September in our home is always a busy, eventful month. To be honest, it can sometimes be frantic. This year, the passing of the late Queen Elizabeth II created an unexpected pause in all the activity, an unprecedented opportunity for reflection during which a nation and a family mourned, publicly, and in private.
But time waits for no-one, and moves steadily on, as Chaucer reminds us in The Clerk’s Tale:
'And thenketh, lord, among your thoghtes wyse How that our days passe in sondry wyse, For thogh we slepe, or wake, or rome, or ryde, Ay fleeth the tyme, it nyl no man abyde.'
The routines of another Autumn are now in full swing: school days; working weeks; university terms. The roots of the word ‘term’ convey the idea of an appointed time or boundary, a period in which something happens. None of us knows what the weeks or months of this Autumn will hold. But as Christian believers, we do know that the future is in God’s hands, and that in Christ we have a hope that is steadfast and certain.
We also know that Christ gives us life in all its abundance. He has bestowed on us gifts and graces that enable us to live life to the full. We are created in God’s image, and Scripture teaches us right from the outset that God works and creates and sees. It also teaches us that God rests. As image-bearers, even in our brokenness, our lives can reflect something of our Creator. We have been given a creative calling to carry out a creative declaration and blessing.
None of us can create ex nihilo as God does. Rather, we depend fully on His resources. But we do have the capacity to act in ways that are fruitful, life-giving, and generous, thus glorifying Him. This was God’s design for us from the outset. Japanese American artist Makoto Fujimura writes that: ‘Artistic expressions are signposts declaring what it is to be fully human’. We are not all painters like Makoto Fujimura. But each one of us can appreciate and reflect beauty in our everyday lives. In fact, the New Testament teaches us that through Christ, God is working on a New Creation that is guaranteed by Christ’s death and resurrection. This New Creation can be experienced now in part, but will be fully revealed when Jesus Christ returns. The Apostle Paul explained in Romans 8 vv 20-22 that the ‘Beauty we apprehend now is a Spirit-given foretaste of the beauty still to be given, in the midst of a creation that languishes in bondage to corruption, groans in anticipation of a glory not yet revealed’. Christ is working in us and through us. This is the hope of glory, the glory C. S. Lewis must have had in mind when he wrote, ‘There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.’
When beauty breaks into our nights or days, in a flower, a starry sky, the smile of a child, or a song, we are catching just a glimpse of this glorious future. We shouldn’t be anxious about the moments passing, but instead rejoice that the New Creation, in perfect completion, is waiting for us just up ahead. As Jeremy Begbie puts it, in his 2018 book A Peculiar Orthodoxy. Reflections on Theology and the Arts, ‘that dazzling mountain scene that takes our breath away should provoke us not to try to seize and freeze the moment but to give thanks and look ahead to the beauty of the new heaven and earth, of which this world’s finest beauty is but a minuscule glimpse.’
We are reminded in Acts 10 v 38 that ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil, for God was with him.’ As Christ’s followers we are called to tell out something of His character, bringing His hope, life, light, and healing into all of our days. The Apostle Paul paints a picture in Ephesians 2 v 10, in which each one of our lives is seen as a kind of poem: ‘For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ Francis Schaeffer put it like this: ‘No work of art is more important than the Christian’s life, and every Christian is called to be an artist in this sense…The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world’.
God has always been in the business of doing good: binding up the broken; proclaiming freedom and releasing prisoners; establishing justice; comforting those who mourn. As written in the great prophecy of Isaiah, the heart of the Lord’s work is:
'to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. (Isaiah 61vv 2-3)
It’s amazing to think that we can be part of God’s work. There is so much to do. In fact, if we are honest, it can be overwhelming thinking about just how much rebuilding and restoration is needed in our world.
At this point, the wise words of the late Queen Elizabeth II are worth remembering: ‘Each day is a new beginning, I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God.’ Living one day at a time is enough. Because life can be difficult as well as beautiful. And the beautiful things we want to do for God and other people don’t come easily. We need to ‘keep on keeping on’. Back to Jeremy Begbie again: ‘Inventions do not tumble out of nature like apples off a tree. They have to be worked at, constructed’. Nevertheless, as Andrew Peterson writes in Adorning the Dark, doors of opportunity do open for us to do God’s work, and when they do, we should walk through them.
Psalm 91 begins with these great words:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
The Psalm does not promise any of us exemption from dark times, or even from ‘the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday’. But it is absolutely replete with wonderful verbs that assure us that God will save us; cover us; be our shield and rampart; command His angels concerning us; guard us and lift us up; rescue and protect us; answer and deliver; honour and satisfy; show us His salvation. What more could we ask?
In the days granted to us this new term, each one of us can say of the Lord ‘He is my refuge’. We can share God’s hope in many different ways, ways that are unique to each one of us. And our lives will be the richer for sharing. For as William Blake wrote
‘He who binds to himself a joy Does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity’s sunrise’
We might give time and friendship. We might care. We might offer hospitality around a generous table. We might cultivate places of respite. We might make jam from harvest fruit and share it. We might choose words of kindness and peace. We might take up pencil, ink, photography or paint. We might create music, or pictures, or poems or stories that turn eyes and hearts to Heaven. We might teach a class. We might sing the songs of truth and justice. We might share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Whatever making known God’s hope looks like in each one of our hours and days, St Paul in Galatians 6 v 9 gives us these words of encouragement:
‘Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up’.
May this promise that living for God and ‘abiding in creativity’ are not in vain lift our hearts and heads. May it equip us with renewed strength as we set out together into this new Autumn term.