The Magic of Nature

Everywhere we look, the complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes”, according to Vincent van Gogh in the Doctor Who episode, Vincent and the Doctor.

Dragonfly in Newgate Woods, where I walk my dog, Gorka, most mornings

A wealth of artists, from poets and singers such as Van Morrison[1], Mary Oliver and The Unthanks[2], to writers Richard Mabey[3], Brian McLaren[4] and Mackenzie Crook[5], to the genius Vincent van Gogh himself, have helped and inspired me to delve further into the ‘magic of nature’ – to dive deeper into its divine depths.

Combe Valley

Maybe it’s me but I feel that both science and theology sometimes reduce the world around us to a utilitarian thing. An ‘it’. Call me picky (and I have been known to be picky about words), but the religious use of the word ‘creation’ for ‘Nature’ slightly jars with me….

…like Nature is seen as an inanimate object – there simply to ‘give glory to God’….

….rather than being a living, breathing entity given to us, to enjoy and love for her own sake, in her own right….

… to dance with, sing with….

enjoy being a part of.

Be family with.

My daughter with an exquisite male Orange-tip butterfly

I think this delights God’s heart.

Like tree-hugging: an exchange of vital gases, of complementary textures. A sharing of lives, of life. Of the Love that flows through all things.

Religion can sometimes be so intent on trying to worship God that it misses the wood for the trees – literally.

Highwoods

Likewise, science can be known to scrutinise, compartmentalise, to explain away in binary detail, until all awe and wonder have evaporated in the heat of cold analysis (I do like a paradox!).

Of course, it needn’t be – and isn’t always – like this. We need science and religion, both of which have the potential to lead us into the sheer, incredulous amazement that our souls were born for. Brian McLaren’s book, God Unbound: Theology in the Wild, is a great example of this.

As for me, my ever-deepening immersion into Nature, and my habit of talking to birds and trees, has led me to question whether I’m straying from my Christian faith into something more pagan. Fearing that my love for the created world exceeds my love for her Creator.

It’s good and healthy to question ourselves, and my self-query led to self-reassurance.

I find myself walking in the steps of St Francis, who acknowledged the consciousness and unique personality of each wild animal and addressed them as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’.

…St Francis, who in turn walked in the steps of Jesus, who in turn followed the pattern of thousands of years of wisdom teachers and prophets, who walked in and with Nature, learned and taught from Nature, found God in the everyday and not-so-everyday miracles of the wild.

My dog, Gorka, bedraggled and yellow-spangled, after running through a rape field!

And, as one of Jesus’ own best friends, John, made clear, our love for other human beings – and by extension all our fellow creatures – is a good barometer of our love for God.[6]

Rather than drawing us away from God, our deepening love for people and Nature is in fact an accurate expression of our love for God. And this is true even for those who profess no religious faith!

Our Western society and, sadly, Christendom, have a poor record of respect for the Earth, preferring largely to conquer rather than acknowledge and celebrate our oneness with her.

And the more industrialised, commercialised and technologised we become, the more we lose touch with Nature, with the Earth – and in the process lose something of ourselves and our experience of the God who lives and shines humbly and vulnerably from the natural world: incarnate through every creature, as well as in the infant Jesus.

Little Egret, at Cuckmere Haven

As we desperately try and reverse our tragic destruction of our home planet (and therefore our self-destruction), it’s surely more vital than ever that we as a human race recapture our oneness with Nature.

I rather like this quote that I recently came across: “Prayer is the act of resacralizing the desacralized world.”[7] I think that a prayerful approach to any situation enables us and those around us to (re)discover the inherent sacredness of anything and everything.

And I realised that when I enjoy my contemplative walks through woods and wilderness, I’m simply enjoying the sacredness, the magic, the holy wonder of Nature (of Creation, if you like!).

Trees – the Earth’s ‘lungs’

Although I do sometimes pray with words during these walks, I often try and avoid using words, even in thought, because words can be so superficial, so one-sided, and a hindrance to the experience of God in the presence of stillness, silence and songs of Nature.

My wife and daughter on Bulverhythe beach

Photos all mine and taken in glorious East Sussex.


[1] E.g. Sense of Wonder; In the Garden.

[2] Folk group featured in Detectorists and Worzel Gummidge

[3] Author of Nature Cure

[4] Author of God Unbound: Theology in the Wild

[5] Writer and star of Detectorists and Worzel Gummidge

[6] 1 John 4:20

[7] Andy Squyres

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And Heaven and Nature Sing

Joy to the world! The Saviour reigns
Let men their songs employ


While fields and floods
Rocks, hills and plains


Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy

Repeat, repeat the sounding joy

And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing


And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

Nature singing with joy to their Source this Christmas Day (all photos taken in Hastings, today – 25th December 2021).

A Natural Creed

Like anything that is lovingly nurtured (whether by man, God or Nature),

our philosophy, faith or ideology

is likely to grow and evolve over the years,

if we care deeply about what we believe.

Metamorphosing from larval limitations…

Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar

…..to the flightful freedom of winged wonders,

Elephant Hawk-moth adult

the beliefs we hold dear may take on a freer quality as our thinking matures.

My own Christian faith, born in 1987 (as you can read about in my book Coming Home for Good)…

…has been evolving over the years into an increasingly authentic and personal spirituality, that I love more than ever – less swayed by ecclesiastical pressure.

However, with its transitioning nature, I’ve found it more difficult in recent conversations to clearly express that faith.

So, to help articulate my theology, I’ve composed my own personal Creed, which I can adapt and add to as time goes on.

And maybe it’ll help others to reflect on their own spirituality too.

Here it is…

A NATURAL CREED

I believe in Yahweh – I Am– as God self-identified from a miracle of nature – the ‘burning bush’ – to Moses, way, way back…

I believe God is therefore Presence,

The Reality, the Present, the ‘Ground of Being’, the Now.

And that Yahweh is encountered in the Nowness of the moment whenever people – whether religious or spiritual or neither – engage lovingly and mindfully with the present.


I believe Yahweh just is.

I believe Yahweh is Trinity, Three-in-One,

And is therefore inherently Relationship – or Love;

That Yahweh is experienced in loving connections between people, and between people and things.

And that when people – whether religious or spiritual or neither – pursue reconciliation,

when they reach out to ‘the other’, or give selfless love,

they participate in the Love of Yahweh.

I believe that Trinity is Mother/Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

together the Source of all life and all things.

Hummingbird Hawk-moth


I believe that science gives us wonderful insight into the origins and progression of the Universe and Life;

that the Biblical accounts of Creation are deeply inspired, allegorical myths that reveal much about the Source of the Universe and Life – and about human nature,

but that there may also be elements of literal truth in those ancient texts;

that we would do well to listen to science and religion and philosophy in order to best understand our place in the Universe;  

but that the origins of the Universe and Life remain a mystery and are probably weirder than any scientist or theologian can imagine!

The weird and wonderful Cockchafer!


I believe that in Jesus, Yahweh stepped into human space and time,

That his life and teaching showed us what Love looks like,

emphasising the importance of the outsider and the underdog;

That his death and physical resurrection demonstrated the power of nonviolence to break cycles of violence, guilt, shame, addiction and even death itself.

I believe that when we align ourselves with Jesus,

We share in this love, life, and resurrection power.

Little Egret


I believe that some who profess no Christian faith have found the life and love of Jesus by another name (or no name),

While some who say they follow Jesus are following a religious system.

That Jesus and Christianity are not always synonymous.


I believe in the creative Holy Spirit,

Who awakens people of all faiths and none to Reality, to Love, to Yahweh;

Ferns awakening

Who mends our brokenness,

Inspiring us to be more fully ourselves,

So we can contribute the qualities of our unique personhood to our communities, our world.

I believe the Spirit continually energises Nature to unstoppably re-create and renew herself into new life.

Painted Ladies on lavender

I believe in the sanctity of all things – but particularly of living things;

That Nature is a beautiful and powerful expression of the wild love of Yahweh,

Continually revealing wisdom, love and truth, day after day to those who stop and take notice.

Love is in the air!


I believe that many of the thoughts, stories and faces of those who are poor or marginalised, or have experienced great suffering,

are rich expressions of Yahweh’s truth for those who will look and listen,

but that the rich and powerful and privileged are often blind and deaf to them.

I believe there is an undercurrent of Love in every situation,

even the very worst of circumstances:

a spring of compassion and mercy running through the fibre of the universe (the presence of Yahweh),

from which we can draw strength when our own resources run dry.

And that, therefore, those who have suffered the most often love the most.


I believe not just in “the communion of saints”, but in the very real oneness of humanity,

still being revealed and worked out in practice by those committed to community, unity, equality and inclusion.

I believe that the beginning and end of all things is Love,

Leading to ultimate reconciliation between all people and God.

Six-spot Burnet moths


I believe that what we do is more important than what we believe,

but that more important than both are the motives, attitudes and intentions of our hearts,

behind the actions.

And that our hearts have the capacity to change – to make a brand new start,

even to miraculously metamorphose into a whole new person

Metamorphosis: Small Tortoiseshell hatching

– and that faith is key to this: faith in Yahweh, through Jesus, by whatever name.


I believe that we all have the capacity to practise forgiveness and compassion,

expressing the heart of Yahweh.

I believe in the fundamental goodness of humanity

And that there is hope for everyone.

Spring crocuses

————

(All photos mine)

As always, Comments are very welcome…