Mention St David’s Day to someone of my generation and there is a rush of nostalgia with memories of going to school dressed in Welsh costume. We would have a concert in the morning and a half-day holiday in the afternoon. And as I remember, it never rained. I don’t think l had any idea then of St David as a real person. l got a much stronger sense of the man and the kind of life he lived when many years later l had to do some research for a children’s publication based on paintings by Pembrokeshire artist Brett Breckon.
Possibly because Brett himself is inspired by the wild landscapes of the St Davids Peninsula l got the sense of a man very much in tune with the natural world, an impression which is not at odds with what is known of our patron saint.
Many of the stories about him come from the eleventh-century writer Rhygyfarch, such as his sudden elevation at an important church meeting in Llanddewi Brewi when the ground rose up under him so that the congregation could see and hear him more clearly. Not all of Rhygyfarch’s claims for Dewi sound completely plausible and some may have been inspired by a desire to enhance the status of the Welsh church!
A more convincing impression of Dewi’s character comes from is said of his simple lifestyle – he ate no meat, only bread, salt and vegetables, and he drank only water. His monastic rule specified that monks had to pull the plough themselves rather use farm animals to do the work for them. Whether that was from a profound respect for all of God’s creation or from a desire for humility, there is an intriguing parallel with the practices of some of today’s animal rights campaigners.
Dewi’s praise for a simple lifestyle might have been less radical in the sixth century than it is today when fifteen hundred years of progress have created a lifestyle for ourselves which our forefathers could barely imagine.
But for every mark of progress there is a cost. From the ferocious storms we have experienced in the last few weeks, to the Australian wildfires, the extremes of some of our recent weather have begun to convince even the most hardened climate-change sceptics that this is the result of human activity on the earth’s ecology.
Revd Marcus Zipperlen is the cleric responsible for informing our diocese about creation care and sustainability. He recently put a collection of resources on the St David’s website, which ties in very neatly with the example Dewi Sant set for his community. Some of Dewi’s last words are said to have been: Brodyr a chwiorydd, byddwch lawen, cedwch eich ffydd a’ch cred a gwnewch y pethau bychain a glywsoch ac a welsoch gennyf fi.
Saint David wanted his people to be joyful and faithful to their Christian faith. More than that he wanted them to do those things which they had learned from him which would show their faith in action. Do the little things, y pethau bychain, he said, you heard and saw with me.
Dewi Sant’s simple self-denying lifestyle would have been made up of those ‘little things’, the things we can all do to make a difference to the well-being of others and the welfare of the planet. If we want to follow his example we might think about adopting some of the practical suggestions made by Revd Marcus Zipperlen for the season of for Lent. Fasting, he notes, is a traditional Christian practice which is good for both body and soul (but only if you are fit and healthy). There are different kinds of fasts: people in the Orthodox Church go without meat or animal produce on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year and every day during Lent. This finds an echo in the practice of more and more people who are committed to a vegan lifestyle for ecological reasons.
Another kind of fast is the Planetary Health diet, which has been designed by scientists so that we can make food choices which have a lower impact on the health of the planet. https://eatforum.org/learn-and-discover/the-planetary-health-diet/ Another possibility is a carbon fast. This means deciding to use the car as little as possible and thinking carefully before making non-essential journeys. It could also mean offering lifts or even using the bus where this is an option.*
Whilst all these suggestions are to do with what we can give up, there are positive things that we take up to help our planet. A fortnight ago it was Creation Sunday when the focus of the readings was on God as creator of the universe. What are the little things we might do in or out of church to celebrate God’s creation?
Hymns, prayers and sermons are all vehicles for celebrating the wonder of the world around us and giving thanks to God for its beauty. But it would be hypocritical, I think, to sing and say things with our lips that we do not carry over into our lives and the lives of our community. Do the little things . . .
Many churches, and Llansadwrn is an excellent example, have made progress in developing wild-flower areas and conservation spaces within their churchyards, and making it a place that is attractive not just to wild species but also for our neighbours and community.
I love God’s Acre as an alternative name for the churchyard. There is an organisation called Caring for God’s Acre which encourages us to do all that we can to make it a welcoming environment by leaving some areas unmown, by providing benches or even picnic spaces, by putting up bird and bat boxes, and by setting up bird feeders in suitable places.
The outside space offers a wonderful opportunity for promoting contemplation. For some the beauty of the natural environment is one of the greatest theological arguments, offering a spiritual experience to bring us closer to God. God is present everywhere and is certainly not confined within the walls of churches.
And if we needed any biblical justification, the Bible is full of references to the natural world. Consider the lilies of the field, says Jesus. Far more glorious are they than all the pomp and finery human beings can devise.
If we love God, we should honour his creation by protecting it for future generations and by sharing its beauty with our neighbours by inviting them in to enjoy it with us. Dewi Sant would approve, I am certain. Do the little things. Gwnewch y pethau bychain a glywsoch ac a welsoch gennyf fi.
*This sermon was written when there were no Coronavirus restrictions. A carbon fast has become a necessity rather than a choice in the light of recent