Like many people living in urban and suburban areas during the COVID-19 lockdowns, I woke each morning to a slightly, yet significantly, altered habitat. The commuter traffic rolling like a riotous river outside the bedroom window had hushed; the constant hum from the distant motorway was noticeably softer. Birds sang through this new morning quiet and our own slow-to-wake voices gained clarity. Marginal creatures living on the outskirts of the city center—foxes, deer, badgers—swiftly moved in to explore the new breathing space. Skies looked bluer; stars appeared brighter. Satellites sent back images of water along city shorelines changing rapidly from muddy brown to turquoise blue.
This rollback of human activity, an “anthropause” in the epoch of the Anthropocene, provided a glimpse within our ordinary lives of the profound influence we exert on the world around us, of how intimately yet often unwittingly we shape the habits of creatures with whom we live and upon whom we so thoroughly depend. More starkly, the theologian and ethicist David Clough has deemed the COVID-19 crisis an “animal apocalypse”: an unveiling of vast disorder in our relationship with animals and material creation that is disastrous not only for them but also for us. The zoonotic origin of the virus is itself a telling symptom of these fractured dynamics. It is at least becoming clear that the uncertain waters the pandemic has plunged us into are part of the ecological crisis that continues almost unabated. How will we respond to what we are collectively and individually witnessing? Is a return to the old “normal” inevitable or does this moment invite us to forge “new patterns of peaceable creaturely living,” as Clough urges?
The most palpable shifts within the history of our species have been precipitated by our innate capacity to imagine things otherwise. If the recent upheavals in our patterns of living have provided some stimulus for broadening and nourishing our imagination of what may be, as Christians we are also invited to ask what it means to live in light of the Resurrection—this most radical of glimpses into the new order given to us. What bearing does this anticipation of the new creation in Christ have upon our relationships with the “more than human” world? How do we live in light of the Resurrection this side of the eschaton? A wood engraving by the artist David Jones, titled Resurrection, might help us move forward in our exploration of these questions.
Just two years after his experimental Nativity engraving, Jones had become one of the finest engravers in Britain and was commissioned by Golden Cockerel Press to create a series of illustrations for several books produced on a hand-operated press with handmade paper. Golden Cockerel Press, together with members of the Society of Wood Engravers, embraced book production as a political, social, and ecological intervention, perceiving their post–World War I Britain as driven by commercialism, efficiency, and speed above all else. For these artisans, human artifacts and the technologies with which we make them are never neutral; they actively shape our relations with one another, with other creatures, and with the divine.