UNDER the present Covid-19 regulations, we have permission to leave our residence for exercise more than once a day. That might send us out walking, and this book will help us to see things around us in greater detail.
Soulful Nature is like a telephoto lens that zooms out and then in, from the big picture to the detail. The authors’ reflections enable us to delight in the natural world around us and to reflect spiritually amid its landscapes and up-closeness.
Howard Green, a botanist, looks at the geology, the flora and fauna, the landscapes, and the weather, while his interlocutor, the spiritual writer Brian Draper, reflects theologically and prayerfully in response.
Even those in self-isolation will enjoy walking with these authors as they beautifully describe 12 rural and urban locations, each in a different month of the year, mostly in Hampshire, and sometimes in the company of a historic nature writer. Gilbert White is their companion exploring the holloways and hangers of the parish of Selborne; the fossil-hunter Mary Anning scans the Dorset coast with them; and Richard Jeffries manages to illuminate the beauty of Swindon and its surrounding countryside.
What the book does well is to convey a quietist narrative and a conspicuous stillness. This allows an attentive observation of the activity of God’s creation and a marinating in its beauty, leading to a capacity to stand in awe of the wonder and mystery of the Creator. The writers’ gift is in enabling us to find the sabbath in the everyday and echo God’s “it was very good.”
To begin with, I found the swopping of the authors’ voices (one in italics) and the jumping of the reflections between themes frustrating, although I did get into the pace as I read on. There was always something of interest on the next page, though some of the suggested activities that conclude each chapter are perhaps a little too imaginative: “meditate on some animal excrement” did not inspire me.
During this long, sad springtime of an extended Lent, perhaps dwelling in the rhythm of nature a little more will help each of us feel more rooted in the abnormal normal of our days. Soulful Nature will help us find that pace and place.
The Rt Revd Graham Usher is the Bishop of Norwich and the author of The Way Under our Feet: A spirituality of walking (SPCK).
Soulful Nature: A spiritual field guide
Brian Draper and Howard Green
Canterbury Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50