Tiffany. Sherman. Webster. Albion. Devil’s Punchbowl. Over the last 8 years, these and several of the other 100+ waterfalls in Hamilton, ON, have become my friends. Admittedly, I feel a bit weird describing these locations as friends, as if my social relationships now include inanimate objects. But quite honestly, I know these waterfalls better – and likely have more pictures from my time with them - than I do with 90% of the people I’m connected to via my social media accounts.
Tiffany and Sherman – and the Bruce Trail that runs between them – have become places of pondering for me. During one stretch when both my church work and my academic work felt overwhelming, I recall sitting near the basin of Tiffany. Looking up from the notebook in which I had furiously been pouring out my complaints to God and scribbling together random to-do lists, I noticed the weather-worn rocks in the creek bed.
Most of those rocks have likely been in that space for centuries, if not millennia. Their once-sharp corners smoothed by currents of water and wind. And yet, somehow in their deteriorated state, they still reminded me of God’s faithfulness to a thousand generations. They spoke to me of a peace that endures. They taught me about a God who generously welcomes the broken and discarded as part of his creation’s beauty. I sat in awe as those rocks cried out.
“They Pour Forth Speech”
By now, I should not be surprised at creation’s capacity to show us something of who God is. After all, creation’s testimonies fill the pages of scripture, like springtime wildflowers blooming on the sunny slope of a mountain. Genesis opens with the emerging richness of God’s creativity; Revelation ends with God at the center of an abundantly flourishing of creation, complete with nation-healing leaves on full display. Abraham discovers God’s provision through a ram caught in a thicket. His many-generations-later grandkids would learn of God’s provision through manna and quail and water in the desert. Isaiah would appeal to snow and to rain to describe the cleansing mystery of God’s forgiveness. Proverbs encourages us to look at the ants for developing a long-range work ethic. Jesus invites us to consider the lilies and the birds in such a way as to free us from worry.
And David would sing – Oh, how he would sing! He teaches us that the one who meditates on God’s law day and night is “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither.” (Ps. 1) Pointing to the heavens, he declares: “Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” (Ps. 19) Giving expression to God as our steadfast refuge in the midst of our greatest fears and turmoil beyond measure, David writes: “we will not fear though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (Ps. 46) David also describes his longing for God’s presence by drawing our attention to the sparrow and swallow nesting near the altar (Ps. 84) and by the deer panting for streams of water. (Ps. 42) He points to God’s majesty in Psalm 8, calling the heavens “the works of God’s fingers.” And in Psalm 23, David layers one image of creation onto another, from shepherd’s pasture and gentle streams, to narrow paths and darkened valleys, naming God’s presence with us throughout every scene. We could go on.
The Belgic Confession (Art. 2) summarizes this biblical engagement with creation by declaring that God reveals God’s attributes, God’s character to us through creation.
“since that universe is before our eyes
like a beautiful book
in which all creatures,
great and small,
are as letters
to make us ponder
the invisible things of God”
What a metaphor: creation as a beautiful book, with each and every creature as a letter inviting us to behold God.
Worshiping Alongside Creation
I wonder: What could communal worship look and sound like that makes room for creation to speak during our worship? How might we pause to ponder what creation is saying to us about who God is and what God is doing? What might it look like for us to worship alongside creation?
- Are we willing to make room for living creation in our buildings and in our worship spaces?
- How might our prayers be shaped by what we see and hear in creation?
- What images/metaphors from creation could enrich our sermons?
- Are we willing to make room to engage creation with our senses by taking time to notice what we see, hear, touch, smell, and taste?
- Do we need to have outdoor worship services – not as an evangelism opportunity or as a prequel to our church picnic – but to encourage our own faith formation in pondering the “invisible things of God”?
If you have examples of how you and your worshiping community have deliberately engaged with creation in your worship, please share those experiences. And summertime might just be a good time for the rest of us to experiment with reading the letters and chapters of this beautiful book God our Creator has written.
Looking for some additional resources for worship on the theme of creation? Here are a few from Reformed Worship.
- Thank You, God, for Water, Soil, and Air: Four services celebrating creation by John Paarlberg
- The Heavens Declare the Glory of God: Resources on the Theme of Creation
- Praising God the Maker: An Eight Week Series on Creation by Christine Jerrett
- All Nature Sings: The Ecological Witness of the Psalms by Carol M. Bechtel