BBC Radio 4:Canon Angela Tilby - 02/11/2017


Good morning. With some 10 million other viewers this week I watched David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 – about the world’s oceans and their teeming life. I find these programmes mesmeric; the visual rhythms of waves and currents and sea creatures induce a sense of wonder that is close to meditation. The sea became a blue mirror. The tuskfish bashing a clam against a rock to open it; who thought fish could use tools? The male wrasse that pumps itself with female hormones and becomes a trans fish. The dolphins chattering to each other in multi-toned squeaks. And the poignant scene in which a mother walrus fights for space for its exhausted pup on a melting ice floe. No wonder we see our own lives foreshadowed in the deep; for here are the counterparts of our passions and our terrors; our aggression and empathy played back to us from this blue. Why do dolphins go surfing? Well, just like us, for the sheer thrill of it. It’s fun. ‘So is the great and wide sea also; wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts’, says the Psalmist, marvelling at the connection between the human world and the ocean deeps: ‘There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan, whom thou didst make to take his sport therein’. God, the psalm writer suggests, created sea creatures just for the fun of it.

But as I sat watching I found my response to all this changing. The blue waters became more alien as I began to realise that I was a mere spy on a world in which I could never hope to survive. At the end of the film the cameras turned on the film-makers and we saw some of the technologies which enabled them to show us things we had never seen before. Cameras which emitted almost no light, so we could see sparkles from the beat of the wings of rays. Suction cameras attached to the backs of giant orcas to show how they stunned herring with their tails.

Human beings are part of nature of course. We evolved to survive in our dry environment just as the creatures of the sea have done in theirs. But there the difference ends, for no sea creature leaps to shore for the express purpose of filming us; no fish writes reports on human behaviour. Dolphins come close to having an interest in us and have been known to protect humans in danger; but the sheer curiosity which drove the filmmakers is unknown under the sea.

And it brought me back to the conviction that in spite of our unity with nature there is a distinctive human role; to name, to make known, to find coherence in the world we find ourselves in, both in its familiarity and strangeness. From the point of view of science or from that of religious faith I would call that a vocation.

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