Environment, Spirituality

Turning 90 Degrees (Pagan/Celtic Reflections #4)

May 22, 2012

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?

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  • Reply contemplativeactivist May 22, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Thanks, Ruth. I believe that the interrelatedness of Creator and creation is even far more significant. I believe that the whole of creation carries within it the image of God, not simply humanity. I base these thoughts on the work of Bonaventure and Duns Scotus, two fine Franciscan Scholastics.

    If we recognise that Christ, the Word, was present at the moment of creation – nothing controversial there – and that, “Through him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life”, then we can acknowledge that the Triune God is inherent in all of creation.

    We acknowledge that God is not contingent upon anything or anyone, yet all of creation is contingent upon God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. With this view we can look at creation as an expression of the love of God. When we reflect upon a sunset, a field of poppies, a stag in the wilderness, we are not reminded of aspects of God’s character, we are in fact gazing upon an actual expression of God.

    Paul reminds us that all of creation is groaning awaiting the moment when it is reunited in fullness with the Creator; and humanity, which has been given rationality, is invited by the Godhead to lead creation back into God’s warm embrace.

    Hence, we see God in every aspect of creation. We treasure, affirm and respect the creation that the Creator has created and treat it with the fullest respect.

    I conclude with this question. Is it any surprise that we are facing a challenge within our society where the aged, the infirm, the terminally ill are treated with a minimum of respect and love when for years we have believed we have a right to take from the creation anything we choose and leave wastelands behind once the material benefit it affords has been consumed?

    One reason that our elderly population is mistreated, disrespected and discarded is that society has harvested all the use they can from them, children have consumed their parenting needs and no longer require a ‘parent’ for any practical purpose, HMRC is unable to make more money from them than the government has committed to invest in them, the NHS sees no reason to repair broken bodies and minds since such elderly offer no medium to long term material benefit to society.

    When first you pillage the earth of its beauty and resources, it is only a small step to seeing humanity as no more than a further source of income generation. Lose sight of the image of God in creation and you will become blind to the image of God within humanity. Once that happens you have no need of God at all. May God have mercy upon us all.

    • Reply ruthvalerio May 22, 2012 at 5:50 pm

      That’s a hugely challenging comment… I think we’ve been so nervous of New Age thinking that we’ve then swung too far over and created too sharp a distinction between Creator and creation. We live in such a divorced society in so many ways and it has such ramifications all the way through our lives. As you say, may God have mercy on us.

      • Reply contemplativeactivist May 23, 2012 at 8:30 am

        Ah! Let us leave nervousness behind us and provide leadership rather than produce defence strategies. This is the one reason that I have lost confidence in the evangelical context that framed the start of my journey of faith. It appears incompetent of providing leadership concentrating solely on a defence of its position. It bleats like a forlorn lamb whilst we are all looking for a lion. I carry all the richness that I drew from that wonderful tradition and trust it will awake from its slumber and, Aslan like, roar to awaken Narnia before the White Witch beguiles us all.

  • Reply Holly May 22, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    possibly an obvious one, but I remember one lovely, inspiring and very meaningful life group session, where we stood out in the garden and each person found an aspect of the natural environment to praise God for, and to reflect on his wonder. Simple, but humbling, because of the breadth of the open sky and the amazing detail in just one leaf.

    • Reply ruthvalerio May 22, 2012 at 5:50 pm

      Yes, it’s amazing what such a simple act can do – just getting outside changes things somehow.

  • Reply emspandley May 22, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Hi Ruth,
    Just picked up this thread of yours and have read all your celtic/pagan/christian posts! Its been music to my ears! I have been doing quite a bit of Yoga recently and love it for the reasons you were talking about-its with my whole body and it is an experience that you can soak up and you don’t need to use your head. Ive found that it helps me to connect my mind with my body and i feel so much better for it! We aren’t going to a church consistently at the moment, mostly because we find it so hard to relate to what is done in a church-we’re far more likely to go on a walk and connect with God through nature-your description of Chanctonbury sounded amazing, and much more the kind of thing i feel i could relate to!
    Thanks for all your thoughts, i will definitely keep reading!!

    • Reply ruthvalerio May 24, 2012 at 7:46 am

      Great, Em, really nice to see you here and I’m so pleased you’ve found these posts helpful. I so relate to how you’re feeling… x

  • Reply thelifeartist May 23, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    Hello Ruth (LOVE your name by the way)!

    Your heart in this topic beats so close to mine and I really appreciate your language. I need to go back and read the other three parts, but just wanted to “pop in” first. 🙂


    • Reply ruthvalerio May 24, 2012 at 7:45 am

      So pleased this has been resonating with you, Erika, thanks so much for letting me know. Nice to make contact.

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  • Reply Felix September 3, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    Thanks forr finally writing about >Turning 90 Degrees (Pagan/Celtic Reflections #4) |
    Ruth Valerio <Loved it!

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