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The Green Liturgy: Can we read creation?

In our frenzy of constant consumption and artificial input, have we grown numb to the original Holy Whisper underlying all that exists? Yet outside our doors, an ancient liturgy is unfolding - the greening of trees, the unfurling of wildflowers, the meandering of streams over stone. Creation's grand symphony plays on, inviting us to return to our senses, to reawaken to the presence of the Creator echoing through every texture, every cadence of the natural world.

There's something that I think we so often miss when we consider Jesus's teachings in the gospels. I think it might be because we recognise that the first century world in which Jesus lived was so different to ours, and so we do a lot of work to translate the teachings of Jesus in our current context. We seek to export timeless meaning from the first century context; transport it across to the 21st century; and download it in our current moment. 

In a certain sense, there's a lot of wisdom in this. 

But I think as we export meaning from the first century context, sometimes an important aspect of Jesus' teachings is overlooked.  

Jesus exhibited a unique relationship to the land and wider creation. 

Jesus spoke of sparrows, sheep, wolves, goats, oxen, donkeys, foxes, fish, snakes, sea, monsters, scorpions, moths, swine, dogs, birds, cocks, salt, figs, grapes, eggs, fruit, oil, wheat, mustard, seeds, yeast, nests, fig trees, branches, wood, logs, specks, lilies, grass, grain shrubs, bramble, bushes, thorns, thistles, weeds, soils, land, rocky ground, mountains, deserts, dust, gardens fields, vineyards, light, fire earth, wind, water, seeds, lakes, rivers, rain, floods, stones, rocks, pearls, sand sun moon, stars, skies, heavens, clouds, weather, wolves and worms. 

As theologian Kwok Pui-lan observes: 

"I do not think these natural images are just rhetorical devices or embellishments of Jesus's teachings, because I think they are an inseparable part of his message."

Isn’t that interesting? That Jesus speaking of worms, wolves and weather wasn’t simply a way of communicating within an agrarian culture, but rather his choice to lean so heavily on wider creation to offer his teaching illustrates the ways in which wider creation - nature - was part of his message and part of the way he wanted humanity to hear from God.

On one occasion, when the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke his disciples, Jesus replied, 

 “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

And we similar things in other parts of the Bible: 

Psalm 19:1-4, says 

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." 

The Apostle Paul also affirms in Romans 1:20 that God's "invisible qualities" have been "clearly seen" through the created order.

Job 12:7-8

7 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you,

    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;

8 or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,

    or let the fish in the sea inform you.

Does creation speak?

Can it be heard? Can it be read?


The book of creation

The Christian community has long held that the scriptures of the Old  and New Testaments are ‘inspired’ by God and the basis for faithful reflection in the church.  At the same time, Christian writers have maintained that creation can be read as a text about God, and that God has presented us with ‘two books’: scripture and the natural world.

It's best to read scripture and nature in dialogue with one another. Without such attention, our reading of the other will be misinformed. Just as the Bible offers 4 distinctive accounts of the gospel story, so Scripture and Nature offer two accounts of God's story.

Augustine wrote, “Others, in order to find God, will read a book. Well, as a matter of fact, there is a certain great big book, the book of created nature. Look carefully at it top and bottom, observe it, read it. God did not make letters of ink for you to recognise him in; he set before your eyes all these things he has made. Why look for a louder voice? Heaven and earth cries out to you, ‘God made me.’’

Thomas à Kempis, likewise, suggested, “If your heart is right, then, every creature is a mirror of life to you, and a book of holy learning, for there is no creature – no matter how tiny, or how lonely – that does not reveal God's goodness.”

And Meister Eckhart wrote:

‘Every single creature is full of God, 

and is a book about God. 

Every creature is a word of God.’

Paul of the Cross from the 18th century penned these thoughts: 'when you're walking alone, listen to the sermon preached to you, by the flowers, the trees, the shrubs, the sky, and the whole world. Notice how they preach to you sermon full of love, of praise of God, and how they invite you to glorify the sublimity of the sovereign Artist who is given them being.'

When it comes to hearing God through creation, most of us, I imagine, have a lot to learn from many indigenous communities around the world. 

For many indigenous communities around the world, hearing the Creator's voice happens most profoundly through immersion in the natural world and its rhythms. The Lakota people find this connection each dawn as the rising sun ushers in a new day, a practice their scholars call "First Thought Theology" - inviting a sacred relationship with the land, ancestors, and the regenerative mysteries of creation itself. The Choctaw theologian Steven Charleston sees the very landscapes, seasons, and cycles of nature as the plane where God's eternal providential presence becomes audible. By attuning our souls to these created patterns, we discern the Divine's call to right relationship reverberating through every ecosystem.

The Cherokee and Keetoowah scholar Randy Woodley speaks of the "Harmony Way" - a way of living that emphasises listening for the Creator's voice echoing through all creation. The key is rediscovering our deep connection and kinship with the natural world; the plants, animals, waters, and lands are family. By living in balanced reciprocity with them, we open ourselves to the divine whispers speaking through the circle of life. The Quechua peoples capture this sacred reciprocity in their concept of "ayni" - giving back to Pachamama (Mother Earth) in gratitude for her gifts. Appreciating nature's provisions like life-giving rains and warming sunshine becomes a way of conversing with and honouring the Creator.

While a couple of these perspectives come from indigenous spiritual traditions outside of Christianity, as followers of Jesus we can still find wisdom and truth in how they attune themselves to hear the Creator's voice echoing through the natural world God has made. 

As we grow in our ability to read creation, we will discover that it has much to teach us. 

The created world has the power to reveal to us something of God, to awaken us to the presence of the divine, shouting out to those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Additionally, learning to ‘read creation’ helps us to re-read the scriptures with an eco-theological lens, helping us shift away from more anthropocentric (human-centred) interpretations of scripture that have led to so much exploitative and destructive behaviour. 

All creation - breathing and inanimate, tempestuous and serene, mighty and hidden

fleeting and enduring, complex and simple, by nature of being faithful to its very nature, 

all creation praises the creator, and reminds us of the One who is its Creator, Owner and Sustainer.


Rolling green hills

Photo by Qingbao Meng on Unsplash

Reading Creation: Eco-Theological Insights

1 Comment

Stephen Woodward
Stephen Woodward
Apr 16

Thanks for sharing this Clark, it's so interesting. I've never read anything on this topic, on reading creation, and it's such an interesting perspective. That Augustine quote is brilliant (as is your final paragraph!)

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