I have a confession to make, I always have difficulty in differentiating between a naturalist and a naturist, I keep getting the two things mixed up in my head. It doesn’t matter how many times I try to get it straight, if I ever have to talk about it I have to stop and make sure that I am saying the right thing. This, I am sure you can imagine, can make things quite tricky when you are as fond as I am in talking about the natural world and sharing in the bounty of God’s creation.
God’s creation is referred to as “the second book of God”; many of the metaphors and the themes in the Bible can be seen in the natural world around us. It is an image that is glorious far above and beyond our wildest imaginations. You only have to look at the world around us, especially at the moment to see the wonders that it entails. It was the Great American Pioneer Naturalist John Muir (who was actually born in Dunbar, in Scotland) who stated that, “Between every two pine trees is a doorway to a new world”. In the last few weeks I have talked to a lot of people on the telephone, trying to find out if they are alright, have everything they need and many of them have been talking to me about how their garden is a source of joy and pleasure at the moment. Indeed, it's well documented that gardening and being in the natural world has benefits for us all, both physical and in our sense of well-being.
And the reason that I am talking about this is that today is Good Shepherd Sunday, the day when we specifically remember Jesus as being the Good Shepherd. We have in the past tended to think of ourselves as his flock. After all, God tells us human beings that we are made in his image. It only makes sense that Jesus should be talking about us when he says that he is our shepherd. But if any of you who watch the big budget nature documentaries on the BBC will have noticed, nothing is an island, all the inhabitants of this earth are interconnected.
As our understanding of how the world develops, we are increasingly being made aware that nothing in this beautiful, wild world of ours is unconnected. For far too long we have thought ourselves as being set apart from nature when the truth is that we are completely reliant on it. If we are called to be Christ-like then we are also called to be shepherds of God’s Creation, just as Jesus is the shepherd of us.
The fact is that looking after our own little patch of ground, whether that is growing veggies in an allotment or tending the roses and nasturtiums around our houses, is beneficial to us. That then suggests that we are born to be custodians of Nature, to look after our world, God’s world, because in the end, as this health emergency tells us, we are but a small part in all its wondrous glory.
In China they have a saying,
“If you want to be happy for one day, get drunk.
If you want to be happy for a year, get married
If you want to be happy for life, be a gardener”.
I think that we should start an organisation, Gardener’s for God, because even if we don’t know how to look after sheep, we do know how to look after Creation and ourselves.
Rev'd. Mark Nelson