By Fr Billy Swan
The summer of 2018 will be remembered in Ireland as one of the warmest and driest in many years. What struck me was the beauty of God’s creation that was on display – the glorious sunsets, the patchwork of colours decorating the landscape, the blue seas, the night sky. Because of this beauty, I found myself drawn deeper into words of the offertory prayer at the Eucharist: ‘Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation’. Here I share a few thoughts on how contemplation of creation can lead us to worship the God of all creation with renewed hearts.
For our Jewish ancestors, God made all things through his Word and by the power of the Spirit: ‘by the Word of the Lord the heavens were made and all their host by the breath of his mouth’ (Ps. 33:6). For the authors of Scripture, God’s fingerprints were on all he has created for ‘the heavens declare the glory of God’ (Ps. 19:2).
In the New Testament, St Paul makes an amazing confession of faith in God as Creator – the man Jesus of Nazareth who they had come to believe was divine, was the personification of this Word through whom all material and spiritual things were made: ‘For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth; everything visible and everything invisible’ (Col. 1:16-17). This means that all of reality is somehow united in Christ and converges on him. The same idea is expressed in the Gospel of John who teaches that when the ‘Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us’ (John 1:14), Jesus entered into a world that had ‘come into being through him’ (John 1:10). In Christ, the material and spiritual worlds unite.
We see this unity of the material and spiritual in the Gospels with Jesus himself where he often points to elements and processes in the natural world to teach important spiritual truths about God and his kingdom. For example he pointed to light as a metaphor for faith, wisdom and goodness (Matt. 4:16; 5:16; Luke 11:34-35; John 1:5; 8:12). He pointed to darkness as a metaphor for evil, sin and ignorance (Matt. 25:30; Luke 22:53; John 3:19). He pointed to the sun’s indiscriminate rays to teach how God’s love is unconditional and is offered to the good and bad alike (Matt. 5:45). He used the human experiences of hunger and thirst to teach of humanity’s spiritual longing for God. He identified bread and water with himself who had been sent by the Father as ‘living bread’ and ‘living water’ (John 4:14; 6:51; 7:37ff). To teach about the divine life and the Father’s kingdom, Jesus pointed to the birds of the air, fish in the sea, sheep in the fields, grains of seed, the harvest, fig trees, vines and branches. His teaching methods invited people to contemplate the natural world because creation’s natural mechanisms and cycles are deeply metaphorical of the divine life he calls us to participate in.
Jesus was so connected to the created world that the earth quaked at his death (Matt. 27:51). He walked on water as a sign of his Lordship over creation (Mark 6:45ff; Matt. 14:22; John 6:15ff). With his resurrection, his material body rose with him, and at once transfigured the material and spiritual worlds in himself. This is why St Paul invites us to become ‘a new creation’ in Christ (Gal. 6:15; 2 Cor. 5:17) and be transfigured by his grace in body and soul.
This theology calls us to recognise Jesus’ presence enflamed in the beauty of all God has made. It means that creation is like a book that remains open for us to contemplate. We don’t always take the time to read this book prayerfully and lovingly. When we do, God attunes our souls to its beauty and we become enchanted by the awesome universe we are part of. Open your eyes to God’s beauty around you and pray with a new heart those words we hear at every Mass: ‘Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation’.