Monday, 26 October 2009

Wordless words

'The heavens declare the glory of God...day after day they pour forth speech' Psalm 19.1-2

So God does speak to us through the natural word. And yet it is a kind of sign language, in fact, even less distinct than sign language. Because ultimately sign language is expressing words.

The natural world expresses the grandeur of God in the sense that it intimates a magnificence beyond our normal lives. Perhaps one effect of industrialisation is that increasingly individuals are shielded from the natural world, surrounded by concrete and spending much of their time indoors. Indeed according to a BBC programme called Countryfile I heard an expression for the first time today-'Nature deficiency syndrome'-it seems our children are growing up with very limited knowledge of the natural world.

A few brief thoughts.

1. It's worth making the effort to gaze up at the sky-day or (especially a clear) night. Just remind yourself how big the universe is and how awesome the creator God is. As far as we can tell the vastness of the universe is an extravagance and such extravagance reminds us of a very prodigal God-unbelievably generous and 'overflowing with mercy'.
2. Like all non verbal communication it can be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Thus many people do not think of the grandeur of God when looking out over the ocean or looking up at a mountain.
3. This Psalm does not end with 'the heavens', but goes to to speak of the 'perfect word of God' (V7). We need more than the natural world to truly know God. It gives a lie to the claim often made that 'I find God in the garden or in the fields and I don't need the Bible or church or any of that stuff'. Its not so much impossible to do that but it's incomplete. Wordless words can only take you so far.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Life and David Attenborough

This morning I spoke at the church where I spent many happy years before moving to my current church. The Bible passage was Psalm 19. It's a wonderful and brilliant declaration of how God speaks to us all wordlessly through the natural world. So many poets have tried to express something of the glory of God in nature and I found various poems helpful. Here's Gerard Manley Hopkins writing at the height of the Victorian industrial revolution.


THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

And yet this grandeur does not convince David Attenborough. He has a profound and amazing love for the natural world but he respectfully and yet firmly rejects a creator God. Indeed in his beautifully filmed new series on BBC he tells us that the essence of life is a struggle for survival and all it's beauty comes about as result of that struggle.

I'd like to reflect on this over the next few days and I'd like to suggest that Psalm 19 leads us to answer the big questions of life. Is life merely a fight for survival or is there a profounder reason for it all? Indeed do we live in a 'world without windows' or is there a beautiful mind inviting us to enjoy both Creator and creation.

Let's mull over Psalm 19 together.

The Long Walk

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