Four Way Faith
Part One – Down: God’s Gift of Creation
This post is part of a series introducing the concept of a Four Way Faith. A balanced and healthy life involved loving relationships in four directions; Up with God, In with Self, Out with Neighbours, and Down with Creation. Each has two elements – the gift of each relationship to us and our obligations to each relationship.
I have lost track of the number of times I have been in conversation with people who have expressed their spirituality in relation to nature. We get lost in wonder gazing out across an ocean, looking up into a clear star filled sky or waking up to a bright spring morning with fresh dew resting across a garden. There is something special about watching a flower bloom, planting a seed, nurturing growth and enjoying the produce we have played a part in bringing into fruition. We’ve had a bird box at one end of our garden for a few years and recently it became a home for the first time. With great excitement and anticipation, we watched as the couple of sparrows collected twigs and other bits and pieces to build their nest. After our initial excitement it went quiet, we didn’t see the sparrows for a prolonged period. We worried that a cat had visited and upset the little home. However, there was one day when with great excitement we heard the tiny chirping of new babies. It was a moment which caused us to be thankful to God and we were delighted as we followed the progress of this little family.
The scriptures are littered with examples of individuals and groups proclaiming their marvel at God through the created world,
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”(Psalm 8:3-4 NRSV)
“For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.”(Psalm 95:3-5 NRSV)
“Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God. Do you know how God lays his command upon them, and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine? Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of the one whose knowledge is perfect”(Job 37: 14-16 NRSV)
God has gifted us with the created world for us to enjoy, we find ourselves drawing closer to God, ourselves and our neighbours when we spend time in nature.
The story we know as the ‘Feeding of the Five Thousand’ (Mark 6:30-52) begins with Jesus inviting the disciples to retreat to a quiet place, they take a boat so that they are not being surrounded by people trying to get close to Jesus. Jesus knows that retreating is required for the welfare of his friends. They have been busy, engaged in their own teaching, preaching, healing and anointing around towns and villages. They have also experienced the execution of Jesus’ cousin, John (the Baptist) who is decapitated by King Herod. It has been a busy and emotionally draining time. To support the disciples Jesus takes them into a quiet natural environment.
We can learn from this. I am a do-er, I like having a task, a deadline, something to do. I am not good at simply stopping and sitting, resting and enjoying the moment and the world around me. We all can learn from Jesus, because when we learn to take time out, to slow down, to be in nature by ourselves or with close friends we are nourished and refreshed physically, but also emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.
A problem then for Jesus and the disciples, rather than being left alone to rest crowds of people follow them, word spreads. Instead of enjoying the solitude of a space upon another shore, thousands of people descend in the excitement of seeing and hearing from Jesus. Jesus is compassionate and begins to teach but the disciples are concerned that due to the remote location and time of day that the people need to eat and drink. Whether the disciples simply want to rest themselves or are genuinely concerned for the people we don’t know, lets give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are concerned for the peoples welfare. Jesus, chooses to feed the people rather than send them away. He provides spiritual teaching, feeding their souls, and with just five loaves and two fish miraculously fills their stomachs, we are told the people are all satisfied.
I can only imagine the wonder at the miracle and the excited mania of the food being passed around, the noise of the crowd, people chatting, gasps of amazement, cheers for the food, and joyful feasting. It would have been a wonderful festival type atmosphere at the best picnic ever. The disciples are left with the task of collecting up the leftovers so that no mess is left behind and nothing is wasted. They weave their way through the crowd with baskets to pick up the broken pieces of bread and fish. We don’t know if they ate with everyone else, but now they have a basket each, a packed lunch or dinner to keep them nourished and again Jesus sends them out on a boat away from the crowd. In the open water the disciples can pause to reflect upon what they have experienced, without worrying our being disturbed by others or where the next meal is coming from, the disciples get to be away from the madding crowd in the solitude of nature.
What does Jesus do? He dismisses the crowd and retreats by himself up on a mountainside to pray. In amongst the natural surroundings that are created by God, Jesus is able to rest and to focus upon God the Father.
The story finishes with Jesus returning to the disciples. The wind was against them and they were now straining at the oars. Jesus walks across the lake, reassures the disciples and joins them in the boat. At this moment the wind dies down. In this Jesus demonstrates his relationship with God, he is able to control the elements. Having already performed a miracle with bread and fish, he now does the impossible of walking on water and controlling the wind. Jesus is at one with the Father and the Spirit, and also at one with nature.
As we increasing live in towns and cities, pave over greenspaces, build homes without gardens, buy food wrapped in plastic and replace living plants with plastic models we lose our connection with nature. In reducing our relationship with the natural world we harm our relationship with God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), ourselves, and our neighbours. We have a society built on the principle of busy – everyone is busy, fast moving, striving to produce, achieve and gain. We rush past the park gates and miss the changing of the seasons, hardly noticing the changing colour of the leaves or the new buds poking through. Our farming practices force produce to grow out of season as poly-tunnels and controlled environments are used to drive growth and meet demands. Foods are grown outside of their natural environment and shipped across the globe. All of this adds up to separate us from nature and plays a part in harming our relationships. The increase in mental health needs is evidence of our societies need for healing, and there is plenty of evidence and recommendations to spend time in nature. This may be anything from taking a walk, to having a pet as a means of therapy, or visiting specialist centres such as care farms. Even a small amount of time spend with nature brings healing.
We are gifted with the natural world to enjoy the way it makes us feel and gives us life, to enjoy the fruits and harvest it provides, to receive healing for ourselves, our souls, our bodies, and our minds. Time amongst nature aids renewal for relationships and depth of connection with God, ourselves, our neighbours and our shared world.