Today: Monday, December 09, 2019

How shall I respond to nature?    (2/7/2010 1)

Some of my favourite places are, perhaps bizarrely, the most barren. I’ve been fortunate enough to stand in the Sahara desert as well as the lava-fields of Iceland. When I am alone, and all the fuss that makes up daily life is stripped away—when there is nothing but the landscape, that is when I am most acutely aware of God.

Celtic Christians call places where we have a greater awareness of God ‘thin places’. The idea is that where there is normally a veil between heaven and earth, in thin places the veil is worn to a very fine gauze—and that humanity and holiness are almost close enough to touch.

Few people fail to be affected by the splendour of nature in some way. Why are we drawn to walk through beautiful landscapes? Why do we gaze at the sky, and long to travel? And for most, even those of no faith, this is about more than the beauty of some geographical feature or other, more than the splendour of a sunset: there is something spiritual about nature.

Of course, as a Christian I am conscious that it would be all too easy to think that it all stops there: that nature is a means and an end in itself. Therefore, despite rejoicing in the created world, I stop a long way short of worshipping it. Instead of revering nature, I feel compelled to revere the hand that made it. If nature is a fabulous work of art, are we not curious to know the artist? Do we not look for the author’s signature?

One should not forget, of course, that Creation is about more than mountains and trees: it includes us, the billions of people who inhabit the earth. As frustrating as we may sometimes be to one another, as noisy and as busy as we may be, surely we represent the pinnacle of creation? I once walked into a very busy Transit Authority building in Manhattan. As I walked through the door and saw vast numbers of people before me, I felt an overwhelming sense of God’s love for them. It was an unexpected and shocking moment, which almost bowled me over. For a second, I caught a glimpse of how God sees us: the acute awareness of every single life, heart and soul; the love and the anxiety he feels for each one of us.

It never ceases to amaze me when I hear people say that science and Christianity are in opposition. I know physicists, biologists, geologists and electronic engineers who have no difficulty ascribing the laws of the natural world to the Creator’s hand. Albert Einstein, who was not of any orthodox faith, said that he felt:

“rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that compared with it all the systematic thinking of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.”

So my word to you today is this: next time the splendour of Creation brings a lump to your throat, offer up a prayer of thanks and invitation to the One who made everything. His fingerprints are on every snowflake; he has counted every grain of sand.

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