Gaia is coming to Chelmsford

Gaia is a touring artwork by UK artist Luke Jerram. Already it has visited a number of Cathedrals and this October it is the turn of Chelmsford. Measuring six metres in diameter and created from 120dpi detailed NASA imagery of the Earth’s surface, the artwork provides the opportunity to view the planet, floating in three dimensions, and in turn for people to reflect upon its vulnerability.

In Chelmsford we shall have an opportunity to see the earth as astronauts see it from space. For three weeks (12-29 October) it will be suspended some two metres above the nave. It will be quite a show – but hopefully it will also prove for many to be a spiritual experience.

Recently Nicholas Henshall, the Dean of Chelmsford, sent out a letter to the Cathedral community, in which he wrote:

Ecology and environment are fundamentally spiritual issues. Maybe that’s a difficult idea for us, but if anything is going to change, this is fundamental. Lasting change cannot come from the varies of rivalrous politics or from self-interested economic models, which tend just to make the rich richer (and of course the poor poorer).

His letter reminded me of an essay by Ruth Padilla Deborst on ‘planetary gardening’, which was reprinted as an appendix in John Stott on Creation Care by R.J. Berry. ‘Planetary gardening’ speaks of the urgent need for Christians to recognize their place within the creation story in order to live out their creational vocation as responsible caretakers for the planet. She wrote:

In the story of our ‘developed’ society, individual achievement is the aspired to goal and success is measured exclusively in monetary terms. When our self-consuming society feeds off and nurtures selfishness, plunders nature and engenders an unquenchable thirst that urges everyone to compete with everyone else because there is not enough room at the top, God’s communal image is effaced in the race.

She went on to argue that planetary gardening requires a conversion from illusions of growth to the acknowledgement of limits and intentional de-growth:

The issue is that current global capitalism, based as it is on the exploitation of people and of nature, and depending on the production and consumption of more things, is not only unjust and exclusionary but it is also unsustainable. Every year by overfishing and overharvesting forests, we use up the annual available ecological resources and services earlier than the year before and far sooner than nature can regenerate them.

This is radical stuff. But then, I am reminded of a book that came out many years ago, entitled The Upside Down Kingdom, in which Donald Kraybill argued that “social, religious, and economic practices of the dominant culture usually favour the rich, the powerful, and the prestigious. Jesus, on the other hand, favours those who suffer at society’s margins and fall between the cracks.”

What will come of Gaia in Chelmsford, I have no idea. Hopefully it will encourage many to begin to see that caring for creation is actually a Gospel imperative. To quote R.J. Berry in one of his concluding reflections:

When we take seriously the cosmic breadth of Christian hope and our call to live as God’s children now, we find that the scope of our love and of our ethics extends beyond our fellow human creatures to embrace all of God’s creation. Our casual selfishness in how we use the earth’s recourses, in how we treat our global neighbours, and in how we treat creation itself is seen in the light to be an affront to God, an abrogation of our responsibility, and a rejection of our identity as his children in Christ.

Here are words that our leaders in the worlds of politics and business need to reflect upon. ‘Going for growth’ is an ignoble goal, for it benefits first and foremost the rich, and fails to address the needs not just of the poor – but also of our poor earth. Here should be food for thought for Prime Minister Liz Truss!


  1. “Planetary gardening requires a conversion from illusions of growth to the acknowledgement of limits and intentional de-growth”.

    The problem is that as long as advances in medicine and living standards prolong life and decrease the incidence of death from disease, the world’s population will go on growing and there will be greater demand for its resources. “Intentional degrowth”, therefore, is not the answer – unless you can find ways of limiting population growth. Is that what the writer is suggesting? (I gather that the Chinese have now given up their attempt).

    The emphasis should be on fairness of distribution and the search for means of preserving, improving and increasing resources for all nations – a suitable subject for prayer!

  2. You say – ‘Going for growth’ is an ignoble goal, for it benefits first and foremost the rich, and fails to address the needs not just of the poor – but also of our poor earth.’ No true for China & India, where growth has lifted millions out of poverty. The issue is how to get to ‘green growth’ that has a bias towards the poor in western societies and creates a sustainable future in the developing world.

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