Monthly Archives: February 2021

Sunday 28th February 2021

Day 12 Holy Idleness

Paying attention requires that we slow down, allow ourselves to be still, and let go of busyness and rushing. Nature can bring us to this state of stillness if we allow it to, by giving it time, and paying it attention.
“What is life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare”
So wrote the Welsh poet W.H. Davies in his famous poem: “Leisure”. Nature calls us to stand and stare, become absorbed in beauty, to discover the gift of idleness. Idleness has never been seen as one of the great virtues – as we know, “the devil makes work for idle hands”. Idleness has long been frowned upon. “Do something, so the devil may always find you busy” said the 4th century theologian, St Jerome. Such teaching very easily became part of Christian thinking, the assumption that those with time on their hands will inevitably get up to no good!
Thank goodness for poets like W.H. Davies who knew a thing or two about idleness. William Henry Davies became a drop out, or beatnik, in the late 19th century, long before the term became known or used. He dropped out of society and became a tramp, or hobo, and travelled around this country, and around the world. But in his idleness, he learned how to pay attention, to stop and stare, and find himself in the beauty of the natural world. Also to write some very fine poetry.
The American poet, Mary Oliver, never took up the hobo life but she knew about the importance of being idle, of slowing down and paying attention to nature. In one of my favourite poems: The Summer Day, Mary Oliver writes:

“I don’t know exactly what prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me what else I should have done?”

Oh, how the world needs to hear the message of the poets. Far from the devil making work for idle hands, idleness is a prerequisite to Blessing. Listen to nature, not St Jerome!

From Psalm 46

God is in the midst of us;
the Lord of hosts is with us.
Come, behold the works of the Lord.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Sermon for Lent 2

Today’s theme in our Lenten booklet is Holy Idleness.
Idleness gets a bad press in much of our Christian tradition, while being busy has often been seen as a virtue. A friend once bought me a tee-shirt which had printed on it: Jesus is coming – Look busy! How sad that busyness has been so applauded, while doing nothing is much maligned.
Busyness is often the mode we go in when we are trying to look virtuous, or are avoiding the real issues of life. How often have we gone into “busy mode” because it takes our mind off our troubles. And, of course, there is much to be said for that – sitting down moping seldom gets us anywhere.

However, busyness can become a means of avoidance, of merely filling in time;
we can be very busy achieving very little.
There are times when stopping, and doing absolutely nothing is the right thing to do;
and those times should be regular occurrences.
Something that I have learned during our times of lockdown
is that you don’t have to be busy hurrying around in order to get things done.
I have discovered that you often get things done much quicker, and far more efficiently,
by doing less and having space for holy idleness.

The 19th century naturalist and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, once wrote:
I have so much to do today that if I do not spend the morning walking, I’ll never get it done! I have discovered that there is a great deal of truth in this.
We can be very busy achieving very little sometimes,
but can achieve much in a short space of time if we are in a good frame of mind.
Someone once said that 90% of every task is preparation.
The best preparation, I am beginning to learn is holy idleness.
Not rushing around, not panicking, not working round the clock –
but having a more relaxed and open attitude to life.
Holy idleness is making time to put our mind, body and spirit in a more relaxed mode.
Or, perhaps more accurately, to make enough space in our day
for our mind, body, and spirit to find its own balance and centeredness.

What is life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.
Wrote the poet W.H. Davies.

Mary Oliver in her beautiful poem The Summers Day writes: “I “I don’t know exactly what prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me what else I should have done?”

Nature teaches us how to be idle in a good way.
Whether it is walking like Henry Thoreau; stopping and standing to stare like W.H. Davies; or strolling through the fields, kneeling or sitting on the grass, like Mary Oliver.
It can be idly watching the birds, or trees through our window, or wandering in the park,
sitting or pootling in the garden, or making space to watch the sun rise or the sun set.
As today’s Lenten reflection says, far from “the devil making work for idle hands”,
it is more likely God that finds space in idle hands to make Gods-self known,
and inspire us in the tasks we do.
Take time this week for a little holy idleness. It is the best part of every day.
And if we get into the habit, we will discover the days run much more smoothly.
As W.H Davies tells us:
A poor life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Saturday 27th February 2021

Day 11 Looking Through Eyes of Delight

Paying attention is a spiritual practice that is well worth taking time to cultivate. With the practice of attention we are led to awe, reverence, wonder, and love. Paying attention helps us to develop a spiritual attitude toward creation, and to deepen our connection with it. With attention we begin to recognise more and more the Presence of God in every minute detail, in every patch of clover, every blade of grass, every vein in a leaf, in every grain of sand – “To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower” as William Blake famously wrote.
We all have a natural capacity for such attention, it came naturally to us as a child, it is still there. It is something to be recovered rather than learned, says Thomas Merton. It is the natural capacity to be at one with everything, and to be open to the Hidden Ground of Love within us all. But, in order to recover it we need to give it time; to practise it, and allow the capacity for holy attention to be uncovered within us. The only way to do that is to get out there, observe, enjoy, and pay attention to the wonder of nature.
Others have described such attention as learning to see the world through the eyes of God. Right at the beginning of the biblical creation stories in the book of Genesis, God delights in creation. God walks in the garden, pays attention, enjoys, and sees the wonder and goodness in all that is created. God continues to look at creation with the eyes of delight, and wonder, and love; and it is our calling in life to do the same.
There is something special about those who have the gift and capacity to give us their full, undivided attention, and to take delight in who we are. It is such attention and reverence that helps us to grow and flourish as human beings. I remember clearly and lovingly those who have given me of that gift, and thank God for the impact they have had on my life.
It is that kind of attention that we are called to cultivate or, as Thomas Merton would say, to recover within ourselves. To cultivate and recover attention for both the human, and the more-than-human world.

1 Corinthians 2

For eyes have not seen, nor ears heard, nor the heart conceived,
What God has prepared has prepared for those who love him.

There is still so much we have yet to notice, so many wonders we have yet to see. I am not talking about momentous things but truly seeing and appreciating the simple things of life. To learn to look less casually and more deeply, to truly notice things and delight in everyday sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes. For our eyes of not yet fully seen, nor have our ears heard, neither have our hearts been fully open to, what God has prepared for us in this awesome world we live in.

The Present Festival by Thomas Merton

The rain has stopped.
The quails begin their sweet whistling in the wet bushes.
Their noise is absolutely useless,
and so is the delight I take in it.
There is nothing I would rather hear,
not because it is a better noise than other noises;
but because it is the voice of the present moment,
the present festival.

Friday 26th February 2021

Day 10 Pay Attention! Look!

The easiest way to fall in love with God’s creation is to pay attention to it. For without paying due attention you fail to notice its true beauty, its intricate wonder, and do not allow it to win your heart with awe. Basically, we have begun to take our beautiful world for granted and, as in all relationships, once we begin to do that we lose touch with what made us fall in love in the first place. And yes, there was a time when we were very much in love with our world. When we were children we were filled with awe over a tiny daisy or a flowing stream or brook, they could hold our attention for a long time. As we get older we shift that capacity for attention onto other things, and sadly begin to take our natural world for granted. Learning to look at our world with due attention again is so important.
As I write this particular reflection I am sat on a bank in Appledore, North Devon, on a lovely summers day. I am high up looking out over the bay. It is a beautiful sight, it is mesmerising. But as I look down to write about it in my journal, it is only then that I notice the bright yellow dandelions on the ground in front of me, and am drawn to their particular unique contribution to the scene. They easily become lost and unnoticed in the panoramic vastness of the view before me, and yet, they are also an exquisite part of the scene. When I take time to truly look at the dandelions, I also notice the grasses, the dock leaves, and the clover that surround them; the bees visiting them, the occasional butterfly hovering around them. Then I notice the gentle breeze that moves through the grasses, giving them a gentle sway. It is a whole captivating world in itself; a world that is worth my time noticing it, giving it my full attention, appreciating its existence and its role within our world. And yet, with eyes drawn to the obvious beguiling view ahead of me, it can be so easily missed.
“Look!” said the poet Mary Oliver in one of her poetic creations. “Look! Look!” said Gerald Manley Hopkins, and many other poets before and since. For if we do not take time to look, we fail to notice, and we never get to fall in love.


Look at the birds of the air!
Pay attention to the lilies of the field!

Gerard Manley Hopkins (from A Starlit Night)

Look at the stars! Look, Look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circled-citadels there!

Said Mary Oliver.
Look, Look!
Said Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Be attentive!
Said Thich Nhat Hanh.
Experience what is here!
Said Thomas Merton.
Watch! Behold! and pray
Said Jesus.
The Buddha silently held a flower
And smiled.
Is it not our purpose, our privilege,
To become absorbed in the world around us,
And be captured in delight and awe?
Why else are we here?

Look and See by Mary Oliver

This morning, at waterside, a sparrow flew
to a water rock and landed, by error, on the back
of an eider duck; lightly it fluttered off, amused.
The duck, too, was unprovoked, but, you might say, was laughing.

This afternoon a gull sailing over
our house was casually scratching
its stomach of white feathers with one
pink foot as it flew.

Oh Lord, how shining and festive is your gift to us, if we
only look, and see.

Thursday 25th February 2021

Day 9 Falling in Love

The Irish priest, Daniel O’Leary, tells us that “the reality of being in love with nature lies at the very heart of an ecological spirituality”. In other words, if nature is going to take its rightful place in our spiritual journey into God we have to begin to fall in love with it. That is basically the message that St Bonaventure and Dostoyevsky were giving in yesterday’s reflection. Unless we begin to fall in love with our beautiful world we are simply going to stand by and watch it explode. Love is the only true motivator for taking action. God, the natural world, and humanity are intimately and intricately linked. You cannot damage one without doing damage to the other, and you cannot truly fall in love with one without falling in love with the other. The priest and ecologist, Thomas Berry wrote:

“The world was created and approved by love;
it subsists, coheres, and endures by love,
and in so far that it is redeemable, it can only be redeemed by love.
I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always towards wholeness.”

If there is a primary development that is needed in our Christian faith, in all faiths, for this coming decade, surely it has to be this: Learning to fall in love with our beautiful, God-filled, holy world; getting back in touch with nature, with a part of ourselves that we have so badly neglected. Sadly, I believe, that no matter how much modern technology has brought to our lives, it has also separated us more and more from the natural world. The closest contact with nature that many of us get to is watching “Countryfile” on a Sunday evening, or a David Attenborough documentary. Yes, it is modern technology that has brought some extraordinary filming of the natural world to our living rooms that we would otherwise probably never see; but at the same time it has also made nature something we watch on a screen, rather than spend time in and, more importantly, fall in love with.

Genesis 1

And God said let the earth put forth vegetation,
plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit,
each according to its kind.
And God saw that it was good.

Walking the dog
Early December
Cold crisp
Frosty under foot
Sky stunning
Birds rejoicing
Natures choir

Commuters walking
Heads down
Attention on
Mobile phone

Does anyone notice
All around them?

Will we ever change
Our destructive ways
Unless we first
Fall in love
With our

John Burroughs

I am in love with this world.
I have nestled lovingly in it.
I have climbed its mountains,
roamed its forests,
sailed its waters,
crossed its deserts,
felt the sting of its frosts,
the drench of its rains,
the fury of its winds;
and always have beauty and joy
waited upon my goings and comings.

Wednesday 24th February 2021

Day 8 Loving God Through Creation

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind”, Jesus tells us. How do we even begin to do this? Most of the time we struggle to have any understanding of God, let alone getting around to actually loving God.
The Franciscan, St. Bonaventure, once wrote that we should begin our attempt to love God by working our way up to it. The best place to begin, he said, was to love the smallest and humblest part of God’s creation and to work our way to God from there. I believe he suggested beginning with a rock! But there is much sense in what Bonaventure says. God can only be known through God’s creation, and by beginning to learn to love and revere rocks, sunrises, sunsets, raindrops on a leaf, the flight of a bird, the colours of a butterfly, the grace of a cat, a majestic rainbow etc. – and then maybe widening our circle to including human beings in our many and varied forms. Then we begin to get somewhere. At this point, Bonaventure tells us, we are just a short step away from loving God. In fact, loving everything that God loves and has poured God-self into, we cannot help but be loving God. Russian writer, Dostoyevsky, wrote a similar thing in his novel “The Brothers Karamazov”. One of the characters in the novel said:

“Love all of God’s creation,
the whole and every grain of sand of it.
Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light.
Love the animals, love the plants, love everything.
If you love everything,
you will perceive the divine mystery in all things.”

Jesus told us the most important commandment was to love the Lord, our God. Jesus showed us that the way to do it was to embrace and love life. Many saints, such as St Francis of Assisi, St Bonaventure; the Celtic saints, such as St Cuthbert, and many more, taught us to begin by loving God’s creation and allowing that to be our teacher.
May we learn to love God, and grow in wonder of God, through every humble aspect of God’s world.

Matthew 22

He said to them:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the great and first commandment.
And a second is like it:
You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

Who is my neighbour?
Those who asked Jesus this question
thought that maybe it was members of our own race,
or culture, family, inner circle – people like us.
Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan
to break that narrow thinking.
Now we need to learn to widen our thinking further
to include the more-than-human world.
The environment in which we live,
the fox who wanders down our drive,
the magpie that shouts loudly from roof,
the ant, the snail, the bugs,
flowers, plants, weeds –
the whole created order is our
sister, brother, neighbour, friend.
To love our neighbour is to learn to see them
in a whole new light.

A Rabbit Noticed my Condition
by St John of the Cross (tr. Daniel Ladinsky)

I was sad one day and went for a walk;
I sat in a field.
A rabbit noticed my condition and came near.
It often doesn’t take more than that to help at times.

Tuesday 23rd February 2021

Day 7 Shinrin-yoku: Nature Bathing

The Japanese have a term: Shinrin-yoku, which means “nature bathing”. It is about taking time to go out into the woods, the parks, or other places of natural beauty, and bathe in the healing power of nature. Is it not the same as sun bathing then? Not really, though sun bathing could be part of it. In Shinrin-yoku it is not just about bathing in the sun, but also under the stars, the shade of trees, in rain, in cold, in the wind, and allowing all the natural elements to feed us in body, mind and spirit. Neither is it just about sitting or lying there and soaking it in, though again that is one way to do it. In nature bathing you can be working in the garden, taking a walk, going for a swim, or even a run. The point of it is to be outdoors in the natural world and allow its healing touch to work in your life.
I spoke yesterday of the man I met in the woods, who was discovering that spending an hour or so there was having a profound effect on his moods in his battle with depression. There are many other testimonies like that. Getting out into the open air has been proven to help in dealing with stress, anxiety, lowering blood pressure, and generally helping people feel healthier and happier. So why are we so reluctant to make a commitment to it?
We seem to live in an age where the outdoors is mistrusted. In the recent covid pandemic we were told to stay indoors for the sake of our health, and that seems to have become something we have simply done too much of in recent years. I remember as a child hardly ever being indoors, we would be out exploring, playing football or cricket, making dens, going for bike rides, climbing trees (never my strongest point!) or generally being a nuisance (something I was better at!).
Yes, the world has changed somewhat, and perhaps we cannot have the same freedom today, you have to be more careful as children and adults. But we do need to spend much more time outdoors than we do; whatever our age, we need a lot more Shinrin-yoku in our daily lives. It is not just nature bathing, it is also God-bathing. Modern day religion has put far too much emphasis on indoor spirituality, where our spiritual practice takes place behind closed doors. Shinrin-yoku is very much a spiritual practice we would do well to rediscover.

From Psalm 23 (paraphrased)

You call me to lay down in green pastures,
and lead me to wander beside the still waters.
Through them you prepare a banquet before me,
you anoint my head with gladness,
you restore my soul,
and the cup of my heart overflows with gladness.

Shinrin-yoku, nature bathing;
soaking in the sun, the rain,
the cold, the warmth.
Letting nature embrace you,
renew and refresh you;
allowing yourself to be opened,
like the first bud of spring.

Walking or sitting, lying or strolling,
In meadow, wood, garden or park.
It does not really matter,
as long as you are exposed to
what does really matter.
Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese call it;
engaging with nature is at the heart of it;
and through it with God.

Sarah Ivens

The benefits of forest therapy in part, it is suggested,
are due to various essential oils that are derived from plants;
when grouped together these are called phytoncides.
These are airborne chemicals with antibacterial and antifungal qualities
that plants and trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects.
But phytoncides aren’t merely selfish lifesavers looking after only themselves.
Forest air doesn’t just feel fresher and better for us,
scientists now know that it actually is better for us.
Inhaling forest air, fortified with these phytoncides,
appears to improve the function of the immune systems of humans too.

Monday 22nd February 2021

Day 6 Enjoy What’s On Your Doorstep

Norwegian Polar explorer and author, Erling Kagge, said that Mother Earth is 4.54 billion years old, so it seems arrogant when we don’t listen to what she has to say, and simply place our trust in human invention. I agree, and think that our beautiful world does have much to say to us about so many different things. So how do we listen to what she has to say? Well, I suppose the most obvious thing is to spend time with her, get out doors and walk, or sit and stare, meander, look closely at nature, enjoy it. While I always enjoy getting out of London and spending time in the countryside, you actually do not have to go far to enjoy the natural world. London itself, so I once read, has 3000 parks, around 8 million trees, and 35,000 acres of green space open to the public. So we do not have to travel far to find a little patch of nature to enjoy. I have read books and articles by people who have explored London’s rivers and streams, and have even walked the A-Z (can’t say I’m tempted!) or have visited landmarks. Each one have said how astonished they are of the amount of green space there is in our city and of the thrill of coming across a new patch of it. Here in Grove Park we have so much on our doorstep. A number of lovely parks within easy reach, a nature reserve, the woods, and walks along the Green Chain walk. We really have no excuse to not spend a bit of time enjoying, contemplating, and learning to listen to Mother Nature.
I remember a few years ago walking in the woods, and most afternoons encountering one particular person wandering around them, or sitting on a tree stump reading a book. We began to say “hello” to each other and one day we got into conversation. He told me that he had suffered from depression for years, and had spent much of his time sat indoors. Then one day someone took him for a walk into the woods, which he had never been in before, and he loved it. He had gone back there each day for the last six months and his mood had changed dramatically. “Something is lifted when I come here” he told me. He was learning how to listen to the wisdom of Mother Earth, beginning to wake up to what she had to say, and he liked what he heard. Let’s make the most of what is on our doorstep.

Mark 1

Early in the morning, before the day began,
Jesus rose and went out to a quiet place,
and there he prayed.

For the last 27 years I have been walking most days in Elmstead woods. At first with my terrier, Tyke, and over the last 12 years with my faithful Collie, Noah. The woods, have become a true friend in that time, I have loved them in all seasons. It is in the early morning, before the day begins, that I enjoy them the most. Often still quite dark in the winter months and full of light in the summer. The spring and autumn are particular favourite times with the blue bells, anemones, and the like marking the end of winter; and the falling leaves and changing colours marking the end of summer. It is amazing how many people I speak to have lived around here all their lives and never ventured into the woods. You do not even have to walk there (though you would be missing out), you can drive up New Street Hill and park at the entrance. I love Yorkshire, The Peak District, Kent, and so many other beautiful places in this glorious country of ours, but these woods are on the doorstep, and are accessible every day. Wander up there mid to late April when the blue bells are in full bloom, you will not regret it.

Invaded by the World of the Sacred by Thomas Berry

When we see a flower
A butterfly, a tree;
when we feel the evening breeze
flow over us;
or wade into a stream of clear water –
our natural response is immediate,
intuitive, transforming, ecstatic.
Everywhere we find ourselves invaded
by the world of the sacred.

Sunday 21st February 2021

Day 5 The More-Than-Human World

I love the phrase that is used by the Ecologist David Abram: “The more-than-human-world.” It is phrase that he uses to describe all non-human species and life forms. The reason he uses that phrase is because he thinks that on a whole, when we have thought about the world outside of humanity, we have had a tendency to think of it as less-than-human; we place ourselves at the top of the tree and anything else is inferior. Certainly we can see this if you compare human rights issues with that of animal rights. We begin the whole rights issue with the assumption that our rights are more important. So while we may not want to see unnecessary suffering and cruelty of animals, there is not, on a whole, the same outrage as there is if things are happening to human beings.
The term “more-than-human-world” is a stark reminder to be a little more humble in our assumption about non-human life. We are part of the whole, and are dependent upon all other life-forms to create what is needed for our planet to survive. Everything has its purpose and uniqueness, and if any life form is made extinct there is a knock on effect on all other life forms as well.
It was something I read recently that made me return to David Abram’s phrase, and realise how important it really is. I was reading an article about the effect human activity was having upon certain insects in recent years, and how some are becoming very scarce in this country and on the edge of extinction. The person writing the article, and bemoaning their loss, seemed to come to the conclusion that the biggest loss was to future generations who would not see them or enjoy them. It struck me that this was just the point that David Abram was making, that we see other species merely in the light of what they bring to us. The article was bemoaning humanities loss, not the loss of the insects in their own right. It seemed that it was only the benefit and wonder they brought to us that mattered. I realise that I have often unconsciously thought that way myself. David Abram gives a little reminder of the importance of all life in its own right.
If we can start to see our natural world more and more in this way it begins to deepen our relationship with it, and with the Creator.

Mark 1

And the Spirit drove him out to the wilderness.
He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan;
and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Sermon for Lent 1

The early reflections in our Lenten booklet speak of Jesus connection to nature.
How he spent time on the hillsides, up mountains, by the sea or a lake,
or just wandering through the countryside.
We are also reminded how Jesus uses the natural world in his teaching,
many of his parables being about seeds, vineyards, harvests, fish, pearls,
bread, wine, birds, and other such things.
And in today’s gospel, for the first Sunday in lent,
we read how it was to the wilderness that Jesus went to
when he had to face his inner demons and temptations.

He did not go to the Temple, or to the synagogue, but back to the quiet earth.
I have found over the years that I do exactly the same thing.
When things become too much, or when I have a problem I need to solve,
or a sorrow that I need to come to terms with, it is outdoors I need to be.
There is something about God’s presence in nature that is intimate and soothing.
Indoors my mind just goes round and round in circles,
but walking up to the woods, or out in the countryside, somehow breaks the cycle.

It is not that you walk away from your troubles and leave them behind,
Jesus certainly discovered that was not the case;
but you see them in a new and fresh perspective, you begin to make peace with them, you realise that you are not alone and that God’s creation supports and inspires you.
As Jesus discovered, the angels come and minister to you.

I love that part of the story of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness.
Jesus goes through the ringer in his encounter with his inner demons,
trying to come to terms with who he was and what he was meant to do.
But, we are told, the angels were with him, ready to bring comfort, peace and support.
As you will discover in one of the reflections later in lent,
I believe that the natural world is full of God’s angels.
Jesus discovered they were there again in the garden of gethsemane.

Angels come in many forms,
and when we get out into the natural world we encounter them.
It may be a beautiful wild flower that suddenly catches our eye;
or they visit us in the sound of birdsong suddenly bursting forth from a nearby tree;
the sun dramatically appearing out of a cloudy sky; a rainbow after a summer shower;
the sound of a brook tinkling in some hidden dell, a wave coming in off the sea;
or the wonderful sight of a butterfly or dragonfly.

For me these are God’s angels embedded in nature
for those who open their eyes to see – in the more-than-human world.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins declares that the world is full of the grandeur of God.
I would not want to argue with that, but to borrow his phrase I would say
that the world is full of the angels of God and I am grateful for each and every one.

There are so many ways to read todays gospel reading,
we could focus on Jesus’ encounter with the devil;
and the way he overcomes the very strong temptations for power and popularity.
But this year I would like us to focus on the angels that minister to him.
“He was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him” St Mark tells us,
as if the wild beasts and the angels were somehow interlinked.

I believe they were, and they still are.
Immerse yourself in nature this Lent and I am sure you will experience it for yourselves.
Nature is the most wonderful friend and healer.

Saturday 20th February 2021

Day 4 A Window into God

The Cistercian monk, Thomas Merton, saw the wonder of creation as a mirror of God’s beauty reflected in this world. During his final years, Merton lived in a hermitage in the woods of his monastery, and the natural world became more and more important to his spiritual life. His role, he said, was to look reverently and recognise the unspeakable holiness of creation. He wrote:
“There is no question for me that my one job as a monk is to live life in simple and direct contact with nature…bearing witness to its value and goodness ….and loving God in all of it.”
The wonder of our natural world is a window into God; a mirror reflecting God’s wonder, love, presence and beauty. As St Columbanus said: “If you want to contemplate the Creator, first contemplate creation.”
How different our world becomes when we begin to see it as a window into, or a reflection of, the Presence of God in this world. We begin to look at it differently, with greater reverence and awe. Flowers, trees, hills, streams, bushes, shrubs, birds, animals, insects, become so much more than they seem at first glance. Each is a sacrament of God’s Presence in, and God’s love of, this world. It changes our whole relationship with nature, creation becomes a means of connecting with God’s Holy Presence.
The Franciscan writer, Richard Rohr, calls nature ‘God’s first incarnation’. We make much of God coming to us, and dwelling with us, in the person of Jesus; but Richard Rohr tells us that God first and foremost came to dwell on earth in trees, plants, birds, creatures, sun, water, air etc. It was a natural progression to then come to us as a human being. If we cannot recognise God’s Presence in the awesomeness of creation, we will struggle to recognise it in humanity, in ourselves.
Thomas Merton came to understand this, and became absorbed in creation in order to become fully absorbed in God. This beautiful world, that we have the pleasure and honour of being part of, calls us to do the same.

Psalm 84

How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs for Thee
And faints for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and flesh sing for joy
To the living God.

Even a sparrow finds a home
And the swallow a nest to lay her young
At thy altars, O Lord of hosts,
My God and my King.

Blessed are they who dwell in Thy house
Ever singing Thy praise.
Blessed are they whose strength is in Thee,
In whose hearts are the highways of heaven.

For a day in Thy courts
Is better than a thousand elsewhere.
For the Lord God is a sun and a shield,
He bestows favour and honour.

No good things does the Lord behold
From those who walk His paths.
O Lord of hosts
Blessed are they who place their trust in you.

I have always loved this particular Psalm, but for many years did not really associate the Courts of God with this beautiful world of ours. How foolish! When you really look at the Psalm it is obvious that it is not speaking about a place beyond this world or a kingdom that is yet to come; it is speaking about what we have here, right now. Our God is incarnate, embedded, and flowing through every living thing around us. When we go into our gardens, parks, woods, beaches, fields, moors, dales, or rocky cliff tops, we are entering the Courts of our God and we will find in our hearts “the highways of heaven.”

From the Journals of Thomas Merton

The sun is rising.
All the green trees are full of birds,
and their song comes up
out of the bowers of the orchard.
Crows swear pleasantly in the distance,
and in the depths of my soul sits God.

Friday 19th February 2021

Day 3 Divine Encounters in Nature

While it is true that the church and much modern day religion has become obsessed with words and buildings, the Bible is actually full of divine encounters that take place within the natural world. For example, Moses encountered God before the burning bush; Jacob wrestled with, and received God’s blessing, by the river Jabbok; the Prophet Elijah heard the “still small voice” while sat in a cave; Paul had his dramatic conversion experience on the road to Damascus; Jesus visited mountain tops and desert places to commune with his Father; and the disciples witnessed Jesus transfigured in a deserted place.
The Bible is full of stories of people encountering and experiencing the Presence of God and angels in the natural world, far more than in temples or places set aside for worship. It is predominantly outdoors, in the midst of life in all its myriad forms, that divine encounters took place, that people came face to face with the holy.
The spiritual writer Christine Valter Paintner speaks of the Earth as being the original cathedral, temple, or church; that long before we began to worship God, and seek God’s presence, within buildings we set aside for such things, it was within the natural world that worship, prayer, and divine contemplation took place.
Sadly, over the centuries we seem to have forgotten this and we have narrowed our relationship with God down to particular places and rituals. Now, some of my favourite holy places are churches and chapels, and places built for retreat and prayer; but if they become our only places of holy encounters we miss out on a great deal. Hills, rivers, valleys, woods, fields, gardens, parks, mountainsides, coastlines, caves, wild and desert places, are all beautiful places of worship, prayer and contemplation. If we limit ourselves merely to buildings, as beautiful and holy as they may be, we miss out on a vital aspect of our relationship with God.
My daily walk up into the woods is just as important to my spiritual health as my prayer and meditation in church. The natural world is a window into God, a doorway we can step through into the holy.

Exodus 3

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush.
Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.
So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight –
why the bush does not burn up.”
When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look,
God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said.
“Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Wherever you go today spend just a little time to just
stand still, breathe deeply,
and listen to those words of Moses to God:
“the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
Reflect on times when you have been out and about in the natural world
and suddenly been aware of God’s Holy Presence.
What is your Burning Bush Moment?

The Bright Field by R.S Thomas

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.