Psalm 19 bursts into life with the announcement that “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” The words seem to leap off the page in a blaze of enthusiastic recognition of the wonders of creation. It seems immediately evident that all of creation is there for us to enjoy. Yet I wonder how much and how deeply we appreciate its riches.
In our busy urbanised lifestyle we rarely seem to take time to catch more than a glimpse of the natural splendour around us. Even in our acts of public worship we don’t often dwell at length on what the Creator has bequeathed to us. Although the Church must be primarily concerned with our redemption and with the solid doctrine that underpins it, I sometimes think that our understanding of the nature of God might be significantly enhanced by a more comprehensive appreciation of His works – something beyond occasional glimpses at harvest time.
The vast scope and scale of creation, the processes and mechanisms underpinning it – and its timescale, whatever our understanding of that might be – invite a response of wonder. It would be a cold, insensitive spirit that could not take pleasure in the sight of a clear starlit sky, a snow capped mountain peak, a tumultuous waterfall, a profusion of wild honeysuckle, a field of ripening grain or the pleading eyes of a family pet. Perhaps it is the Celt in me that senses a spirituality in all these things. I cannot be indifferent to them. For me they enrich our understanding of the nature and wonder of God, even though I also recognise the brutality of survival present in the natural world.
Our annual harvest thanksgiving services provide a helpful opportunity to appreciate the bounty the natural world affords us, and to cherish its rich diversity. Beyond that, we need to treat it with care, for it is not ours – “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Psalm 24 v.1)” – and we should be properly thankful that “through Him all things were made (John 1 v.3)”
It is surely the intention of the Creator that we should take pleasure in the natural world. We see this clearly in a great passage in Matthew’s account of the gospel story where Jesus urges his hearers to think less about themselves and, instead, appreciate “the birds of the air” and “the lilies of the field” (Matthew 6 v.26-29). This, I would think, is an encouragement to be nourished in spirit, to absorb a quality of holiness from our appreciation of nature. So, when we give thanks at our harvest services that “all is safely gathered in”, we should not neglect to give equal thanks for the beauty of the earth. In doing so we might encounter further and deeper glimpses of the nature of God.
At this time of year we might even see, as the poet and one time church warden T S Eliot surmised, “Late roses filled with early snow.” There is an implication here that the opportunity to participate in the worship of God reaches well beyond the doors of the parish church.
Parish of Carryduff and Killaney