Today’s theme is nature, but in writing I’m also mindful of the themes of our last few Mixing Bowl blogs: dance, connection, and gratitude. During lockdown, nature has been one of the things I have been most grateful for. Walks, listening to the birds, watching the trees wave in the breeze, observing the changing seasons – these things connect me to myself, and to God. As I walk in nature, I feel soothed and restored. Spontaneous gratitude arises, and I often also have the sense of nature dancing. The movement of the trees, the waving of flowers, the chirruping in the branches – there is a sense of rhythm, movement and energy. In that sense, the themes we have been exploring all seem to link.
I have been reflecting recently on the lessons of nature; so different from the prevailing culture which promotes acquisition, control and often operates with assumptions of scarcity. Nature is abundant; it cannot be hoarded or controlled. As I am often reminded if I pick a leaf or flower and within minutes it is a droopy, battered version of its former glory, we cannot keep and store and pin down the natural world. It will change; the seasons will continue to follow, one from another; it will not be captured.
Although at times I wish I could capture a flower in full bloom, an autumn leaf at just the right moment or a beautiful sunset, there is something freeing about the impossibility of that. There is something profound in internalising the deep message the natural world can teach us. To be in the moment; to embrace change; to allow for the different seasons and stages; to let go.
I have recently been spending time with the words in Ecclesiastes 3.
A Time for Everything
3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.
Lockdown brought these words to mind, as the rhythms of our days and weeks changed, and there seemed to be an opportunity to use the time differently (not for everyone, I recognise). In normal activity being suspended, there was a void. We are told that nature abhors a vacuum. As we have seen with videos of sheep taking over children’s playgrounds and dolphins swimming in canals normally overtaken by human activity, emptiness does not remain for long. Abandoned buildings are quickly overrun with creatures and plants; life returns in another form.
But the plants which overrun the building depend on what has been planted long before. And in the same way, sometimes the voids in our own lives can begin to fill with what was planted long ago, and not necessarily by us, or by choice! Long-engrained habits can be hard to shift. Patterns of thinking or feeling can begin to drag us down and we often feel like they are outside of our control. At these times, it is grounding to reconnect with the natural world; to take a breath, in, and out and focus on now. To be grateful; to dance; to connect. And to remember that the time will pass, another time will come. The seasons will change, moods will ebb and flow. But if God’s natural creation is anything to go by, he is determined. Life will always find a way.