Beauty in Creation

Harvest time: season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Last week I had the privilege, for the third year running, to conduct a quiet day in a church set in a National Trust property (Gunby Hall in Lincolnshire) and the weather and the gardens were quite perfect. The fruit in the orchard and the vegetable garden added a scent-filled gloss to a scene of natural goodness; creation in perfection.

There is no doubt that God speaks to the soul in the beauty of creation. As Ignatius sets out in his ‘first principle and foundation’, ‘man was created to praise and reverence God, and by this means to save his soul for ever. Everything else which God has created was created to help man towards the end for which he was made.’

There is a problem here. It is quite possible to get stuck in something close to pantheism. The Christian Faith does not teach that God is present in each atom of the seen creation. Creation made all things from nothing by the ‘Almighty Word.’ Creation is a means of communication. God speaks through creation – he is not trapped in it.

Humanity is the pinnacle of God’s created order because we are made to live with God forever. The rest of the created order is not. Adoring creation is not the same as adoring God. St Ignatius goes on to say in his ‘first principle’ that it is vital to become ‘indifferent’ to creation. By this he means that it is contrary to the soul’s well-being to become too attached to any one thing or person or activity. Everything is subject to corruption.

This may sound severe and puritanical. Indeed, it might be the cause of a slow drift to heresy if an individual begins to think and feel that the seen creation is evil and dangerous. This is quite wrong. It is vital, however, if one is searching for a lively spiritual life not to be mastered by any ‘thing’ – no matter how good and beautiful it is in itself. Some fundamentals of spiritual discipline come into play here. First is the essential grace to be thankful. ‘It is indeed right at all times and in all places to be thankful.’

The simplest way to keep an attitude of thankfulness at the centre of consciousness is a careful and prayerful use of a grace, before and after meals. Secondly, a carefully thought out measure of giving, ideally tithing, places a person in a proper relationship to ‘things’. Thirdly, taking seriously the God-given responsibility of being a steward of creation: green issues are not just environmental issues, they are theological and spiritual ones too. Fourthly, to develop a pattern of fasting as well as feasting schools the individual, by nurturing the will and imagination to use and not be used by creation.

St Augustine in his Confessions writes with great sorrow ‘how late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, how late have I loved you.’ He laments because before his conversion he ‘fell on the lovely things you have made’ – ‘not knowing it was you who made them.’ May God give us grace to adore him as the source of all goodness, truth and beauty.