During the long cold days of winter, except for people, all the earth seems to be asleep. Trees are bare of their leaves, plants have died back, animals hide in burrows or nest in the trunks of trees, and only a few birds flit about looking for food. Continue reading The Earth Wakes Up→
Imagine you awoke to find yourself sitting in a meadow. You have no recollection of how you got there. You have no memory of life before this awakening. You get up and walk about, stretching these odd limbs you discover can support you.
Curious, you try to understand something of this place you have been plunked down in and how you got here. You meet other creatures like yourself, and discover that they too awakened with no memory of how they got there.
There is really no need to imagine this. This is how each of us enters the world. Sometime around the age of two or three we begin to awaken to the world we are in. Coming to life, to be me, is not something any of us remember; it is shrouded in mist. We are told about conception and birth, but that only pushes back the mystery. It does not explain it.
We all wake up in life and find ourselves already living, already loving, already going somewhere. Someday our lives will recede back into the mists from which we came. But in this brief moment of our days we sit blinking in the meadow.
What this fact does is stir in us the gasp of simply being that is basic to being a human. We can offer no account or explanation of how we emerged from nothingness to be these people.Down deep at the bottom of our existence we discover that we receive ourselves rather than make ourselves.
My life is a gift to me I did not even pray for. No one asked me whether I preferred to be or not to be. I was simply plunked into a meadow, and there I woke, staring about in astonishment.
This is the basic question humans can ask: why is there something rather than nothing? The Christian tradition has always seen a great coherence between this un-explainableness of life and the fact that God is the creator who has no need for this creation. God is infinitely transcendent to creation. Creation is not bound to God by some logic other than love. Thus creation on its own terms cannot be explained.
God created the world not because some logic or law forced him, or because creation would fill up something missing in his being. There is no earthly explanation for why God created the world other than to say for the love of it. We exist because God enjoys the fact that people such as us should exist.
Cameron McKenzie has a signature to his emails that says, “When God is forgotten, the creature itself grows unintelligible” (John Paul II). When we no longer believe in a transcendent, personal God who loves the world and creates for the sheer love of it, the wonder of being human is deflated and our fellow humans no longer seem marvellous and fascinating. These objects, once called persons, now become just more matter to be manipulated and dominated at our own will.
Let God be exalted, magnificent, and infinitely perfect in our imaginations and confession.
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honour” (Psalm 8:4-5).
I am so glad that summer is on the horizon. Spending time outdoors was a huge part of my childhood. My family shared many weekends at a small one-room cabin on a river, fishing, swimming, canoeing and just enjoying the beauty around us. We would watch the beavers make their way up and down the river, hope to see a deer come out at dusk for a drink, and listen to the wolves howl at night.
Through those long summer days at the cabin, my parents passed on their values of living contently and taught us to steward nature and share it generously with others. We learned to appreciate what the Lord had given to us, including the abundance of natural beauty. I have always found that enjoying God’s creation refreshes my soul and helps me keep a healthy mind, body, and spirit. Recently, several scientific studies have confirmed that spending time in nature is good for your overall wellbeing and mental health.
A recent study by Holli-Anne Passmore of the University of British Columbia examined the connection between personal wellbeing and taking a moment to look at something from the natural environment. Passmore was “overwhelmed” by the descriptions of emotions submitted by the study’s 395 participants– their happiness, sense of elevation and their level of connectedness to other people. Another study by Dr. Andrea Mechelli of Kings College in London concluded that the positive effects of a single exposure to nature – for example, walking the dog, going for a run, or spending time in the garden – can last for seven hours after an individual has experienced it. The study also found that individuals at greater risk of developing mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, benefit even more from getting outdoors than others.
This research is compelling, but you don’t have to be a scientist to understand the power of spending time in nature. From the very beginning, people have delighted in God’s wondrous handiwork. Countless songs and stories throughout history describe the beauty of the natural world. In Psalm 19:1-3, David writes of how nature reveals God’s magnificent beauty and truth: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”
My father once told me of bringing my ailing grandfather to our cabin to enjoy the pristine wilderness setting he loved for the last time. As they sat on the bench outside, taking in the serenity, a black bear swam by just a few hundred feet away. My father says he knew that this rare event was a gift from God – a demonstration of His love and generous ways. Framing my own experiences of nature as an extravagant gift that God freely gives has inspired me to deeply appreciate these gifts and to respond by giving generously from the resources God has entrusted to me. Rather than just sharing a snapshot of a pretty view, I am inspired to share the blessings that allowed me to experience that snapshot.
Everyday, we’re surrounded by amazing displays of God’s creation: a sunset as we drive home from work, birds twittering in the neighbourhood trees, or a weekend hike in the woods. As the weather warms and we start to spend more time outdoors, I hope we all take more notice of these little gifts. Perhaps instead of just capturing a photo to share this summer, we’ll be inspired to respond with renewed gratitude and generosity.
Pamela Miles is the Director of Gift Planning at Abundance Canada. For more than 40 years, Abundance Canada has effectively helped Canadians with their charitable giving in their lifetime and through their estate. To learn more, visit abundance.ca or call 1.800.772.3257 to arrange a no obligation free consultation.
 Holli-Anne Passmore & Mark D. Holder (2016) Noticing nature: Individual and social benefits of a two-week intervention, The Journal of Positive Psychology,12:6, 537-546, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2016.1221126
 Bakolis, I., Hammoud, R., Smythe, M., Gibbons, J., Davidson, N., Tognin, S., & Mechelli, A. (2018). Urban Mind: Using Smartphone Technologies to Investigate the Impact of Nature on Mental Well-Being in Real Time. BIOSCIENCE, 68(2), 134-145. DOI: 10.1093/biosci/bix149
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference