Whole Creatures

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Laurel Nelson

“O God, in whom all life begins.” (Hymn 308, Glory to God)

This is a new hymn to me. It jumped off the page, speaking to me about God stirring the mystery of life in a worshipping community.

I write this overlooking my mid-summer garden, where the sunflowers are beginning to raise their cheery faces, tomatoes redden, and corn tassels blow in the wind. The mystery of life is no longer microscopic in this mid-season garden; life brazenly prances around.

I am twelve years into my ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. The first six of those years were spent in the garden of a congregation, and for the past six I’ve had a lot more time outside literally gardening, as well as nurturing a small nonprofit into a ministry. I look back at those equal time blocks with gratitude, for I have had the blessing of being both in the whirlwind of congregational ministry, and in a (much) less defined role as co-director of Lagom Landing (www.lagomlanding.com). In both of those “gardens” I have been a witness to God beginning life, birthing seed to fruit, blessing lives, and letting love find root (v.1).

My husband told me that if he were blogging on a hymn, he would choose hymn 15, “All Creatures of our God and King.” St. Francis beckons us “creatures” to lift up our voices and sing with brother sun, sisters moon and water, and mother earth to worship God with humble hearts.

He and I reflected on how we humans often forget our “creature-li-ness.” Being called a “creature” could be a putdown to our inflated human egos. Lost in a climate-controlled world of screens timing out our commitments and visions, we (unconsciously?) feel we are the ones in control. It can be hard to see how we are creatures when we hurry through all that is truly essential for life (meals eaten on the run, water consumed when we think of it, homes full of electronic distraction).

One of the greatest gifts of these last six years has been getting in touch with my “creature-li-ness.” I love to dig in the soil and see all that’s going on there, and even am learning to tolerate the bugs that like to gnaw on me (as a spiritual discipline in creatureliness, of course). These creaturely habits, whatever they are, return us to God’s nurture, bringing forth the Spirit’s gifts of patience, joy, and peace.

The second verse of hymn 308 speaks of uniting our minds and hands and hearts. Learning our bodies’ needs is a part of creatureliness, and a growing edge for the PC(USA). I was struck by our denominational disregard of bodies when I visited the General Assembly in June 2014. The weather was phenomenal—72 degrees, sunny, no humidity (rare in Detroit, I’m told). I was just there as an observer, so I was more freed up than those who had stressful debates to prep for and committee business to process. But it astounded me how hard we grind ourselves down in the name of business. Looooong hours, rushing through the sunshine to the dark, air-conditioned cave of the COBO Center. I know it would not have been practical or even logistically possible. Still, I wonder how getting in touch with our creatureliness by going outside, feeling the sun on our faces, and talking to our fellow creatures who had no idea who we Presbyterians are might have affected our humble openness to the Spirit connecting our minds and hands and hearts.

Especially since we were meeting in Detroit! A city synonymous with struggle and re-birth, innovation and restoration, urban gardening and edgy art! The tears and laughter, grief and joy (hymn 308, v. 3) of that city has so much to teach us about enlarging our trust and care. Reminding us that we are all community, called to risk and dare.

What happens when you claim that you are a creature?

My hope is that you get in touch with your creatureliness, deeply knowing the truth in the fourth verse of St. Francis, “Christ bears your burdens and your fears; so, even in the midst of tears, sing praises! Alleluia!”

LaurelLaurel Nelson

Teaching Elder, Presbytery of Genesee Valley

Co-Director, Lagom Landing