The recovered eyes of childhood

The Rectory, September 1997

I associate this month with a concern for creation. In October we celebrate harvest and give thanks for the fruits of the earth. It is also the month of two important international weeks - the Week of Prayer for World Peace and One World Week. As the season changes and the peculiar beauty of the autumn impresses itself upon us I find myself more aware of nature than at any other time of the year. Perhaps it is that as nature closes down for the winter I am the more aware of the richness of creation and the loveliness of fading autumn.

The concerns of the two special weeks of prayer and reflection urged upon us this month make me realise the importance of a sense of wonder about creation if we are to live with respect for the world we inhabit and for each individual with whom we share the planet. I do not think we will ever be successful in furthering respect for, and restraint towards, nature, animals and people just by ethical demands or by arguing that we have a long term interest in preserving the planet. Above all I think we need to recover a more immediate and impelling respect for all created things arising out of a profound sense of wonder. If our first feeling towards created things is one of awe we shall not rush too quickly to try to consume, dominate or control.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a new CD of music by Gerald Finzi. It was one of those risky purchases having not heard any of the music on the disc before I bought it. I knew about Finzi (an English composer who lived1901-56) because of one anthem which the choir has sung at Ascensiontide - God is gone up. But I was rewarded, for on the CD is a magnificent cantata Dies Natalis which sets to music words by Thomas Traherne. Traherne, born in Hereford in 1637, became an Anglican priest and poet. His famous book, known as Centuries, is an extended meditation on the wonder of God in creation. It is full of ecstatic joy at the beauty of God and of eternal wonder at the clothing of creation, even Traherne’s own body and being. Finzi’s setting is exciting, moving and full of the wonderment Traherne wanted to convey. He saw all things as if through "the recovered eyes of childhood":

Will you see the infancy of this sublime and celestial greatness? I was a stranger which at my entrance into the world was saluted and surrounded with innumerable joys.... I was entertain’d like an Angel with the works of God in their splendour and glory.... Eternity was manifest in the light of day, and some thing infinite behind everything appeared, which talked with my expectation and moved my desire.

His own body and being is full of mystery for him:

These little Limbs
These Eyes and Hands which here I find,
This panting Heart wherewith my life begins;
Where have ye been?
Behind what Curtain were ye from me hid so long!
Where was, in what Abyss, my new made tongue?

When silent I
So many thousand Years
beneath the Dust did in a Chaos lie,
How could I
Smiles, or Tears,
Or Lips, or Hands, or Eyes, or Ears perceive?
Welcome ye Treasures which I now receive.

The world has become for him a continual source of communion with God:

You never enjoy the world aright, till you see how a sand exhibiteth the wisdom and power of God; and prize every thing the service they do you, by manifesting his glory and his goodness to your soul…. you never enjoy the world aright, till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars.… till you love men so as to desire their happiness, with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own; till you delight in God for being good to all.

Traherne sees God as the Giver and all creation, including his own self, as the gift. If we could recover eyes of childhood and see as he saw we would not need to be restrained from hurting creation, one another or ourselves but with reverence and awe praise the God who makes it all.

Leslie Morley
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 30th September 1997