As we approach our Harvest service let us spend a moment considering the beauty of the world. I've been told there are two ways of seeing our lives: the first is from a scarcity perspective. That is the thinking that there is only a limited amount to go around, and so we need to fight for every scrap we can get. We need to store up for ourselves, to circle the wagons, and above all, not to be generous(!) The second way is the opposite of that. This earth suggests that God is generous to a fault and endlessly creative. With a wink and a smile, this generous God ushers an invitation to share in this generous living.
One of the gifts of ministry in Cork is the proximity of the manse to the playground. Late this afternoon (Monday 7th) I took Erin up to the swings. She's a sucker for a bumpy buggy ride, and so, by the time I reached the swings (her favourite), she was sound asleep. I arrived at the playground with a sleeping child and returned home with one.
As I walked, I felt the cool of the breeze. I received it as a whisper of a coming winter. The complementary warmth of the sun on my face and back, a welcome 'hanging on' of summer soon to exit stage left. Altogether – the sun, the breeze, the green fields, and blue skies – they served to remind me that life is good, this world beautiful and that God has blessed us richly.
The closer we look at creation, the more it reveals to us. It is fractal-like in its ability to convey the exquisite detail, complexity, and abundance of Life - Every detail calling us deeper – that snowflake, at once part of a flurry, but within itself a near-perfect creation that will last only for a short while. That butterfly fluttering through the yard rewards the keen observer – what colour! Surely not all these hues and shades have been named?
When asked what science had taught him about God, the biologist JBS Haldane remarked that "that God is incredibly fond of beetles." Why had he drawn that conclusion? Because there are more than 300 000 species of beetle alone. That is astonishing!
It brings to mind a verse about worry in the sixth chapter of Matthew's gospel. Here Jesus instructs his followers let go of needless anxiety. How are they to do this? In part by looking at the natural world. If God can look after all this, which is so fleeting how capable is that same God in protecting your own life?
Gratitude living is less about getting yet another thing to make us happy and more about merely receiving that which is offered by virtue of us simply being alive. Spiritual awakening then is about waking up to this. The poet ee cummings in his poem 'I thank you God' conveys this very sentiment:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
At the heart of Harvest is generosity. Its lesson is simple: as God has provided generously for us, so we, in turn, are called to be generous towards God and others. It is the profound mystery of the creative and creating life: the more we give of ourselves, the more we will always have to offer. Thoughtful writers the world over know this truth. Annie Dillard, who penned some of gorgeous reflections on nature had this to say about the writing life:
"One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.
Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."
True to life, I believe, as it is true to writing. While ruminating on her beloved creek, she writes:
"…I go my way, and my left foot says 'Glory,' and my right foot says 'Amen': in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise."
As I walked back from that path, the afternoon sun setting, the sound of children still playing but soon to be heading for home as moms and dads gathered their things, I thought of those words. I hope this season affords us all plenty of opportunity to simply absorb in wonder the God who created this world for truly the earth is the Lord's and everything in it (Psalm 24).