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Two Books?

By The Revd Canon Cate Edmonds

A Bible nestling amongst nasturtiums, you may wonder why? Open the pages of the Bible and you will find any number of references to flowers, to trees, to animals and, in fact, all the natural world. From images in the Old Testament and Psalms, to use in Jesus’ parables in the New Testament. Using the natural world, Jesus and many of the psalm writers and prophets were able to illustrate guidance and wisdom for daily life.

Last week I was reading a reflection on a passage of scripture from the Book of Proverbs, where the concept of two books was discussed.

The reflection explained that one book is of nature and the other is of scripture, which is an ancient idea in Christianity.

It was discussed by the seventeenth century physician Sir Thomas Browne in his Religio Medici (pictured):

‘Thus there are two books from whence I collect my Divinity; besides that written one of God, another His servant Nature, that universal and publick Manuscript, that lies expans’d unto the Eyes of all: those that never saw him in the one have discover’d Him in the other.’

For some this may be verging on Pantheism, regarding the universe as a manifestation of God. But for many whom I have met there is a sense of being closer to God when in nature. This brings to mind a verse from a poem by Dorothy Frances Gurney, which I first saw on a plaque in my aunt’s garden:

‘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.’

Certainly during the first lockdown it was noticeable that many people commented that they appreciated the world around them more and particularly the beauty of nature. Was it because they had more time or was it some deep inner need within them? Whichever it was we cannot get away from feeling that there is something uplifting in looking at a beautiful flower, a wonderfully shaped tree with an intricate trunk, the sunset over land or water, or the sight of spring lambs gambolling in fields. So, are some people closer to God even if they don’t always realise it?

It saddens many of us when we think of the harm that is being done to nature through our lack of environmental care which is precipitating climate change. We would, of course, object to the Bible being rewritten or changed out of all recognition but what about the book of nature? It is being rewritten before our eyes. Somehow we need to protect this precious book as we do the scriptures. The Right Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave suggests in one of his reflection pieces that one way of doing this is to build bridges of meaning between these two volumes.

We have to respond to his suggestion and reflect hard on how to build these bridges before more irrevocable damage is done to God’s glorious creation.