative aimed at improving environmental education in schools.  It provides an opportunity for young people to develop practical and innovative projects aimed at solving water-related and environmental problems for the public benefit.


CIWEM’s prestigious environmental awards were bestowed on the evening to those who have demonstrated innovation and excellence in their work. The 2013 winners were presented with their awards by the CIWEM President and The Bishop of London.  The awards were: 

The AWEinspiring! (Art, Water & Environment) Award, given in association with the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World was awarded to Platform, a London-based, innovative arts collective.

The Living Wetlands Award went to Upstream Thinking, South West Water’s innovative initiative that has helped restore thousands of acres of wetlands. 

The CIWEM Young Members Award, sponsored by Jacobs, was awarded to Pippa Lawton, Senior Scientist and Project Manager with Royal HaskoningDHV.

The Outstanding Water and Environmental Journal Paper went to Mike Gardner of Atkins, for his paper, Improving the interpretation of ‘less than’ values in environmental monitoring. 

The Outstanding Journal of Flood Risk Management Paper was received by Anthony Hurford of HR Wallingford, for Validating the return period of rainfall thresholds used for Extreme Rainfall Alerts by linking rainfall intensities with observed surface water flood events.            

CIWEM’s Executive Director, Nick Reeves, OBE said:

“The Bishop of London’s message lies at the heart of the quest for a sustainable and resilient future and should inform our thinking about the way we live, work and conduct our business day-to-day.  It fits well with CIWEM’s public-benefit ethos and the values of our members.”   


With Love for God, and Concern about Fracking:An appeal to engage in local discussion around Hydraulic Fracturing in many parts of the Anglican Communion.

With Love for God, and Concern about Fracking:An appeal to engage in local discussion around Hydraulic Fracturing in many parts of the Anglican Communion.


Through a personal appeal grounded in local experience Dr. Jeff Golliher, Program Director for the Environment and Sustainable Communities, Anglican United Nations Office, New York, NY and an advisor to the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, provides not only information about fracking but a strategy for engagement.

He highlights the challenges facing any faith-based researched: How do we know who is telling the truth? What are the implications for healthy communities, for the land and for groundwater? What is “clean energy?” Who will benefit, and who will suffer years after the technology has been employed? How does one respond to the claim that “it’s jobs versus the environment?” “Is Fracking safe?”

Dr. Golliher offers here not an official church statement, but a way to engage with local stakeholders through respectful dialogue, a process he has participated in personally in New York State with some success. He brings a Christian faith-based perspective to a technical and scientific conversation.

He concludes: “If fracking is practiced where you live, my suggestion is to familiarize yourself with the materials provided here, contact local groups that have probably formed, and discuss the issue with your bishop.”

Dr. Golliher’s letter is published on the GREEN ANGLICANS blog at https://carbonfast2013.wordpress.com/ and on the webpages of the Anglican Communion Environmental network at http://acen.anglicancommunion.org/


TEXT – May 13, 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I’m writing with love for God, great concern about our environment, and about an increasingly troubling subject — a method of drilling for natural gas called hydraulic fracturing, or more simply “fracking.”  This has been a contentious practice in many parts of the Anglican Communion (especially the United States, Canada, South Africa, and parts of Europe) for several years, and the concern is spreading more widely, which is one of the reasons that I’m bringing it to your attention now.

Fracking involves deep vertical and then horizontal drilling in order to extract natural gas.  Drilling can extend for distances measured not in feet/meters, but miles/kilometers.  It requires millions of gallons/liters of water per well, mixed with chemicals that are known to be toxic, despite the fact that they might not be revealed.  For the most part, the controversy involves the consequences of this drilling method:  the risk of contaminating drinking water and the impact on climate change (fracking wells can release methane, a greenhouse gas much worse than carbon dioxide).  Issues of local rights and community decision-making also come into play — in the United States, the fracking industry was given an unwarranted exemption from environmental standards set years ago by the Clean and Clean Water Acts.  In addition, how this issue is portrayed and explained can vary a great deal from one country to the next, which can complicate understanding.  Obviously the fracking industry has their own agenda and they use the media, some elements of government, and, in some cases, universities to get their message out.  In the United States, a number of university programs were closed, once it was realized that their studies of fracking were secretly supported by the industry.  My point is that it’s not very easy to know what anyone is actually talking about or how reliable the information is.

I also need to explain the capacity in which I am writing.  In addition to working with the Anglican Communion Environmental network (ACEN) I’m the Program Director for the Environment and Sustainable Communities at the Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations.  Our mandate is to educate and organize around issues primarily on the basis of Resolutions passed by the Anglican Consultative Council, but also in connection with official statements made by individual Provinces, ACC Networks, and/or other Anglican organizations.  Given that fracking is a relatively specialized form of technology, there are no existing ACC Resolutions that specifically mention it, nor are there likely to be in the future.  In this instance, I’m responding to several members of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network who have raised questions and concerns about fracking and asked me to share my views.

I’m also a parish priest in the Episcopal Church USA, in the Diocese of New York.  In that capacity, I’ve been deeply involved with local and regional anti-fracking campaigns, and I’ve worked diligently to ensure a ban on fracking in my hometown.  Without hiding or playing down my point of view, my purpose is to encourage you to discover for yourselves what the facts are (which may not be easy) wherever you live.  In fact, that’s exactly what I encouraged local town officials to do where I live.  The majority of those elected officials had been inclined to favor fracking — until they investigated the matter on their own.

In most areas, fracking represents a “boom or bust” economic expansion – quick profits for a few, with little concern for the long-term impact.  Communities often jump at the promise of large financial returns without examining the environmental and social costs.  In places where public debate has actually taken place, the controversy has generally turned on this essential question:  Is fracking safe?  Pro-fracking advocates (including the industry) argue, as you can imagine, that the drilling technology is safe for groundwater and public health, and that it poses no threat whatsoever.  Their point of view suggests an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality – whatever happens deep underground could not possibly affect life on the surface.  Independent studies have shown otherwise.  In fact, some scientific studies in North America link earthquake activity to the impact of fracking.  For all these reasons, concerned citizens in over 130 local municipalities of my home State (New York) have either banned or declared moratoria on fracking (temporarily halting the practice until further study is done) through democratic processes.  In other words, local communities have taken action by educating themselves, organizing themselves politically, and sometimes challenging the industry in courts of law.

Pro-fracking constituencies also say that because the burning of natural gas (and gas drilling) is relatively clean (it emits much less carbon dioxide than coal or oil), it offers an important transitional step toward renewable energy.  This can be a persuasive argument, and there is some truth to it.  For example, let’s imagine the thoughts of someone living in a region of the world, like the Pacific Islands, who feels the impact of sea level rise as a result of fossil fuel use in North America.  That person would reasonably wonder why anyone in the United States would want to ban a new, apparently “cleaner” technology – especially since people in the Pacific are not so dependent on fossil fuels, but are suffering the consequences of them anyway?  The answer has several parts:  First, the issue is not the fuel (natural gas, which is much cleaner than petroleum), but the consequences of a specific method for extracting it.  Second, governments and energy industries should be pursuing genuinely renewable energy, rather than taking half-way measures.  Third, the technology of fracking could do much more harm (to drinking water) than good, and it could make climate change worse (as a result of methane emissions).  Fourth, do we really want to put ourselves in a position of trading one kind of hazard/risk for another – telling ourselves that we’re willing to risk public health and possible groundwater contamination for the sake of a halfway measure that “might” alleviate only a portion of climate change?  That’s just one example of the difficulty in discerning the difference between fact and fiction in this issue.

With regard to the question, “Is fracking safe?” or “Can it possibly be safe?” with better technology and regulations, the answer is very controversial.  Many anti-fracking activists would say no – that it will never be safe.  I’m reluctant to say “never.”  If scientific studies, someday, find that new drilling methods of this kind are safe, then I would want real proof.  But if that proof exists, then I would probably favor it, for the sake of climate change, water, and public health – that is to say, for the sake of the future and God’s green earth.

Finally, I’ve included some web links below with information from other parts of the Anglican Communion that you can examine for yourselves.

Argentina: Observatorio Petrolero Sur, http://www.opsur.org.ar/blog/

South Africa: www.treasurethekaroo.ca.za

England: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/18/fracking-communities-incentives-minister



If fracking is practiced where you live, my suggestion is to familiarize yourself with the materials provided here, contact local groups that have probably formed, and discuss the issue with your bishop.  And you can always contact me at the Anglican UN Office with any questions or concerns that you might have.

Faithfully yours,

The Rev. Canon Jeff Golliher, PhD. Program Director for the Environment and Sustainable Communities, Anglican United Nations Office, New York, NY


The above is © Jeffrey M. Golliher and the Anglican Consultative Council of the Anglican Communion


Dear friends

Greetings from Western Canada, and as we move towards Pentecofrackingst Sunday, may the Holy Spirit be with you all in your various circumstances and local environments.

I seek your input please.

Part of our ACEN mandate is to support and encourage local actions around environmental concern in provinces throughout the communion.  In many provinces the issue of fracking, that is a method of drilling for and extracting natural gas called hydraulic fracturing is emerging as a priority concern. People are asking for information about the technology and seek suggestions for appropriate response.

In a few days time I will share a template for local action which I know will interest many of you. First however, I need your help to identify local faith-based initiatives from all over the communion.

I was recently impressed by the approach of Christians in Ireland. Others will engage, research and advocate in different ways in places.

Please send me your stories by Tuesday, May 7, local time. 

Many thanks, Ken Gray+   ACEN Secretary   rector@colwoodanglican.ca

Sample links include








Water: the Creator’s sacred gift

May 1, 2013–This article originally appeared in the Ministry Report, an Anglican Journal supplement produced by the Resources for Mission department of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Read online at http://news.anglican.ca/news/stories/2592?utm_source=Anglican+Church+of+Canada&utm_campaign=636cc0310b-email&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6285aca377-636cc0310b-243828149

For most of us, a safe water supply is as Canadian as medicare and the cultural mosaic. But for many indigenous people, clean water is a far cry from reality.

Across Canada, however, Anglicans are beginning to address this issue through anWaterBlessing initiative loosely formed by Bishop Mark MacDonald, national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada. MacDonald became aware of an uptick in church interest in 2011 when he raised the water question as keynote speaker at the diocese of Toronto’s annual social justice conference.

“There seemed to be little or no church concern about the water issue, and then all of a sudden, dozens of churches across Canada were interested in advocacy work in clean water for First Nations communities,” says MacDonald, who refers to his role as that of a facilitator.

“Some people just wanted to write a cheque, while others wanted to meet and talk and pray about it,” he recalls.

Now the “water group” meets every couple of months at Trinity Church in Aurora, north of Toronto, in sessions that typically attract about 20 people.

“Right now it’s mainly a spiritual movement, but in a couple of years it may become more of an institution,” he says. “We’re picking up people quickly, and a group is forming in Toronto to help the remote northern Ontario community of Pikangikum with water and other issues.”

The advocates’ ultimate aim is to get the federal government to live up to its legal obligations and spend the estimated $12 billion needed for the infrastructure improvements that will guarantee clean water to indigenous communities. “They refuse to do it,” MacDonald says. “It’s a political hot potato; they don’t want to pick it  up and get stuck with it. But it’s not going to go away.”

The Mennonite Church in Canada has been organizing to put pressure on the government, and the water network is now in conversation with the Assembly of First Nations about the best approach to take with the government.

In the meantime, the group is working on bridge solutions to improve access to clean water or replace broken delivery systems.

The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) and other organizations such as trade unions have become involved in this galvanizing issue. PWRDF, for example, is reviewing a plan to raise $100,000 for the Pikangikum Working Group over the spring and summer months. If the proposal is approved, PWRDF will be able to accept designated donations for it.

Sometimes the health problem in First Nations communities lies in a polluted water source; sometimes the water pipes are contaminated. A pilot project involving a couple of churches in the network has raised more than $10,000 so far for interim measures to improve water quality. These might include hiring trucks to deliver clean water, digging wells, and providing clean containers for carrying water, filtering devices for tap water or portable purification kits. “It’s going better than we ever anticipated, and there has been an amazing amount of  interest in Vancouver and Victoria as part of the network,” MacDonald says.

Gaining momentum, the group may soon officially assume the name Pimatisiwin Nipi (Oji-Cree for “living water”), and it will likely hold a national meeting at some point. “But for now, it’s a community of spiritual concern that stays together in conversation,” says MacDonald.

(Above Photo: The Rev. Andrew Wesley makes an offering to Lake Ontario in an adaptation of the Eastern Orthodox Church’s Great Blessing of the Water.)