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Worshipping God the Creator: some thoughts from midlife interviews

Thursday June 23 2016

Worshipping God the Creator: some thoughts from midlife interviews

I wrote last week about Psalm 103 and 104. When read together, they give a picture of the God of relationship who redeems and heals human beings and calls them into relationship with him, the same God who created and sustains the physical universe. I am concerned that this balanced view of God has been missing from Christian life in the twentieth century. We are good at acknowledging God as our redeemer, the righteous one who communicates to us through the Bible and calls us into relationship through his son, Jesus. Yet we have neglected to see God’s handiwork in nature as a call to prayer and praise. We have missed something central to the Old Testament understanding of who God is and how God communicates.

Maybe this omission comes from our fear that we will be viewed as pantheists if we talk about God’s hand in creation. Maybe the pervasive emphasis of New Age thinking has made us fearful that we will lose a Biblical perspective if we think too highly of creation. The New Testament doesn’t talk as much about God the Creator as the Psalms do, and maybe we are concerned that we need to faithfully reflect the priorities of the New Testament. Maybe we like viewing ourselves as autonomous human beings who don’t need to depend on God for every breath and every meal. I don’t know for sure what has caused the focus on God the Redeemer while neglecting God the Creator, but I do know that we are missing something wonderful.

When I did the interviews for my midlife books (Embracing Midlife and A Renewed Spirituality), many people at midlife [1] told me about the growing sense of awe and wonder they experience in nature. They feel connected to God as they see God’s amazing creativity in daffodils, elephants, storm clouds, and blazing sunsets. They experience a closer connection to their bodies, a part of God’s creation. This may take the form of smelling roses or enjoying the feel of the wind on their face. It may take the form of new physical activities such as dancing, yoga, or weight lifting. It motivated quite a few interviewees to be more creative themselves. Whatever form it takes, it is consistent with the joy and wonder that the psalm writers experienced when they considered the wonders of creation.

During my midlife years, I observed in myself a growing sense of joy in the beauty of creation. Each spring seemed more beautiful than the one before. When I first began noticing the increased beauty of spring each year, I thought the weather was changing in some way to make the flowers more abundant. Then I realized the change was inside me. Each year, I simply noticed more. God has changed my heart so I saw his hand in nature more clearly.

That increased ability to notice the details in nature is intimately connected with my awareness of God’s presence in my life. I am full of awe that God would lavish such creativity on the variety of rhododendron flowers, the tiny spots on the petals, the subtle variations of color, the overall blast of color when observed from a distance. Surely if God cares so much about plants, he must care for me. Surely if he has taken such care with the design of rhododendrons, he must care about the design of my life, and he must be shepherding me as I go about my daily life. The beauty of nature gives me great comfort because it speaks to me of the abundance of God’s grace.

A contemporary praise song, “Indescribable” by Chris Tomlin, captures this blend of awe at God’s detailed and extravagant beauty in nature and God’s care for me (you can listen to it here):

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation's revealing Your majesty
From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring
Every creature unique in the song that it sings
All exclaiming

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go
Or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow
Who imagined the sun and gives source to its light
Yet conceals it to bring us the coolness of night
None can fathom

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name
You are amazing God
All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

Incomparable, unchangeable
You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same
You are amazing God

This is the fourth post in a series on worshipping God as Creator. Earlier posts:
     Nature calls us to worship         
     The Creation invites us to join in praise         
     The Bible and Creation         

(This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality. Next week: the good creation. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

[1] People always ask me what age is midlife. Definitions vary. For my books, I defined midlife as 35-55. I am currently supervising a Ph.D. student who is studying spirituality at midlife, and she defines midlife as 40-60.

The spiritual journey at midlife

Saturday August 30 2014

I wrote two books on midlife, 15 and 13 years ago. In the books I defined midlife as the years between 35 and 55. I interviewed a lot of people between those ages, and I also read the dozen or so books on midlife that were available at that time.

The books written in the 1990s about spirituality at midlife were focused on the experiences of the Baby Boom generation and people slightly older. Almost all of my interviewees for my books were Baby Boomers. When I wrote my two books, the leading edge of Generation X was just entering midlife, so maybe I interviewed a few Gen Xers, but not many.

Now that the leading edge of Gen X has reached 50, I’m curious about the ways Gen Xer experience midlife. Oddly enough, very little has been written about midlife in the past dozen years. In what ways is the Gen X midlife journey similar to and different from the Baby Boomers? It looks like I’ll get my answers. I’m going to be supervising a Ph.D. student who will be writing her thesis on midlife. She’s going to interview ministers and spiritual directors about what they observe about the spiritual needs and pathways of people at midlife today. And she’s going to interview people at midlife about their experiences.

One of the amusing moments in the process of her acceptance as a Ph.D. student came when the post-graduate admissions committee in my department was considering her application. All of my colleagues on the admissions committee with me are between 35 and 55, and one of them said after reading her proposal, “Really? People have unique spiritual needs at midlife? I didn’t know that.”

So I spent a few moments of the meeting summarizing the main points of my books. I said that churches have age-related ministries for children, youth, young adults, and seniors. We treat midlife folks as the work horses of our congregations, without particular age-related needs. Yet many writers assert that midlife is a time of rich spiritual growth, as we realize we won’t live forever and as we begin the process of evaluating the first half of our lives and looking ahead to the second half.

After the admissions meeting, one of my colleagues asked me if he could read one of my books on midlife. He said that the ideas in the proposal and the words I said about midlife at the meeting resonated with him and he wanted to learn more. I lent him A Renewed Spirituality and he read it and found it quite helpful. He will turn 40 in December, so he is in the last years of Gen X. The fact that he found my book helpful is my first clue that Gen Xers are indeed experiencing at least some of the same issues at midlife as the Baby Boom. I can’t wait to learn more from my student researcher.

If you’d like to read a summary of the main ideas in my books on midlife, I recently wrote an article called “Faith at Midlife.” My two books on midlife are A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife and Embracing Midlife: Congregations as Support Systems.

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