Easter, Day 7: Creation Blooms Anew

LOOK: Magnolias by Stanley Spencer

Spencer, Stanley_Magnolias
Stanley Spencer (British, 1891–1959), Magnolias, 1938. Oil on canvas, 22 × 26 in. (56 × 66 cm). Private collection.

LISTEN: “Creation Blooms Anew” by Nick Chambers, 2020

Again your Spirit sweeps,
a wind over the deep;
a new creation now arrives
to rouse us from our sleep.

The breath of heaven brings
the long-awaited spring
into the fields and seas and skies
and every barren thing.

Creation blooms anew
in fresh and joyful hue.
In Christ’s arising all things rise
to draw their breath from you.

Awaken by the sound
of forging swords into plows.
Come fill the Garden with your light,
and we will till the ground.

The earth is being cleared
for heaven to come near.
From every depth an eager sigh
is all that we can hear. [Refrain]

Nick Chambers [previously] is the worship pastor at Church of the Incarnation in Atlanta and a singer-songwriter whose debut album, Great Cloud, released last year. “Creation Blooms Anew” is not part of that LP, but he shared it on YouTube in 2020. It was inspired by a hymn of Adam of St. Victor, a major Latin-language poet from twelfth-century France:

Earth blooms afresh in joyous dyes;
In Christ’s arising all things rise;
A solemn joy o’er nature lies;

Now peace the sea, the sky doth fill;
Heav’n’s breath wakes fair each vale and hill;
Spring pours through barren hearts and chill;

Life wins from death the glorious prey;
The cherub’s sword is turned away,
And Eden’s paths are free today;

Trans. A. M. E., 1884

Memories of his family’s first Easter in Atlanta in 2017 also influenced the song. “More than anything I remember the magnolia flowers,” Chambers said, “bright white and big as our baby’s head. The branches bent with the weight of them, swinging like bells welcoming us into a new home, a new season of life.”

Chambers reflects further on the image of flowering:

Norman Wirzba, in one of his many reflections on gardening, writes, “It is significant that the material context for creation and for redemption should be a garden, for it is precisely through gardening that we most experience ourselves as created beings, as beings tied to a magnificent creation and to God. . . . [The writer of Genesis 2] is clear that we become authentic and truly fulfill our vocation as we learn to care for the garden which is creation itself.” He continues, “Gardens have long been a place of spiritual nourishment, because it is here that we can sense the vivifying and gracious power of the creator at work in the creation. Without much help from us, and sometimes in spite of our worst efforts, we can plainly see that we are in the presence of a life- and death-wielding power that overcomes and envelops us all” (The Paradise of God, 117).

In the beginning, God creates humanity to till the ground in a garden. Christ suffers anguish and grief in a garden, then to be resurrected in a garden and even mistaken for its caretaker. The story comes to its endless ending in a garden—steady streams in the shade of trees thick with healing leaves. We live from this past into this future, ourselves like flowers nourished by soil and bending toward the sun. Here and now, Easter invites us into this vision, into the wild surprises of spring to be both gardeners and the garden itself.

Lent, Day 20

LOOK: Holding a Mystery by Caitlin Connolly

Connolly, Caitlin_Holding a Mystery
Caitlin Connolly (American, 1986–), Holding a Mystery, 2014. Oil on panel, 16 × 6 in.

Caitlin Connolly is an artist from Provo, Utah, whose paintings explore womanhood, sorrow, and faith. Her website, www.caitlinconnolly.com, contains an archive of original images dating back to 2013, many of which she sells as giclée prints from her online shop. She is featured in the first half of this episode of the BYUtv documentary series Artful.

The women in Connolly’s paintings are often shown holding something—the world, “holy things,” a book, a truth, a child, tears—or they might cup or cradle an absence that hurts. Here the figure carries a beautiful, tangled mass, a mystery, which is strangely both heavy and light. She doesn’t try to untangle it but simply hugs it close, resting.

LISTEN: “Lovely (Anselm of Canterbury)” by Nick Chambers, 2020 (to be released on an EP in 2022)

Lord my God, I don’t know how to start,
So I pray today that you would teach my heart
Where and how to find you, God, O where and how to search.
How can I know unless you show me first?

My God and my All, I’ve never seen you.
You created me, and you have made me new
And given me the good things in my hands and in my heart,
But still I don’t know who it is you are.

[Refrain] Let me seek you in all my desire,
Desire you in everything I seek.
Let it be by loving you I find you,
And when I finally find you, let it be lovely.

I come to you confessing gratefully.
It was in your image you created me
So that I may remember you and find the living course
On my way back to the loving source.

But that image is so worn and dim,
Darkened by the fault and by the smoke of sin,
That it can no longer do what you made it to do
Until it is refashioned and renewed.


I’m not trying to ascend your heights;
My mind’s in no way capable of such a flight.
I do desire to know a little of your truth above
Which my heart already trusts and loves.

I seek to understand not so I can believe,
but I believe so I may understand.
And what is more, I do believe that unless I do believe,
I’ll never understand this mystery.

Originally from the Midwest, the Rev. Nick Chambers lives with his wife Katlyn and two sons in Atlanta, where he serves as the worship and formation pastor at Trinity Anglican Northside. His academic background is in philosophy and theology. “I love writing songs in, with, and for the church, and I’ve been doing it for years but only recently started seeking to share them beyond my local community,” he told me. He has contributed to two Porter’s Gate albums (Advent Songs and the forthcoming Climate Vigil Songs) and will be releasing his first solo EP later this year.

On Chambers’s YouTube channel you will find some of his original settings of psalms, prayers by Ephrem and Augustine and from the Book of Common Prayer, a poem by Pádraig Ó Tuama, and even a reworking of a Swedish hymn that he encountered through a few spoken lines from the Ingmar Bergman film Wild Strawberries!

“Lovely (Anselm of Canterbury)” is adapted from a prayer by the eleventh-century Burgundian-born monk, and later archbishop, named in the title. A doctor of the church, Anselm had a tremendous influence on the development of Christian theology and spirituality. The “combination of theological veracity and personal ardour is what most distinguishes Anselm’s writings from similar prayers, and makes him both traditional and revolutionary,” says Sister Benedicta Ward, a preeminent scholar and English translator of Anselm.

Anselm wrote the Proslogion (Lat. Proslogium, “Discourse”) in the 1070s while he was prior of the abbey of Notre Dame at Bec in Normandy. Chambers’s song is based on the passage that ends chapter 1:

Teach me to seek thee, and reveal thyself to me, when I seek thee, for I cannot seek thee, except thou teach me, nor find thee, except thou reveal thyself. Let me seek thee in longing, let me long for thee in seeking; let me find thee in love, and love thee in finding. Lord, I acknowledge and I thank thee that thou hast created me in this thine image, in order that I may be mindful of thee, may conceive of thee, and love thee; but that image has been so consumed and wasted away by vices, and obscured by the smoke of wrong‑doing, that it cannot achieve that for which it was made, except thou renew it, and create it anew. I do not endeavor, O Lord, to penetrate thy sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree thy truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe—that unless I believed, I should not understand. (translated from the Latin by Sidney Norton Deane, 1903; emphasis mine)

In her 1973 translation of the Proslogion (pp. 243–44), Benedicta Ward sets this prayer in broken lines “in an attempt to convey the rhythm of Anselm’s complex rhymed prose, which is closer to our conception of poetry” and which aids a more meditative reading:

      Teach me to seek you,
   and as I seek you, show yourself to me,
   for I cannot seek you unless you show me how,
      and I will never find you
   unless you show yourself to me.
Let me seek you by desiring you,
   and desire you by seeking you;
   let me find you by loving you,
   and love you in finding you.

   I confess, Lord, with thanksgiving,
   that you have made me in your image,
so that I can remember you, think of you, and love you.
But that image is so worn and blotted out by faults,
   so darkened by the smoke of sin,
   that it cannot do that for which it was made,
   unless you renew and refashion it.
Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height,
   for my understanding is in no way equal to that,
   but I do desire to understand a little of your truth
   which my heart already believes and loves.
I do not seek to understand so that I may believe,
   but I believe so that I may understand;
      and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe I shall not understand.

I particularly love lines 8–9: “Let me find you by loving you, and love you in finding you.” Or, as Deane translates it, “Let me find thee in love and love thee in finding.” Chambers highlights these lines by making them, and the two that precede them, the refrain of his song: “Let me seek you in all my desire, / Desire you in everything I seek. / Let it be by loving you I find you, / And when I finally find you, let it be lovely.”

For Anselm, our desire for God must precede our understanding of God. We cannot know God except through love; those who pursue him without loving him will not find him. And it’s not as if our “finding” God ends the pursuit, as there is always more of God to discover. We catch small glimpses, and that’s invigorating. In this life we are never granted a full and complete vision of God but rather are always searching and often finding—and that search, undertaken with loving belief, is a delight.