Consider The Lilies Of The Field

From “Mere Discipleship:
Growing in Wisdom and Hope”
by Alister E. McGrath, b.1953

Part of the process of Christian discipleship is the cultivation of theological attentiveness, which helps us to deliberately see things from the perspective of faith and savour what we find.

The American novelist Henry Miller captured this point well when he noted that “the moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

Christ’s command to “consider the lilies of the field” (Matt. 6:28-29) is an excellent example of the outcome of such attentiveness, paralleled in some ways by Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Ode to a Daisy.” More recently, Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “God’s Grandeur" models a theologically principled and spiritually fruitful attentiveness to the created order, arising from a disciplined Christian engagement with the world of nature.

This way of thinking and seeing is a habit of mind, something that is to be practised and cultivated. It is nourished by reading Scripture and inhabiting the worship-shaped world of the church, in which the Christian story is constantly presented and represented. Yet this is not something that we merely absorb passively; we must actively develop it, deliberately and consciously asking how we might deepen our understanding of our faith. This is what I hope we might find, but fear that we all too often do not find, in Christian preaching.

Christianity gives us a new set of spectacles through which we see the world, allowing us to discern its deeper logic. The world is illuminated by the light of the gospel and interpreted by the believing mind. This process of “seeing” involves both intellectual analysis and value judgments. It is not a set of principles that are learned by heart and regurgitated on demand. Rather, it is an acquired mode of reflection, a habit of thinking, that is both commended and embodied in the Christian story.

The Christian faith enables us to see the world in a manner that transcends the empirical. It offers us theoretical spectacles that allow us to behold things in such a way that we are able to rise above the limits of the observable and move into the richer realm of discerned meaning and value. The natural world thus becomes seen and interpreted as God’s creation, bearing the subtle imprint of its maker. We see not only the empirical reality of the world but also its deeper value and true significance.

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