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Bishop Graham’s homily at the Royal Norfolk Show

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Psalm 104 – Paying Attention to Nature

During the first covid lockdown, with hardly any vehicles on the roads, many people who lived in cities reported hearing more birdsong during their daily allowance of half an hour of exercise outside the home. We noticed. We paid attention.

The Psalmist we have just heard from was also paying attention to the natural world. The poet notes light and clouds, winds and storms and lightnings. The poet marvels at the springs and brooks which God sends among the hills that give water to the wild animals, the food in the thickets to feed them, and the rain replenishing the earth and providing the harvest. Mighty trees, high mountains, the oceans are all in view. The poet delights in the biodiversity of these places.

He isn’t seeing the earth’s resources turned into cash in the bank.

Here is gold or coal or clay or peat or oil – let’s rip it out.

Here are forests – let’s exploit them to extinction.

Here is a river- let’s dump our sewage in it.

It’s not their usefulness to humans he notes, but their relationship with God. It is God’s enjoyment of the creatures that is mentioned.

Psalm 104 shows us the way to a loving and relevant relationship with creation. It begins and ends with the words, ‘Praise the Lord, my soul!’ We are to live in thankful adoration of the Creator. We are to heed that in our souls; in the core of our being.

What we attend to, or decide not to attend to, is at the root of what we love and desire. When we pay attention to nature’s awe and wonder, then we are on the threshold of worship.

The life of Jesus was one of paying attention.

When he engaged with the hungry and the hemorrhaging, with the lepers and the lame, Jesus’s sustained attention was focused on them. His eyes met their eyes with compassion and his deep attention was experienced as love.

He noticed the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, the different types of soil, the growth of seeds, the choking of thistles, and the fruitfulness of trees.

If we are no longer attending to nature as we once did, no longer see what is precious, is that why we seem to not notice its destruction, or be indifferent to its loss? But those of us who do attend to the natural world and see it as less vibrant than in our youth, noticing few butterflies and less birdsong, need to reckon with a deep sense of loss.

But there is hope, and we see it on farms and estates in this county where the art of attention is enabling farmers, landowners and the general public to see the web of connection and see creation’s loveliness, goodness and beauty. Field margins with wildflowers, ponds, nectar sources, tree planting, hedges not cut to within an inch of their lives, restraint about fertiliser, connecting wildlife corridors, care for our chalk streams, and recognising that we are so reliant on flying pollinators for our food. So many positives. Might that just re-kindle the foundation for a life-affirming, world-affirming horizon for our relationship with creation, rather than the world-denying, world-denigrating, world-escaping approach that we can be complicit in?

Valuing all creatures of our God and King means healthy biodiversity, healthy farming, healthy people – and in such a way we move to a healthy place with God where life in all its fulness is to be found.