I’ve been thinking about this beautiful world we live in this week. It’s autumn, such a perfect season for those of us that love the changing colours of the leaves and the crisp, refreshing weather. But, perhaps you prefer winter with its sparkling white stillness and peaceful dark evenings. Or summer, with its lush gardens and radiant sunshine. Maybe your favourite time is spring when everything is bursting with life. The possible variations of beauty offered to us are many.
This old hymn, written by Isaac Watts in 1715, speaks to the beauty of nature. His understanding of the value of all these wonders is quite powerful. Mountains rise, seas flow, skies are lofty, the sun rules the day, the moon and stars shine at night. There is the goodness of food and creatures, and there is not a plant or flower that doesn’t express something glorious. These words speak to the incredible value of what we have and what we share.
I sing the mighty power of God
that made the mountains rise,
that spread the flowing seas abroad
and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
the sun to rule the day;
the moon shines full at God’s command,
and all the stars obey.
I sing the goodness of the Lord
that filled the earth with food;
God formed the creatures with a word
and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how thy wonders are displayed,
where’er I turn my eye,
if I survey the ground I tread
or gaze upon the sky!
There’s not a plant or flower below
but makes thy glories known,
and clouds arise and tempests blow
by order thy your throne.
While all that borrows life from thee
is ever in thy care,
there’s not a place that we can flee
but God is present there.
When Watts wrote these words, I suspect his focus was on the power of God to create all these wonders. And, for many, this continues to be a meaningful understanding of creation, of our world. But even if you have a different understanding of our origins, there is something rather amazing about having a place on a planet so full; living amongst these things that are so easily seen as remarkable. The beauty that surrounds us implies our own beauty, by association and by virtue of us being a part of the wonder of this beautiful world.
And yet, this week the UN panel on climate change released a report that paints a sad picture of how we have treated our planet. Perhaps not entirely new information, but it is clear and quite dire. We are said to be on a very short road to catastrophe. The impacts have already been seen and felt by many. As I read through this hymn text, I was struck by how easily we praise the natural beauty around us – whether we consider it to be divinely derived or not – and how little we are willing to protect it when doing so means sacrificing our lifestyles, our aspirations, our wealth and our convenience.
If I really consider these words, I wonder if I am willing to go beyond my own enjoyment of the seasons, the glories of nature, the treasures of the animal world and really do what is required to protect all of these things I claim as beautiful. For that which is beautiful is something to be cared for, to be sheltered, to be encouraged to thrive. These wonders are not merely for our consumption. They are essential for our health, welfare and future. But if we believe in their intrinsic value, they are also worth conserving simply because they exist. The beauty of our earth is life giving and inspirational. It is our saviour and our fortune. We treat it as though it is our possession, to be used at our whim. It is not. We owe it much more than we have been willing to repay. We borrow our lives from it, and it is good. We need to treat it as the treasure it is – a gloriously made gift to all who live now, and in days to come. A gloriously made gift to be shared and cared for with a well-deserved tenacity and commitment.
This earth is our home. Look around and take it all in. It is worth so much more than we have given. It is a mighty power – and it is beautiful.