Saturday, November 24, 2012

Creation revealing . . .

The Grampians National Park, Victoria, Australia

Over the next couple of days I am sharing with you the introduction to the section on Sacraments from my adult confirmation material, mainly because someone who has recently started out on their faith journey told me I should!

The first book of the Bible (“Genesis”) is very positive about the physical universe. God is even portrayed as surveying what he had made, and concluding “that it was good” (Genesis 1:31). This reflects mainstream Jewish and Christian traditions which have always regarded the world of matter as part of God’s loving and glorious self-expression. 

Maybe it seems strange that we emphasise such a basic idea. But we must, because there have always been religious people (including mistaken Christians) for whom physical existence is something negative, either a kind of prison from which we will one day be set free, or, worse, an intrinsic evil, a source only of temptation, and the chief cause of our undoing, our fall into sin. As Richard Holloway wrote, such people erroneously see the creation as 

“. . . a mine-field through which we must pick our way with anxious care, never pausing to gaze about and enjoy ourselves lest we stumble upon some explosive evil.”
- in New Vision of Glory

In contrast with these ideas, William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942 to 1944, famously acknowledged that

“Christianity is the most avowedly materialistic of all the great religions.”
- in Nature, Man and God, p. 478

Indeed, the created order is celebrated throughout of the Old Testament, in which the Lord is praised, not just for creating the world, but also for revealing aspects of himself through it. One such passage, Psalm 19, begins:

“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”
- Psalm 19:1

When we come to the New Testament, we find St Paul echoing this theme in his letter to the early Christians in Rome:

“. . . what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.”
- Romans 1:19-20

Pondering the natural world has been for many an aspect of their journey to a real knowledge of God. It has also given rise to some of the most sublime art and poetry down through the ages.  As Elizabeth Barret Browning wrote:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
- in Aurora Leigh, Book VII

And Wiliam Wordsworth wrote:

“. . . I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things . . .”
- in Tintern Abbey

St Irenaeus (d. 220) spoke for many when he said that

“Nothing is a vacuum in the face of God. Everything is a sign of God.”
- in Against Heresies 4:21

The created world has the potential to evoke within us a sense of wonder which often includes, or leads to, a kind of revelation of God - provided we are not stubbornly closed to the possibility of transcendence. In fact, “natural” life is often the context in which we first sense God’s love trying to reach us. This is not just a case of experiencing created “things”, whether breathtakingly beautiful or terrifyingly awesome. It can also happen in significant events such as falling in love, the birth of a child, the death of someone close to us, or being reconciled with someone from whom we have been estranged. 

“Heaven is just behind the veil of the outward and visible, even here on earth. That tree over there with its gnarled branches and weighed down by mistletoe growth hides the heavenly tree which shimmers with an unearthly beauty. Sense the sense of the Presence, the Numinous, now and then.” 
- Doug Peters, personal correspondence


Post a Comment