Diversity, Worship and Leaves
June 29, 2016 @ 3:25 PM by: Jennifer Frank
by Helen Lenz,
Blythwood Intern and Master of Divinity Student, Tyndale Seminary
A theme that has struck me repeatedly over the last few months is the enormity of the diversity which exists within the Kingdom of God, particularly in terms of the methods by which individuals and communities worship and experience him. Very often in our churches, we seem to be stuck in a one-track-mind mentality of doing things--the same way that our church has always done them--because that is what is tried and true and what works, right? I've heard it said that the last words of a dying church are: 'we've never done things this way before!'
I think the Western church is starting to recognize and appreciate the diversity that exists within her. For example, I am not a traditionalist, and do not prefer to worship God through ritual and symbol, but some people do. In the same way, as I prefer to worship God outside, interacting with his creation, some people would rather stay indoors and meditate without getting dirty. Still, others can't get past the thought of 'nature' meaning a lion killing a zebra for food, and fail to find God in something so vicious. All of these are valid responses.
In my undergrad, I took a botany course called 'Plants as a Human Resource' to fulfill a science requirement, thinking that at the very least, I would be able to learn how to grow my own herbs or prepare some new vegetable dishes. In between learning that curry powder is actually a blend of 10 different spices (who knew?!) and that different segments of a felled tree produce different types of lumber for different purposes, I also learned a lot about leaves. Nearly all plants have leaves, and from the structure of those leaves, you can determine the type of environment in which that plant will thrive. For example, succulent, desert plants like the aloe vera have thicker leaves in order to efficiently store large quantities of water, while hostas, which prefer shade, have thinner, broader leaves to catch the sun, and allow excess water to evaporate easily. Pine needles are hardy enough to withstand the Canadian winters, while maple leaves are more fragile, and well-suited to the season colloquially referred to by Canadians as 'construction.'
Often, in creation, we can catch glimpses of the heart of our Creator. As I've been thinking about diversity, my mind has wandered back to leaves. Regardless of their shape, leaves all serve the same purpose: to photosynthesize, or produce food for the plant. In the same way, humans have all been created for one chief purpose, which the Westminster Shorter Catechism describes aptly as 'to glorify God and enjoy him forever.' Like the leaves, although we are created and designed for the same purpose, the ways in which we fulfill it will look different, and that is okay.
The other day, I was walking through a forest, and was struck by the variety of trees and other plants that were there--tall ones, short ones, young ones, old ones, leaves of all different shapes and sizes. The verse 'the trees of the field shall clap their hands' (Isaiah 55:12) came to my mind, and I imagined how funny it would look to have the oaks and ashes and cedars and spruces and maples and pines and poplars and the plethora of other flora that were present clapping their hands in praise to their Creator. What a beautiful, profound image this was of God being glorified by his creation in the wholeness of its diversity. Imagine how pleasing it is to God when he sees all of his children lifting up their voices to him in praise--people of different races, ethnicities, cultures, denominations, and traditions worshipping him together as one Body of Christ.
We are all made in the image of God. One doesn't have to look very far to see how different that image can look. Just as the different leaves are structured to function in different environments, so too are humans wired to worship and enjoy God in different ways. If setting aside devotional time has become a chore, maybe you need to explore other avenues of spending time with God. If going for a walk in a garden, or buying a meal for a homeless person, or singing a hymn, or meditating in an ornate sanctuary enables you to feel closer to God, don't be afraid to incorporate those things into your rhythm of life, and see how you will begin to look forward to them as your time spent growing in relationship with your Father in Heaven.