Nature as a Source for Faith and Hope

by Floyd Vernon Chandler

My Mom’s favorite Methodist hymn was Maltbie Babcock’s “This Is My Father’s World.” It became my childhood favorite. Babcock, a Presbyterian minister, wrote the lyrics in 1901. The words of the hymn suggests that Nature, or the Universe, is a manifestation of God. Babcock’s description for God affirmed my early theistic faith and provided me a sense of spiritual hope. This hymn can be found in the 1945 edition of the Beacon Song and Service Book, a hymnal that continues in use among many Universalist heritage congregations.

 This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas–
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world:
The birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white,
Declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world:
He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass, I hear Him pass,
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world:
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let earth be glad!

Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that what we call “God” is revealed in Nature. Emerson speculated that one purpose of Nature is to provide humans an insight into the workings of the Divine. Emerson asked, “What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? this zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds, this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year?”

There are those who find incompatibility between science and religious faith. But I find harmony. I have never looked through the lenses of a microscope or telescope without feeling a sense of spiritual awe. My scuba diving experiences of years ago were akin to religious epiphanies. Observing the birth of my daughter was the witnessing of a miracle. What an absolutely amazing, spiritually infused world in which we live! Even the tiny ant hints of the Divine.

What is more hopeful than the themes of rebirth we witness every Spring! From the apparent death of winter, new life emerges. Consider the lowly caterpillar who spins itself a silky cocoon or shiny chrysalis and emerges in Spring as a colorful moth or butterfly! In springtime, Nature shouts the message of hope.

For Albert Einstein, Nature inspired the religious sense. Einstein mused, “What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility… If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

The Apostle Paul made a similar observation. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Ever since the creation of the world, the invisible essence of God and his everlasting power have been clearly seen by the mind’s understanding of created things” (Romans 1:20).
The lyrics of Babcock’s “This Is My Father’s World” continue to resonate with me. Nature provides glimpses of the Divine that strengthens faith and stirs feelings of hope.

Floyd Vernon Chandler is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister.  He provided 15 years of parish ministry to various Universalist heritage congregations in the USA, and he is a retired U.S. Army Chaplain. Vernon and his family reside in Ansbach, Germany