The Earth Will Teach You, by Kevin Durrant, September 2014. Wide Margin Books, 186 pages, ISBN 978-190886-007-1. RRP £9.99
It is not often that the title of a book so accurately describes its contents, and in words of one syllable too. Kevin Durrant takes his theme from the book of Job: “..ask the animals and they will teach you, or the birds of the air and they will tell you, or speak to the earth and it will teach you.” Using biblical passages to great effect Durrant unwraps the stories making theological connections between them and the harsh realities of our ecological crisis.
He begins with the bizarre story of Balaam’s donkey from the Book of Numbers and his interpretation is a gem, linking it with the threatened giant tortoises of the Galapagos. He goes on to use the “Protective Tree” from Daniel chapter 4, the reference to the soil from Genesis chapter 2, the snake from chapter 3, the exhausted land from Leviticus chapter 25. All these relatively obscure passages and many others are used to demonstrate how the natural world itself can speak to us and in a very real sense be the word of God for our generation.
There are problems however. Durrant acknowledges that the book began life as a series of sermons; it remains so and there are tiresome aspects to that. In several chapters there are two or three passages at the beginning as if the reader had heard them in the service before the sermon began. One passage – the key one – would have sufficed. Another annoying habit is to uses headings (inspiration, motivation, wisdom in one chapter, hospitality, honour, hope in another) which are often quite forced and may well be more appropriate to the spoken word.
Having said that, there is wonderful and exciting material in this book. In the chapter on the Sacred Oak there is a very useful section on the “Sacramental Approach to Nature”. Poetry is included to great effect; Wordsworth, Gerard Manley Hopkins, R.S. Thomas as well as several lesser known poets. Painters too; Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer, Caspar Friedrich and others. Not only does this enrich the book and point to the value of art in this context, but also indicates how personal the book is. Durrant is describing a journey of discovery which makes the book a pleasure to read and an opportunity to share in that exciting journey. Despite the sermonising there is a freshness here and much to be learnt.