Sunday, March 30, 2008

lights out

It was earth hour last night, and 24 cities turned off lights and appliances for an hour to reduce climate change.

It's fascinating how many ancient Christian virtues have become trendy again, thanks to environmentalism: self-control (reduce), thrift (re-use), generosity (recycle: where we give old clothes to the poor instead of throwing them away). Although it would be nice if these virtues were practised with a more eternal perspective.

But how odd that turning the lights out has become a moral issue. For this, too, was of concern to Christians half way through last century.

Did you know that Christian moralists were worried about the impact of lights after dark, and constant entertainment, on the spiritual life? Like frogs in water slowly brought to the boil, we have failed to notice how these things affect us, but they were acutely aware of the impact of modernity on the spiritual life.

Here's a satirical poem by Dorothy L. Sayers about the spiritual effects of light after dark:

For an Evening Service

The day that Nature gave is ending,
The hand of Man turns on the light;
We praise thee, Progress, for defending
Our nerves against the dreadful night.

As o'er each continent and island
The switches spread synthetic day,
The noise of mirth is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of toil away.

We thank thee that thy speed incessant
Provides upon this whirling ball
No time to brood on things unpleasant -
No time, in fact, to think at all.

Secure amid the soothing riot
Of crank and sound track, plane and car,
We shall not be condemned to quiet,
Nor left alone with what we are.

By lavish and progressive measures
Our neighbour's wants are all relieved;
We are not called to share his pleasures,
And in his grief we are not grieved.

Thy winged wheels o'erspan the oceans,
Machining out the Standard Man.
Our food, our learning, our emotions
Are processed for us in the can.

All bars of colour, caste and nation
Must yield to movies and the mike;
We need not seek communication,
For thou dost make us all alike.

So be it! let not sleep not slackness
Impede thy Progress, Light sublime;
Nor ever let us glimpse the blackness
That yawns behind the gates of Time.
So here's an idea: let's start a Christian earth hour. Let's turn off the lights and the television, and spend some time praying and meditating on death and eternity.


The poem is from Dorothy L. Sayers The Whimsical Christian pp.6-7.

No comments: