Running out of gas: lessons from an unlikely crisis

In a world that is under threat from a surfeit of carbon dioxide there is a certain irony about the crisis besetting the UK just now. As I write, pigs are not being slaughtered, Coke is not being made, salads are not being packed and we are running out of beer.

While the abundance of C02 is damaging our global atmosphere, the lack of it in bottle form is arguably damaging the atmosphere in our hot and football-thirsty land.

A looming CO2 shortage is hitting everything from beer to slaughterhouses.Reuters

We are running out of gas and it has implications we couldn't even have dreamt of. I wonder if that is something that resonates for us spiritually?

Who of us hasn't found ourselves with little or nothing left to give? We find ourselves faced with new challenges but can't quite muster the spiritual energy to have another conversation about this God we seek to follow. We don't feel that invigorating lift from Scripture or sung worship. As we disengage we find ourselves even more cut off and spiritually breathless than we were before.

On an institutional level too, it's clear that elements of the church in the UK are running low of precious resource. There are not enough people, there is not enough money, the Church of England is running out of clergy.

So what can we learn from the UK CO2 crisis?

1. You don't know what you've got till it's gone

I doubt if many of us realised carbon dioxide was used in so many ways. It's easy to dismiss it as a harmful waste product that needs to be reduced or removed. But now it's running out, we realise how useful it was.

When we are running out of spiritual gas we can sometimes fool ourselves that we can do without Bible reading, prayer and church. But we don't always know that we need them until they're gone. That's why the discipline of fasting can teach us so much, reminding us of the things that we need.

On an institutional level, many will feel that we can do without the Church of England as a presence in every community. Again, I wonder if we can only know what it brings when it is gone. From school governorship, to peace making, blessing and naming the presence of the Church (and its people) may be more precious than we know.

2. Even waste has its uses

Apparently, the carbon dioxide shortage has occurred because we are not making fertiliser. That set of processes produces the CO2 we use in bottle form. It is a waste product that has many uses.

We live in a world where we are constantly invited to only do what is productive. How many times do we berate ourselves and others for 'time wasting'? In this world, time taken to be with God, to be with people for no purpose, might be seen as waste. And yet, our wasted time has its uses too.

I would say the same for the church. We want to be efficient and increasingly we talk about targets and growth. We want numbers and urgency. But let us not dismiss waste. I'm drawn to the Gospel story about Mary 'wasting' precious perfume over the feet of Jesus.

3. Crisis leads to innovation

I suspect that somewhere in the UK, someone is working on a new way to preserve salad, or to stun animals, or to aerate beer. They are probably also working on new ways to capture CO2. Throughout history, crisis leads to innovation.

When we are out of gas in our walk with God, we have a choice. We could just sit down on the narrow path and give up. Many of us do. But we are also invited to try something different, a new way of connecting with God. We can look to ancient practices (let's remember we had beer before we could harness CO2). I know many people who have found new life in the faith by starting to use meditative prayer, or 'lectio divina'. We can fail and fail again but learn and grow in the process. Crisis in faith doesn't have to mean giving up – it can mean growing stronger.

In our churches, crisis is already leading to trying new things. In small congregations, in struggling communities, people are trying something new and different. Sometimes it's failing, but sometimes it is connecting with people in different ways, bringing good news to new people.

4. Breathe

The CO2 crisis, at least in its small and UK-specific form, will resolve, because when we breathe we create the resource that is needed. There is enough and it can be harnessed.

In our lives, when we run out of gas it can be resolved. Sometimes we just need to breathe in and trust that the rest will take care of itself.

I don't think it is a coincidence that many ancient prayer practices involve breathing. The very simple discipline of paying attention to taking in what gives us life has sustained people in many traditions for longer than our books of strategy and purpose. If we are running out of gas the invitation is to breathe – take in the love of God that gives us life – and trust that as we breathe out we will produce the 'wasteful' product with its unknown purposes.

Rev Jude Smith is the team rector of Moor Allerton and Shadwell in North Leeds. Follow her on Twitter @gingervicar