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Linked to the whole of creation

12 July 2013

Our salvation lies in realising that nature reveals God, declares Sarah Hillman

The Compassion Quest
Trystan Owain Hughes
SPCK £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT771 )

TRYSTAN Owain Hughes's first book, Finding Hope and Meaning in Suffering (Lent Books, 4 February 2011), was about the inward spiritual journey, and focused on the individual. His second, The Compassion Quest, redresses the balance, and is much more outward-looking.

The main message I took from this follow-up work can be summed up as the importance of seeing our interconnectedness with the rest of creation. This leads us to view it with compassion rather than from a self-centred point of view.

Hughes quotes Hildegard of Bingen in his second chapter: "There is nothing created that does not contain a ray of God's radiance, not foliage or seed or flower or any other beautiful creation." This idea underlies everything else he writes about. God has used creation as the primary way in which he reveals himself, and relates to us. Everything in nature discloses something of God. We are, therefore, poorer if we take it for granted and see ourselves as disconnected from it.

Christians too often possess a dualistic view, in which animals are seen as qualitatively different from us; in the human view, they become nothing more than animated machines made for our own use. Instead, Hughes wishes to encourage his readers to see ourselves as part of the whole, always viewing life in all its forms with reverence and compassion.

Compassion must be extended towards human beings, too. He reminds us that we all have the capacity for evil; and our tendency to label those who have done obvious wrong - for instance, Myra Hindley - rather than reflect Christ's dying for all assumes that it is only for those we count good enough to merit salvation.

There is much food for thought in this book. Throughout, the author uses examples from films, books, and his own life to illustrate his points. He provides an extensive bibliography- eight pages of it, in a book of only 120.

This reverence for the created order is, of course, nothing new, although we have in recent times perhaps given it less attention than it merits. This sacramental and incarnational aspect of the natural world is affirmed widely in the Old Testament: "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it; the world, and those who dwell therein" (Psalm 24).

The Revd Sarah Hillman is Priest-in-Charge of Puddletown, Tolpuddle, and Milborne with Dewlish, in Dorset.

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