I want to finish this little series of reflections by commenting on the aspect of our Celtic Easter at Chanctonbury Ring and the pagan Beltaine celebration that seemed to ring most bells with people: that of worshipping the Creator in a way that celebrates and includes, rather than excludes, the wider creation.
One of the most noticeable features of modern pagan rituals is that participants see themselves as absolutely integrated with the natural world around them; a feature that is almost entirely lacking from contemporary Christian theology and practice. To my mind, Modern Paganism comes from a false theology, reflecting a belief in the divinization of nature and collapsing the categories of Creator and created. Biblical theology affirms that Yahweh alone is God and that the natural order is Yahweh’s creation, and thus distinct from him.
Nonetheless, I would like to suggest that much of the contemporary Christian theology and practice that I come into contact with also comes from a false premise, one that creates too large a separation of human beings from the rest of creation.
In one sense there is truth in this: it is only the human species that has been created ‘in the image of God’. And yet in other respects – according to the Genesis creation narratives – we are an integral part of the wider creation. We were created on the same day as the other animals; we were given the same blessing (to be fruitful and increase in number), and we have the same breath of God within us (the breath of life in Gen. 2:7 is the same as that in 1:30).
One of the best ways by which we can recover our connectedness is to consider how we join with all creation in worshiping God. Psalm 148 is a wonderful celebration of this reality, as it works through so many features of the natural world – including human beings – exhorting them (us!) to ‘praise the Lord’. Richard Bauckham (in chapter 7 of, Living With Other Creatures) has written insightfully on how God’s creation praises him. He makes the point that it is only human beings who express praise specifically through voice, for the wider creation worships God simply by being themselves: ‘they praise by being what they are, what God has made them, and by doing what they do, what God has created them to do’ (p.149). Surely this speaks into our worship of God too as we praise God, yes through our voices, but also with our whole lives? This was well expressed by Nathan’s question on #3 of this little series: ‘Why is so much of our Sunday corporate worship based on singing and our 24/7 worship based on serving? Should not one learn from the other?’
Seeing ourselves as part of the whole creation’s praise of God has four effects. Firstly, it is a great leveller. In Psalm 148 humans join in with what Bauckham calls, ‘the community of creation’. It is only God who is exalted. Secondly, it teaches us that the wider creation does not exist for us, but for God. As Bauckham says, ‘all creatures exist for God’s glory, and we learn to see the non-human creatures in that way, to glimpse their value for God that has nothing to do with their usefulness to us’ (p. 151).
Thirdly, it then enhances our own worship of God as we attend to the creatures around us. To quote Bauckham again, ‘sharing something of God’s primal delight in his creation (Gen. 1:31) enables us also to delight in God himself’ (p. 154). The final effect of this should then be that we take on our role of looking after God’s wider creation with a greater degree of humility and love than has often been the case. As I said in an earlier post, I struggle with the fact that my main act of corporate worship takes place in a concrete building that contains absolutely no reference to the natural world, even to the point of drawing blinds over the windows so that we can see the screens better. I was struck by Stuart Pascal’s comment on # 2 of my reflections that at his church they mostly face away from the windows and that maybe it was time for ‘a change of 90 degrees’. Maybe we all need to find our way of turning 90 degrees.
So come on, I’d love to hear your ideas. How can we find ways of joining with the rest of creation in praising God together? What might that mean for our corporate worship? Are there steps you have taken that have been helpful that the rest of us can learn from?