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God’s creation is speaking (October 2021)

Dear Friends

I used a quote from Augustine at Trinity-Henleaze a few weeks ago. It feels so contemporary that I hope you’ll not mind me repeating it:

“Some people,” he wrote, “in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?”

I find this such a powerful reflection upon the wonders of the natural world and their many ways to point to the hands of the Creator lying behind them; God’s fingerprints all over things. I suspect it is a truth echoing in our own experiences from the butterfly’s flight to the glacier’s mirror cliffs, from the fragrance of the rose to the rattle of pebbles washed by surf. And I love Augustine’s final question; what more need God do to call to us than give us the whole of the cosmos?

Augustine was born in 354AD and spent much time in Hippo Regius in the Roman Empire’s North Africa, where the Algerian city of Annaba now stands. He was a philosopher, theologian and became Bishop of Hippo. He stands as one of the greatest thinkers and writers of the early Church. John Calvin, from whom our URC Presbyterian and Congregationalist traditions draw so much, was deeply influenced by him. He wrote: “Augustine is so wholly within me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I could do so with all fullness and satisfaction to myself out of his writings.”

You’ll not be surprised by my affection for Augustine’s perspective as you read this October newsletter because this month ends with COP26, the twenty-sixth United Nations climate conference gathering in Glasgow. Hopefully, by the time you read this, many of us will have been tuning in to the weekly online talks and creative sessions arranged through Trinity College, Glasgow in the build up. And, in my weekly ‘Companions’, we’ve followed the team of young people on pilgrimage from the G7 summit in Cornwall to Glasgow, highlighting the significance of climate change, the need for the world’s richest and most developed nations to fully engage with transforming our carbon footprints, and the passion young people have surrounding the whole climate and environmental agenda. It will be, after all, generations coming after us who will reap the consequences of what we do, or fail to do, today.

I remain deeply optimistic. I think I’ve glimpsed, at times, some of the worst that human beings can do to one another and to the planet. But I have also been blessed, with the access that is amongst the privileges of ministry, to see people at their best, communities transforming despair into outrageous hope, and change that overwhelms darkness with gorgeous light. I always read the Bible’s opening “In the beginning…” as God’s supremely and ridiculously optimistic step. The Bible vibrates with optimism. God seems not to be put off despite so much that might end the love story with endless tears. Mary’s “Yes” to the news that she will carry the Messiah is but another example of optimism stamping its gold upon the human race. And I find the sheer existence of churches and the continued commitments we make in worship, prayer, pastoral care, outreach and mission abundant evidence of optimism.

God’s creation is speaking. It is wounded and it is letting us know it. We understand enough now to know that humanity is a threat to all creation. God’s open book lies in our hands. It awaits our responses. Glasgow awaits a conference the likes of which we have never known.

Friends, let us be fervent in praying for the outcome of COP26.

Let us discover what we can do to limit our own impacts and put holy pressure upon our government.

Dear God, let us listen to your loud voice!

Yours in Christ,