Having been kindly asked, I recently led a successful workshop at Sherwood Methodist Church for Sherwood Art Week 2016. The theme of the workshop was Meditations on Plants. A number of participants expressed the wish they could have done all the meditations, but given the time limit this wasn’t possible. However, the wonder of blogging means that I am able to easily publish all of these for people to engage with at a time suitable to themselves. Enjoy and please post a comment on your experiences with the meditations if you wish and feel able.
The Gift of Plants
Plants are a gift from the Divine Creator, to the planet, to the wildlife and humans which dwell amongst them. They are incredibly diverse creations, each filling a niche in their ecosystems and providing balance in the world.
They have a number of purposes in being here:
- To bring glory to their Maker, and they achieve this by fulfilling their roles to the best of their ability.
- They provide life-giving oxygen to the biosphere. Oxygen dependent life on earth would cease to be without our photosynthesising neighbours!
- They provide food for animals & humans. Nom nom!
- They provide food for each other and their offspring when they decay. Through the help of fungi and other microorganisms they are broken down into their constituent nutrients which are then recycled in the various nitrogen, carbon, water and other cycles.
There is also a deeper symbiosis within the animal & plant kingdoms which we’re only just discovering, and communications between plants is a new area of research, causing us to rethink consciousness as a result.
There are four models of relationship with the landscape, and I have to thank my Forest Church friend, Bruce Stanley, for bringing this to my attention in his book “Forest Church” – Click here to read a preview and hopefully buy the book.
Traditionally Christians have viewed the creation through the word lens of “dominion” (as translated in the King James Version of the Bible):
“ And God said, Let us make man [and woman] in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
Genesis 1:28 (KJV)
This view is highly anthropocentric (human centred). As a result of this thinking, our landscape has been viewed for what it can provide for us. This mindset has unfortunately let to abuse of the landscape and an unsustainable way of living. This interpretation dishonours the Creator and the land itself; remember – a good ruler looks after their subjects in their dominion and cares for their well-being and a bad ruler uses dominion to crush and oppress their subjects. Sadly wrong “dominion” thinking, coupled with a belief that “at the end of time it’s all going to burn, so why bother” has meant the way of following Jesus has been tainted by a negative attitude towards the environmental movement (with some minor groups of Christians condemning the environmental movement as satanic – utter foolishness in the extreme).
There are better ways of following Jesus whilst being more environmentally friendly, thankfully!
At a slightly deeper level, there’s the idea of stewardship. Again this is anthropocentric, but recognises we are to look after the land, to understands there are limitations on how we take from it and how we look after it. The theme of this approach centres itself in the next chapter in the book of Genesis:
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
Genesis 2:15 (NIV)
At a deeper level still we reach the concept of partnership. Again this idea is anthropocentric, but recognises heavily that we are to work with the land in order to not destroy the relationships that are there and that we depend upon the land being healthy. We make decisions which may sometimes mean we have to step aside for the greater good of the landscape.
“When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an axe to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?”
Deuteronomy 20:19 (NIV)
At the deepest level, as participants in the biosphere, we recognise we are part of the incredibly complex interweb of life and non-life across this planet. We are a small part of the physicality of the landscape and we are guests within it. We value the landscape for what it is, and how it can bring glory to its Maker just by being there, not primarily for what it can do for us.
“Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail,
snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all cattle,
small creatures and flying birds,
kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,
young men and women,
old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his splendour is above the earth and the heavens.”
Psalm 148:7-14 (NIV)
Plants and Worship
According to the Judaeo-Christian Sacred Texts, we were created as human beings to work with the land in order to help maintain it, but also, to worship with it (not worship it) – Hebrew word “abad” used in the Genesis accounts means worship through working with the land.
Whilst we’re used to hearing human beings giving praise and worship to the Divine, we rarely hear about non-humans giving praise and worship, yet if you read the Psalms, we see the whole universe, human, animal, plant and mineral are all giving praise to their creator. As a physicist, I recognise that there is a theory – superstring theory – which says everything is made up of vibrating strings of energy (if this sounds a bit New Agey, it’s not, it’s science). Those energy strings vibrate according to various resonances and so we have different subatomic particles / atomic particles, which makes up everything. It’s worth reflecting on the fact that everything in the universe is resonating and in its own way, may be praising its Creator, just by being there and doing what it was made to do.
“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.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”
Psalm 19:1-4 (NIV)
As humans we find our fullness by being in full resonance with the word of the Creator, who Christians refer to as Jesus – who filled the entire universe with himself after he ascended into heaven after the Resurrection.
“He [Jesus] who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.”
Ephesians 4:10 (NIV)
The presence of Jesus is there underpinning everything in existence, and if we stop to listen long enough and with the right attitude of heart and spirit, we can hear the voice of the Divine speaking in everything around us.
“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Colossians 1:16-17 (NIV)
With this, I ask you to think and meditate upon the variety of plants which are around us.
Each week for 12 weeks I will be posting a meditation upon a particular plant, a link to which will be listed below. Please feel free to print them off and engage with them, feeling the textures, smelling the scents, and enjoying the visual sights of the plants. If a plant is edible (use caution and practical sense here), maybe even taste a bit of the plant – taking it inside you as you meditate.