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MONASTERY ANTOINETTE

Initially, the central part of Monastery Antoinette was a castle inhabited by the Count of Levignan in 1786. The building was expanded in 1904 and transformed into a monastery. It was used by French Carmelites as a priory (second home of the monastic order) until 1927. From 1927 they were succeeded by Benedictine monks. During the Second World War, the building was occupied by the Germans. After the war, nuns took up residence there. When they merged with the Sisters of Saint Augustine in 1969, the priory became a nursing home.

The last residents left in 2008. Since then the building has been empty, at the mercy of the elements. The decline started soon afterwards. Due to increasing vandalism, a mere shadow remains of the splendor the priory once knew. The central court remains something to be seen though. Especially in autumn, when the leaves of the parthenocissus (Virginia Creeper) turn to a beautiful, deep red…

How will the legend of the age of trees
Feel, when the last tree falls in England?
When the concrete spreads and the town conquers
The country’s heart; when contraceptive
Tarmac’s laid where farm has faded,
Tramline flows where slept a hamlet,
And shop-fronts, blazing without a stop from
Dover to Wrath, have glazed us over?
Simplest tales will then bewilder
The questioning children, “What was a chestnut?
Say what it means to climb a Beanstalk,
Tell me, grandfather, what an elm is.
What was Autumn? They never taught us.”
Then, told by teachers how once from mould
Came growing creatures of lower nature
Able to live and die, though neither
Beast nor man, and around them wreathing
Excellent clothing, breathing sunlight—
Half understanding, their ill-acquainted
Fancy will tint their wonder-paintings
Trees as men walking, wood-romances
Of goblins stalking in silky green,
Of milk-sheen froth upon the lace of hawthorn’s
Collar, pallor in the face of birchgirl.
So shall a homeless time, though dimly
Catch from afar (for soul is watchfull)
A sight of tree-delighted Eden.

- C.S. Lewis, The Future of Forestry

In his poem “The Future of Forestry,” C. S. Lewis outlines his poetic lamentation over the erosion of the environment.

C.S. Lewis recognises that the destruction of nature is very much an urgent matter. His attitude towards the environment would also be reflected in themes throughout his Chronicles of Narnia series, where being a defender of the forest is an indicator of a character being on Aslan’s side.

How did C.S. Lewis come to this view of the importance of Christians looking after God’s creation rather than dominating it. How did Lewis get so green?

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The answer lies in the destruction and decimation of World War One. For C.S. Lewis and his friend, JRR Tolkein, World War One produced, in essence, an environmental holocaust.

This aspect of the conflict left a deep impression on both Christian authors and Oxford dons. Having personally experienced the awful prodigy of modern industry and technology - both men fought bravely in the trenches in France - they enlisted nature itself as a protagonist in their epic stories of good vs. evil.

Even before the war, Tolkien and Lewis had come to resent the encroachment of industrial life into rural England. Tolkien lamented “the tragedy and despair of all machinery laid bare,” meaning the modern attempt to enhance our control over the world around us, regardless of the consequences.

In “The Lord of the Rings,” Saruman the wizard “has a mind for metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment.” The hateful realm of Mordor is sustained by its black engines and factories.

Likewise, Lewis viewed respect for nature as intrinsic to human happiness. In “The Chronicles of Narnia,” his series of books for children, the various animals play a central role in the story. The smallest of creatures – such as a mouse named Reepicheep – display the greatest of human virtues. As biographer Alister McGrath observes: “Lewis’ portrayal of animal characters in Narnia is partly a protest against shallow assertions of humanity’s right to do what it pleases with nature.”

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The experience of war deepened this sensibility.

Both men enlisted as officers in the British Expeditionary Force and saw intense fighting at the front.  Lewis was injured by mortar fire - the shell killed his sergeant standing a few yards away - and was shipped back to England to recover. “My memories of the last war,” he wrote, “haunted my dreams for years.” Tolkien survived the ferocious Battle of the Somme, but contracted trench fever and was taken out of harm’s way. In the horror of the Somme he was given a vision of Mordor: the “dead grasses and rotting weeds” and “a land defiled, diseased beyond healing.” As Tolkien acknowledged years later, the Dead Marshes “owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme.”

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The two great authors met at Oxford in 1926, where they discovered a mutual love for mythology and English literature. Tolkien, a devoted Catholic, helped convert Lewis to Christianity. Lewis persuaded Tolkien to pursue his story about hobbits and Middle-earth.

Their influence on each other’s literary imagination was subtle, yet profound. In the climactic scenes in both of their epic works - stories framed by a great war - nature itself is caught up in the conflict.In Lewis’ “Prince Caspian,” the character Trufflehunter explains to Caspian that it will be difficult to wake the spirits of the trees in the battle against Miraz, the unlawful King of Narnia. “We have no power over them. Since the Humans came into the land, felling forests and defiling streams, the Dryads and Naiads have sunk into deep sleep.” Yet the war cannot be won without their help, and Aslan, the great Lion, summons them to join the battle: the “woods on the move.”

Tolkien’s humanoid trees, the Ents, are among the most memorable figures in fantasy. Led by Treebeard, the oldest living creature in Middle-earth, the Ents were created as guardians of the forest. Earlier wars had decimated the land, forcing the Ents to confine themselves to Fangorn Forest, where they hoped to avoid the War of the Ring. But Sauron’s advance compels them to abandon their moral neutrality. “A thing is about to happen which has not happened since the Elder Days,” explains Gandalf. “The Ents are going to wake up and find that they are strong.”

At the start of the 20th century, when Tolkien and Lewis began their Oxford careers, enthusiasm over “the conquest of nature” was at a fever pitch in the industrialized West. The fever raged with horrific fury during the Great War.

In the Christian imagination of these authors, the assault on nature carried spiritual significance: Man’s sins against nature will not go unpunished, and nature will take its revenge.

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Contemporary Christians have always had an ambivalent if not hostile attitude to tackling environmental issues such as climate change, carbon emissions or other green issues like clean air and drinking water. This is particularly so in America where scientific illiteracy as well as a distrust in science in general is a particular feature of some Christian churches, especially amongst the so-called white evangelical churches. Science has become a punching bag in the so called Culture Wars in the US between left and right when it shouldn’t be. Thankfully this attitude is only prevalent in America and generally not shared by many church denominations and movements outside of America, especially in Europe, Africa and Asia.

A biblical worldview means accepting the fact that the earth is loved by God and humans have a responsibility to care for it. We have a responsibility to not strip the land of vegetation and to allow the earth to have what it needs to be fertile and productive. That’s not liberal environmentalism, that’s Bible. If man-made climate change is true (and it is), Christians ought to be the most outspoken and supportive of change, because they believe that God has tasked us all with caring for this planet in such a way that it thrives.

Such Christians recognise the need to be good stewards of God’s creation, especially nature. In this Lewis and Tolkein provided an early and important voice to ecological good stewardship and best illustrate the aesthetic intensity of Christian green and environmental consciousness and ultimately a call to action.

**C.S. Lewis looking out from his college rooms, Magdalen College, Oxford. Photo by Arthur Strong, 1947.

I do not know what I seem to the world, but to myself I appear to have been like a boy playing upon the seashore and diverting myself by now and then finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay before me all undiscovered.

—-

Sir Isaac Newton PRS  1642–1727

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Graphic - Bang Sangho  

Sunday Mass For One

I often dream of desecrating a church.

That’s a bad thing to dream of, yes, at least according to most people, but I can’t help it. I don’t want to help it, either.

Sitting completely still during Sunday gospel, bored out of my mind, I let my thoughts wander as our pastor babbles about this and that, speaking of homosexuality and independent women as if it were a bad thing. All he says goes through one ear and leaves the other as I indulge myself, delving deeper into my rage-fueled fantasies.

The pictures my mind paints are so vivid, tangible even. It makes me want to break something all the more.

I’ll settle for this, though.

In the middle of the night, I shall break into the church. Dressed in white, the picture of divinity, armed with stones and a stolen kitchen knife.

A lamb, a doll, a mere girl in the eyes of god, come to desecrate his temple.

My entrance shall be violent.

A smashed window shall mark it, the stained-glass crafting my walkway, a colourful carpet by me and for me. My Sunday shoes crush it into infinitesimal pieces, the usual pitter-patter of my shoes now a powerful crunch.

Immediately, I head for the tabernacle. My target. Golden, it’s doors adorned with the cross with grapevines as it’s backdrop. It’s ornate and garishly so, though perhaps that’s my own disdain speaking. That doesn’t matter, though. Not when I take my knife to it, scraping and tarnishing the soft metal. The noise it creates is grating and yet it fills me with catharsis.

Oh, how I’ve longed to do this.

Stepping back, I admire my work. The cross bears scratch marks, my scratch marks. It pales in comparison to what this church has done to me, but I’m not finished. Not yet.

Taking it from it’s place on the altar and onto the floor, I kick it open, the soft metal eventually bending to me and my rage.

I pry it open and gorge myself on the body of Christ, shoveling handfuls into my mouth, desperate, ravenous. The bread crackles as I gnaw on it, the sound crisp, echoing through the room. I like to think I am breaking the bones of god as he has broken me so many times before.

Uncorking the bottle containing his blood, I gulp it down, not bothering with the chalice. I refuse to be graceful in my revenge. Most of the wine misses my mouth, dribbling down my neck and pooling into the previously white fabric of my dress. It is tainted. I am tainted. Coughing and sputtering, the act of consuming him pains me.

It burns my throat.

Is this hell?

No, it is holiness.

I shall be a saint.

I look like a murderer. Maybe I am one. Maybe I am responsible for the death of a little girl, responsible for sending her soul to hell, crushing her belief. My death.  My soul.  My belief.

No, I say. She is not dead. Merely transformed.

But still, I have murdered and maimed.

Behold, I have killed god.

Watch me now as I desecrate his corpse along with his church.

Sweet sanctification, a Sunday mass for one.