We sang one of my favourite hymns today. When I was growing up it was “This is My Father’s World”. The hymn book editors updated the language, but they did not change my favourite line, which is “All nature sings and round me rings, the music of the spheres.” It is an ancient idea, which we can see traces of in the Book of Psalms. All parts of God’s creation, the animals, the winds and the waters, the land itself, sing out their own songs of praise to God.
For the last few weeks we have been celebrating the season of Creation, which encourages us to look deeply at our relationship with the world in which we live. A recurring theme has been joining our voices to the great chorus of praise.
Another theme has been that we can gain a deeper understanding of God by paying attention to Creation- in the way that we gain a deeper appreciation for, and connection to an artist, by spending time experiencing their work. When we look upon God’s artistry, we get a glimpse of the love that inspires and energizes it all.
That is the spirit of the hymn I was talking about. It was actually written not far from here, by a Presbyterian minister named Maltbie Davenport Babcock. He served a congregation in Lockport, New York.
Babcock wrote a sixteen stanza poem called “My Father’s World”. The poem was included in a collection of his writing called “Thoughts for Every Day Living”, which his wife had published, after his early death, at age 42, in 1901. In 1916, Babcock’s friend, a man named Franklin L. Sheppard set three of the sixteen stanzas to music, using a traditional English melody he learned from his mother as a child. The tune as he used it is called “Terra Beata”, latin for “Blessed Earth”.
When Maltbie Davenport Babcock lived in Lockport, he took frequent walks along the Niagara Escarpment. That terrain is very similar to what we have north and west of here. He enjoyed the hills, the rocks, the water, and the trees. As he headed out the door he would tell his wife he was “going out to see the Father’s world”.
My favourite line, about “the music of the spheres” has always felt to me to be a poetic way of saying not just that the moons and planets, and stars are singing their praises, but that maybe there is a kind of underlying pattern or meaning in how the heavenly bodies have been arrayed- like they are notes in a musical score.
Alex Parker, the astrophysicist who created the “Starry Night” mosaic from deep space images of stars and galaxies, also has musical projects. I want to play a clip from a piece he created called “Supernova Sonata”. A supernova is a star that has exploded, and the explosion results in tremendous amounts of energy and light being released outward.
Parker used sound from a grand piano and an upright bass to make music in which the volume and pitch are based on information gathered about these bright, dying stars. The volume of each note is determined by the distance of the supernova from Earth. The pitch of each note is determined by the supernova’s stretch, a measurement of how the start brightens and fades over time. If the galaxy where the star is located is larger than the Milky Way the note is played by the upright bass and if the galaxy is smaller than the Milky Way it’s played by a grand piano.
The music is beautiful and eerie. It reinforces my sense that there is, underlying all that God has made, a structure, a logic. The cosmos, and all that is in it, including our little planet, in our little corner of the solar system, in the Milky Way Galaxy, has been made, and is being made, on purpose.
God is at work. We are part of God’s great work, along with all other things that are made, and being made.
In the last few decades there has emerged a movement called Creation Spirituality, which seeks to help people live in response to the idea that we are all part of this greater, beautiful whole. This not a new idea, maybe more of a re-discovery of what many indigenous cultures have always taught- that we are not separate from the world we live in.
Saint Francis of Asissi, who lived in the 12th century, talked about being a brother to the moon, the sun, to the animals and the trees. We will look more closely at him next Sunday during our Blessing of the Animals Service. The traditional feast day for Saint Francis falls right at the end of the season of Creation, and he is kind of an iconic figure in the developing Creation Spirituality movement.
There are different expressions of Creation Spirituality. Not everyone that uses the term agrees on everything- but there are some common elements:
The universe is basically a blessing, that is, something to be experienced as good. We can think of the Universe, and all life, including ourselves, as part of an Original Blessing. This is a different starting place than the religions that place such emphasis on Original Sin. What God makes is made for Good.
We can relate to the universe, and understand ourselves as part of the whole. This may change how we behave, and how we treat other parts of creation- including the land, water, other living things.
Creation Spirituality begins with a sense of wonder about life and about everything around us- we can recover our child-like enthusiasm for beauty, for the sweetness of living. I think this connects to teachings that encourage us to live from gratitude, to look for reasons to feel grateful each day, for this life we are given.
The deeper sense of connection to cosmos has a mystical element to it. It runs deeper than thought or feeling- it is a different kind of awareness. It is a way of prayer.
This mystical view, this sense of connection to the cosmos can tug and poke at our understanding of ourselves. If we are part of God’s ongoing Original Blessing, then we are certainly much more than what we have, or what power we wield, or who we can tell what to do. This growing awareness may push/encourage us to look more deeply at ourselves.
The journey of self-discovery, of being more true to what God has made us to be, may take us on a new spiritual journey. We may begin with a renewed sense of awe, of wonder at Creation. Think about looking up at a starry night sky.
Awe and wonder at creation, and our place in it, does not insulate us from the pain of life. The joy and beauty we experience sometimes also make us even more aware of the suffering in the world- our own, and that of others. As we age, and learn, and grow, there is also the pain that comes with letting go of former ways, and embracing life in the present. Life is always changing, and all living creatures are going through loss and growth, and letting go, all the time.
I used an example of this at the Queen’s Senior’s Apartment communion service this week. We can try it here. Look around at the people around you, and give them your best pout, or mean look. While you’re doing that, pay attention to how it feels to be looking that way, and to see that look on the faces around you.
Now, turn that frown upside down, and try smiling at everyone around you. How does that feel? It feels good to end that out into the universe, and also to receive it.
From our awareness of how it feels, both to receive, and offer those different signals, we can be more in touch with the effect we have on the world around us. We can also be more compassionate, more aware of the hearts of the people in our lives, and what life is like for them.
From compassion may come the deep desire to offer beauty and love to the world that God is making. When we live that way, we are more like God, and more like God is creating us to be. Amen