Laurence Wareing encounters “the Glory of God in Creation and Providence”
(Singing the Faith #99—118)
As we point out in our hymn post for Cecil Alexander’s All things bright and beautiful (StF 100), the 24-hour news cycle often focuses on natural disasters, and we have a number of hymns published on Singing the Faith Plus that respond to questions that arise when nature “goes wrong” (see the Conflict, Suffering and Doubt section). It is important, however, to also spend time remembering all that is amazing in the world around us – and this is one of the things that the section “Glory of God in Creation and Providence” offers.
Like other of Alexander’s hymns, All things bright and beautiful takes a statement of Christian belief as it’s starting point: in this case that God is “Maker of Heaven and Earth”. As she observes birds and flowers, mountains and sunsets, her running refrain is that “the Lord God has made them all”.
St Francis of Assisi also picks out specific experiences of nature, the rushing wind and flowing water (All creatures of our God and King, StF 99), but suggests an even more holistic vision of our relationship with the world around us. With writing infused with compassion, he invokes “dear mother earth”; while death is “gentle” – an always present and integral part of our experience of living.
A few more recent writers (Albert Bayly, Andrew Pratt, Steve Turner – and, elsewhere, Andrew Murphy) reflect our expanding understanding of the world and its place in the universe. They write of the world spinning, of planets, galaxies, and “the boundless curves of space” (Albert Bayly, StF 111).
But lovely and deeply human though it is to wax lyrical about the world around us, what has it to do with religious faith? Christians wish to say that it’s because nature and the wonders of creation offer us an image not only of God at work but of God’s own character.
Andrew Murphy picks up on this theme when he observes that “all nature shares one song, showing God’s imagination” (In the wonder of creation, StF 110). Nature, he argues, is a reflection of God’s love, seen also in the life of Christ and in our “Kingdom-shaped endeavour”. In other words, creation and human activity are facets of the same love-inspired project; their focus is shared. For this reason, For the beauty of the earth (StF 102) memorably likens “graces human and divine” to “flowers of earth and buds of heaven”.
Isaac Watts’ insistence – also echoing the psalmists – that singing is an apt response (I sing the almighty power of God, StF 107) is followed by many, perhaps because singing is an activity that engages our whole body. It’s a physical engagement with the air around us as well as a reflective and spiritual one. So Johan Schutz and his later translators urge us to Sing praise to God who reigns above, the God of all creation (StF 117); and “gratefully sing his power and his love”, says Robert Grant (StF 113).
Those words “power” and “love” recur a lot in hymns about creation. Power and glory sufficient to cause chaos and darkness to take flight (StF 106) and to colour the “dawn of creation, racing across the sky, trailing bright clouds of elation” (StF 116) is to be taken notice of. Jesus’ disciples notice it, for sure, manifest in Christ as he “plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm” (William Cowper, StF 104, recalling Mark 6: 45-51).
The real wonder is, though, that this same power by which “God played with the planets, set them a-spinning in time and in space” (Andrew Pratt, StF 108) is deployed by God out of, and for the purposes of, love.
God is love: and he, enfolding
all the world in one embrace,
with unfailing grasp is holding
every child of every race.
(God is Love: let heaven adore him by Timothy Rees, StF 103).
Divine power/love acts for justice, shattering the chains that would bind us, writes Kathy Galloway, with justice that disturbs each illusion, “tearing down tyrants and putting our pride to confusion” (Sing for God’s glory, StF 116).
God’s desire for the best for us raises the question, Why? “Why love humanity? And why keep every mortal name fixed in your memory?” Because, John Bell argues, we have been created “just less than gods to be”. Humanity itself is crowned with honour and glory, but with that comes the responsibility of dominion over “all made by our hand” (O Lord, our Lord, throughout the earth, StF 112).
Our task is to care for creation as God cares for us – and so we reiterate: “Creation and human activity are facets of the same love-inspired project”. We are interdependent because, we wish to say, God is present in all things. As Margaret Rizza has it:
In the darkness of the still night,
in the dawning of the daylight,
in the mystery of creation,
Creator, you are there. . .
In the love for one another,
in the sharing of or being,
in receiving and forgiving,
Creator God, you are there.
(In the darkness of the still night, StF 109)