Trystan Owain Hughes, author of 'Living the Prayer' and the forthcoming 'Opening our Lives' (BRF Lent Book, 2021), considers the importance of appreciating the natural world during the pandemic
During the past few months, despite the worry, frustration, and sadness of the Covid pandemic, I’ve taken a moment each day to sit in my garden, looking up at the trees swaying in the breeze and watching the birds. I’ve seen goldfinches, goldcrests, friendly squirrels, green woodpeckers, a greater spotted woodpecker, and two tawny owls – all that despite us living in the middle of a city. In the book of Genesis we are told God created this beautiful world and then he looked back at the seas, the rivers, the mountains, the trees, the flowers, the birds, and the animals, and he saw that it was tov me’od (Hebrew: 'very good'). My daily moments in the garden have reminded me quite how life-enhancing nature is.
It seems I’m not the only one who has been reconnecting with nature over these past few months. Numerous newspaper articles have detailed how nature helped us cope during lockdown, instilling in us a sense of calm and peace. Young and old, people from all sorts of different backgrounds, people in different countries, found in the natural world an uplifting reminder that while we were at a standstill, while we were all in lockdown, the earth was still turning. In our gardens and on our daily walks, we have been appreciating blossoms, bees, butterflies and birds. Nature, despite the worry and pain we still face, continues as normal.
In the past few days, we have welcomed a hamster into our family – little Mi-Mi – and the joy on my children’s faces as they tend to this quiet little rodent has reminded me that we don’t even need to leave our houses to connect with the natural world. Our pets, our houseplants, and even the birds flying past our windows can also help us cope with difficult times, bringing us joy and a sense of calm. There is ample evidence now that nature in all its forms, indoors and outdoors, can help lift us from anxiety, stress, or depression. In reflecting on the lockdown, biologist Professor Adam Hart summed this up by stating: 'I think people are looking at nature with new eyes at the moment; there seems to have been a collective realisation of how important it is to our lives and our wellbeing.'*
One of my favourite passages in the Bible is towards the end of the book of Job – chapters 38 to 41. There, God speaks to Job and shows him the beauty and magnificence of the natural world. Later on, in the New Testament, Jesus’s stories, sayings, parables, and even miracles are infused with nature – sheep, vineyards, birds, rocks, wheat crops, pigs, seeds, fish, flowers, and rivers. There is certainly something awe-inspiring about wildlife – it is able to inspire us and lift our spirits. It was no coincidence that, during lockdown, newspapers wowed us with amazing pictures of animals which got more and more confident in our empty towns and cities – kangaroos on the streets of Adelaide, wild boars on the pavements in Paris, lions basking on South African golf courses, mountain goats munching flowers from Llandudno gardens, and sheep playing on a children playground in Raglan, South Wales.
My own church community, Christ Church, Cardiff, has just been awarded the Eco Church bronze star for for our environmental care – and we are determined to make it to the gold star rating soon! A big part of the Eco Church movement is having church communities and individual Christians who care for God’s creation, and appreciate it, not just on Sundays but on every day of the week. So, this week, whether you are walking to work or taking some daily exercise, open your senses to the beauty and wonder of the natural world around you – the bird song, the green foliage, and the blooming flowers. And if you’re inside, and can’t get out for whatever reason, you can still stroke your pet, water your plants, or simply look out of your window at the trees swaying or the birds flying past. God meets us in his creation, and we meet him when we take even a moment to appreciate his wonderful world.
* Biologist Professor Adam Hart, from the University of Gloucestershire, quoted in HuffPost UK here.
Trystan Owain Hughes is Tutor in Applied Theology at St Padarn’s Institute, Cardiff and priest-in-charge of Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff. He is particularly interested in making theology and spirituality relevant and he has written, among other books, Real God in the Real World and Living the Prayer for BRF. Trystan has also been a regular contributor to BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 4, is an honorary senior lecturer at Cardiff University, and is Canon Theologian at Llandaff Cathedral.
The BRF Lent Book for 2021
Lent is not about giving up or taking up, but a radical opening up: the opening up of our lives to God’s transformative kingdom.That is the challenge Trystan Owain Hughes sets in Opening Our Lives. Through practical daily devotions he calls on us to open our eyes to God’s presence, our ears to his call, our hearts to his love, our ways to his will, our actions to his compassion and our pain to his peace.
'Opening our Lives' is published on 20 November 2020. For more information and to order click here.
What are we really saying when we say the Lord's Prayer?What are we expecting? Living the Prayer is a fresh perspective on the Lord's Prayer. Rooted in the Bible as well as in contemporary culture, it explores how this prayer can radically challenge and transform our daily lives. Contained in the prayer's seventy words is a fresh and innovative way of viewing, and acting in, the world that is as relevant now as it was 2000 years ago. The author shows that this revolutionary prayer demands that we don't remain on our knees, but, rather, that we work towards making God's topsy-turvy, downside-up kingdom an everyday reality. For more information and to order click here.