Like Easter, Mayday is a Spring festival. It is also the traditional workers’ holiday and Mayday! Mayday! is a distress call from ships in peril.
Mayday (Celtic: Beltane) is an ancient festival of Spring, sun, fire, new light, fertility and new life. May is the month when the May blossom comes out and the trees shine in all their glory. Our front cover is a painting by the Dutch artist Anne Mieke Lumsden showing a May tree in bloom. Its beauty and gladness may make us feel it is self-evident that humanity should stop treating each other in the ugly ways that we do, that poverty, injustice and war should cease, even if we don’t know how to bring this about. The gladness of May brings a yearning for innocence and joy abounding. As Hopkins put it, mortal beauty ‘keeps warm our wits to the things that are – what good means’ (and therefore does not mean).
Easter is also a Spring festival of new life bursting out everywhere. Trees and flowers come out and the birds build their nests. Eastre was the Anglo Saxon dawn goddess – the sun rises in the East – of Spring and fertility; her sacred animal was the leaping hare. The associated Christian Easter celebrates the escape from slavery of a people and the rising to new life of one who was crucified. The paschal candle, ‘the light of Christ’, is lit from new fire and raised up high. Its light is spread to many candles, then it is plunged into the font with a prayer to make the water ‘fertile and capable of regenerating’. The risen Christ leaping up, the ‘new Adam’, is humanity’s namesake hero, the prototype of all its struggles for freedom, life against death, love against hate. In his Easter message Columba Ryan OP of St Dominic’s in London says: ‘The resurrection is not an historical event; it did not happen in history.’ We may not believe Jesus really rose from the dead, but when we bring to this story or drama – as Coleridge put it – ‘that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith’ it can become transformed into a conviction of value, that the Earth and her people’s ongoing struggle for life and love is worth the candle.
In this issue (page 17) we report on the liberation theologian Job Sobrino’s recent condemnation by the Inquisition for ‘errors’ in his two books, Christ the Liberator and Jesus the Liberator. Sobrino believes that where Jesus can be found today is in ‘the crucified people’, those who are struggling against injustice and poverty for decent human lives That is their rising, their resurrection.
Mayday, the First of May, is also traditionally the workers’ holiday, to celebrate the Spring and look forward to a fairer world. SoF Trustee Michael Morton’s opening article asks: Can Capitalism Bring Social UsJustice?’ This is followed by Christopher Hampton’s A Humanist Agenda, which is a response to my talk Down to Us. He points out that religious and poetic dramas are not in themselves sufficient to bring about a humane society. Those stories have been around a very long time and it is patently obvious that so far not all of us on Earth ‘share the same loaf.’
As well as a Spring festival and workers’ holiday, ‘Mayday! Mayday!’ is a distress call, said to derive from the French ‘m’aider’, which means ‘help me’. Ships in distress use it internationally and on the back of this issue we have Turner’s dramatic Shipwreck. The beauty and gladness of May bring a yearning that things should be right on Earth. But we know that they are not, so it is fitting that ‘Mayday!’ should also be a distress call, both for suffering humanity and for Planet Earth, herself now in now danger of shipwreck.
Before this Editorial, there is a message from SoF Chair Penny Mawdsley, and one of the things she speaks about is the SoF Summer Conference, The Good Life? As this is SoF’s twentieth anniversary, it was planned that the Conference should be on ‘global issues’. There will be a strong input on the environment, the danger of climate change and global warming, what we can do about it. The matter is crucial: the Earth is our home and we should look after it, not treat it with crazy destructiveness, like doped adolescents stealing from their mother or trashing their family home. We should do what we can as individuals, but if we privatise the problem, we will trivialise it and not actually get very far. It would be like keeping our heads stuck in a recycled carrier bag.
It must also be confronted as a global public, political matter, in which powerful interests are involved to halt or stymie any adequate action on the environment. Neither is it separate from issues of peace and justice; the same powerful interests are often involved. Our Mayday call must be for the Earth and its people, so that the promise of the paradisal May blossom is not mocked, life continues on Earth and is worth living for all.