Thought for the Day - 19/02/2014 - Canon Angela Tilby
Good morning. Last week Terry Marsh who is the head of the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme made a remark about the floods which made me wonder whether perhaps he was a poet in his spare time. He said ‘It is good for us to realise that rivers rise up and exercise their natural sovereignty over the flood plains’. It was that unexpected phrase ‘natural sovereignty’; which struck me with its sense of a river as a royal being with rights of way which it asserts from time to time. I was even more impressed when I discovered that Terry Marsh lives in Wallingford just ten miles south of Oxford where the flooding of the Thames has been severe – a colleague of mine who also has a home there has been flooded twice since Christmas.
Of course the shock and despair of those who are suffering from flood damage is real and deserves a swift response. But the media chatter hasn’t helped when it has stayed at the level of human blame. The point Terry Marsh was making was that the river, too, has its rights. We tend to forget that nature yields to humanity a control that is only partial and conditional.
A theologian I much admire used to speak of God thinking about physical things in physical ways. He meant that God is within nature as well as beyond it. Physical things work according to physical laws and it is by obeying these natural laws that inanimate nature expresses the glory of God. On Sunday at Matins the choir of Christ Church sang the Benedicite which calls on the sky, the heavenly bodies, the earth and the weather to praise the Lord. ‘O all ye works of the Lord bless ye the Lord, praise him and magnify him for ever.’ When we got to the words ‘O ye seas and floods bless ye the Lord’, a gentle frisson went through the congregation. When the laws of nature clash with our needs we feel the dissonance. And so we should. The ground is not just ours and right now ownership is contested. I live between a lake and several tributaries of the River Thames and today there is still water on every side. For me the floods have only been nuisance but for others they have brought heartbreak and danger.
Creation is a network of material systems which do what they must do. They interact and sometimes clash. The changing weather on this island is a topic for endless conversation; we see the many faces of nature and the constant interactions of systems chasing one another over the weather map and across the sky. God’s laws make the swollen river exercise its sovereignty and retake the plain which is there for the overflow. But I believe God’s laws also move us to take care of one another and try to live wisely. Not without risk, but with due prudence.