Musings from the Manse May 9th 2021

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. – Psalm 98:4

This week’s lectionary readings include Psalm 98, it speaks of creation praising God. Whilst spending time musing on the Psalm I have begun to notice just how much of recent (non-election) news has been taken up with the relationship between humans and nature. Either what we can do to help creation, to right the wrongs of previous generations or what it can do for us, especially for the good of our mental health.

There has been much said recently about how spending time in green space or bringing nature into our everyday lives can benefit both our mental and physical wellbeing. For example, doing things like growing food or flowers, exercising outdoors or being around animals can have lots of positive effects. 

We all have different experiences of nature, and different reasons for wanting to connect with it more – or maybe some of us are feeling unsure about whether to try something new. You might find that you get something completely different from one activity compared to others, after all I know that some of you really enjoy gardening!

One of the terms that was often heard in Christian circles about creation is dominion; this was interpreted as if we had full rights to do what we pleased with God’s good creation, fortunately I think we hear this less now because we know that God calls us to care both for the poor and the planet. Climate Change is a daily reality for millions of the world’s poor, and it is a matter of faithful discipleship and of justice, to ensure a healthy climate for future generations and our fellow creatures. God is calling us to respond!

Celtic theology takes a somewhat different approach to understanding what constitutes the sacred when it comes to creation. Celtic theologian John Philip Newell has this to say in his forthcoming book, Sacred Earth Sacred Soul:

In Celtic wisdom we remember the earth as sacred. Every tree and bush, every flower and creature, every hill and mountain is on fire with the divine. (creation shouts, there is a creator) The life within all life is holy. What we do to the body of the earth is what we do to God.

Of course, Newell is not the only person to champion the concept of the sacredness of all creation. Others call us to pay attention to how we either care for and steward our planet, or denigrate and destroy it.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “Aurora Leigh” and these lines: 

Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush aflame with God; But only those who see take off their shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.

Even William Shakespeare understood the powerful communication between all of creation and its creator.

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
                             –As You Like It (II.i.14–17)

Psalm 98 calls us to pay attention to and praise God, “us” being all that lives, all that is created. Soil, for example, is not a dead substance. Hold a handful of soil in your hand and sense how it teems with life and energy. Ecologist Suzanne Simard discovered some twenty years ago that trees communicate with one another and will even attempt to communicate with humans. All of the created order is connected and somehow praises the Creator of the Cosmos.

What does this mean for us as 21st century Christians? First of all, simply being aware of the connections, the power, and the beauty of creation matters. Secondly, how we interact with the natural world matters. Do we, for example, attempt to harness nature, or do we coexist and appreciate God’s good creation? Finally, what will we do about living in this vast interconnected cosmos, where every atom and molecule rises up in its own way to praise the God who created and sustains it? Many questions for us to ponder, but this is a subject we can no longer ignore. Blessings and joy as all the earth breaks forth into song and praise! Let us sing a new song.

Rev Nik Wooller

9th May 2021

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