The Lives Around Us – Review
The Lives Around Us – Daily Meditations for Nature Connection, by Dan Papworth, June 2016. Christian Alternative, 232 pages, ISBN 978-1785352560. RRP £12.99 (paperback)
This book does what it says on the cover: 40 chapters each with a short essay on a part of the created order followed by a short Bible passage or two, a reflection and prayer topic – and occasionally an exercise. It could be used for Lent – 40 days suggests that – but could work just as well at any time of the year, helping towards a practice of daily reflection and prayer centring on God, Creation and our place within it.
It is simply and straightforwardly written, appealing to the heart – each “creature” is gendered – as well as to the intellect. No chapter takes more than five minutes to read straight through, although longer, obviously, for reflection and prayer. But it isn’t a daunting task to use the chapters as part of a daily prayer time. However, this is not whimsy, but carefully researched and scientific accounts of some of the other living things with which we share this planet. The author is attempting dialogue between scientific study and the spiritual life and encouraging us to take this seriously – to create stories we can see ourselves part of. There are notes, references and pointers to further reading and websites.
The book spoke to me of slowing down, making space to notice, to pay attention, to be aware, to reassess and recognise my interconnectedness with the rest of the world. The world we live in is teeming with life – including that which we consider inanimate life (Dan Papworth includes a meteorite in his collection of “creatures”) – and yet we can so easily fail to see, hear, smell, feel, what surrounds us and appreciate it and our place within the web of life. This is not at the centre, where we have placed ourselves for too long, for as Dan Papworth reminds us, God is the centre. This book encourages us towards a new way of self-understanding, a new way of seeing ourselves in relation to the life of the Earth.
The book ends with a chapter of Conclusions where Dan Papworth writes “These meditations are merely a series of steps on a much larger Way”. This is an extended essay on the place of human beings in the world and how we can live together, our relationships with and interdependence with Creation.
This is a book I’ve got much out of and expect to continue to do so – it suggests a different way of being. Dan Papworth has taken his experience of animals, plants, insects, fungi in the situation where he is to reflect on our connectedness. It seemed to me in reading through the book that I could as well do this in the place I am set in – suburban London – and the pattern he has set out in this book could be replicated and deepen my sense of connectedness to my particular place.