Retrofitting the way we think: a Thought For The Day inspired by Hildegard of Bingen.
Autumn is bedding in and hot sunny days are becoming a vague memory.
Next week the clocks go back and summer is officially history.
This Monday would normally mark the annual Festival of Turning The Heating Back On. British Gas says that its 7million customers typically turn on the radiators on October 24th.
But not this year. Not in the worst cost of living crisis in memory. A BBC survey this week found nine in 10 people saving money by delaying putting the heating on.
Maybe that’s why I feel like I’m turning into my father. Layering up with extra jumpers... wandering around in search of lights to turn off and doors to close.
I hear my father asking me if I was born in a barn, a phrase I guess neither of us knew came from a time when everyone had closer ties to the land, when during the day farmers left open the barn doors for pasturing livestock.
The shifting seasons nudge us to remember our roots in nature.
That we all spring from this earth and, eventually, that we autumn and winter back into it.
‘Earth to earth, ashes to ashes’ as the old prayer book goes.
Forgetting our reciprocal relations with the earth helps explains how we’ve ended up with our homes being kept warm by the fossil-fuelled thinking that we now can’t leave behind fast enough.
And being held to ransom by distant dictators.
We live in the between times.
Not sure if we can afford the ticket to a sustainable future… only that we can’t afford not to get there.
Retrofitting is the fancy word for upgrading houses built in the past so they make sense in the future. Insulating Britain… to reduce bills and emissions.
But maybe our entire way of thinking needs a retrofit — economics, politics, religion, the lot.
A different way of thinking which sees how each human life is bound up with every other human life - and with the planet we call home.
To move from an instrumental approach to earth to a relational one.
‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’ as Francis of Assisi put it in the C13th, ‘Sister Water… Brothers Wind and Air… Mother Earth’.
A century before Francis, the German mystic, musician and gardener, Hildegard of Bingen, was on the same page.
‘Humanity,’ she said, ‘Take a good look at yourself. Inside, you’ve got heaven and earth, and all of creation. You’re a world — everything is hidden in you.’
We could do worse than retrofit our thinking with Hildegard’s ideas of ‘greening’, her nine hundred year old hunch about plants transforming the light and warmth of the sun into energy.
‘Gaze at the beauty of the green earth,’ she said, before adding, ‘Now… think.’
From BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day on Saturday October 22nd. Other recent radio thoughts :‘The Renewable Energy of Silence’, ‘How To Be Good Ancestors’, ‘This Bright Sadness’ and ‘I Can’t Speak For The Tree.’
And here’s ‘Julian of Norwich’s Teabag’ a new collection of poems I’ve made with Wild Goose Books.