Things are either natural or man-made.
It’s completely natural. A natural remedy. The natural response. Natural sounds good.
Words associated with man-made: synthetic, artificial, manufactured, unnatural. It’s a man-made problem = it’s our own fault. Man-made sounds a bit rubbish.
What is it about nature, the garden, or the rural, that makes people think of purity, harmony, a soothing balm for weary souls? Perhaps the Garden of Eden, where everything was perfect (or at least potentially perfect) until people mucked it up, has left a lasting legacy. Whether you consider Eden to be real or allegorical, the idea of humanity being the source of the world’s brokenness is one that many seem to instinctively feel to be true. And many of us go ‘into nature’/spend time in a garden, a park or the countryside when we are looking to gain a sense of restoration, or to seek refreshment and escape from the city’s manmade-ness.
The idea of the rural or pastoral as something ideal, sacred, or as inhabiting something special to be returned to, crops up again and again throughout cultural history. The ancient Greeks had the concept of ‘The Golden Age’, a life of harmonious coexistence with nature that had since been lost. The Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements saw natural forms as the ideal source material for creating decorative works. Romantic poets (e.g. William Wordsworth) and painters (e.g. John Constable) immersed themselves in rural scenery to inspire a sense of awe and reverence. Jesus too chose the mountains as a place to retreat and pray (Matthew 14.23). He also recognised the immense beauty of creation: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Matthew 6.28-29).
The image at the top of this blogpost is an example of something natural that recently wowed me – the tiny flower (less than 1cm in diameter) of a jade plant that we have owned for at least 12 years and has never flowered before. It reminded me of this idea, from Owen Jones’ 1856 book, ‘The Grammar of Ornament’, (aimed at students of design and an influence upon the Arts and Crafts movement): “Whenever any style of ornament commands universal admiration, it will always be found to be in accordance with the laws which regulate the distribution of form in nature… [for] future progress of Ornamental Art… return to Nature for fresh inspiration”. The idea that creation/nature displays some of the best principles and ideas for decorative art I think is also demonstrated by Ernst Haeckel’s illustrations in ‘Art Forms in Nature‘ – I have included an example page below.
Assuming there is something special about the natural world, this week I want to suggest an activity as a way to prepare us for a discussion about this topic during next week’s Zoom gathering…
Activity: Spend some dedicated time in a place where natural form/creation is all around, close to you, or can be focused on by you. You don’t necessarily need to leave your home – you could spend time watching the sky through a window or focusing in on the form of a houseplant. You might find it more effective however if more senses are involved. e.g. being able to hear birdsong, feel a breeze, smell flowers etc. Take time to notice and focus on what your senses are aware of.
Could you take a photograph (or if you have time, create something) to capture your experience in some way? We’ll chat about what we found, our responses and the effects being ‘in nature’ may have had upon us. Be honest – it need not be all positive vibes – hayfever sufferers may have an interesting take on this activity!
Below are some words by others that express how creation has focused their minds and hearts on the divine. You might want to consider whether or not these words reflect your own thoughts. The quote in the title of this blogpost, “You’re nearer to God’s heart in the garden”, is taken from a poem also reproduced in full below, and is an idea we can debate next week during our Zoom!
O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
consider all the works thy hand hath made,
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
thy power throughout the universe displayed;
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to thee,
how great thou art, how great thou art!
Excerpt from ‘How Great Thou Art’ hymn by Stuart K. Hine
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go
Or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow
Who imagined the sun and gives source to its light
Yet, conceals it to bring us the coolness of night
None can fathom
You placed the stars in the sky
And You know them by name
You are amazing God
Excerpt from ‘Indescribable’ song by Chris Tomlin
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
The Lord God planted a garden
In the first white days of the world,
And He set there an angel warden
In a garment of light enfurled.
So near to the peace of Heaven,
That the hawk might nest with the wren,
For there in the cool of the even
God walked with the first of men.
And I dream that these garden-closes
With their shade and their sun-flecked sod
And their lilies and bowers of roses,
Were laid by the hand of God.
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,–
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.
For He broke it for us in a garden
Under the olive-trees
Where the angel of strength was the warden
And the soul of the world found ease.