Harvest – not the facts of life

Michaelmas Daisies, September 2017.  Margaret gave them to me.

Some reflections for Harvest -Creation 2017

You’ll know the story.    Little Johnny comes home after his first few weeks at secondary school with a question for his parents.

‘Mum, Dad, where do we come from?  Davey asked his parents, and they told him…’

The parents exchange glances and silently agree that now is the the time.    They sit down and tell young Johnny about the birds and the bees and where babies come from  – what we call ‘the facts of life’.

Young Johnny listens with an incredulous and stunned expression on his face.   When his parents finish speaking, his response is a very quiet, ‘….oh’

-‘…. When Davey asked his parents, they told him they all came from Bridgend’.


The ‘facts’ of life’ – I’m old enough to remember lessons in school describing it in that way.    I’m glad that the basics of human biology are taught to children and pupils, but life as a fact, or as as a series of facts, I’m not so sure about.

In the famous Russell – Copelston debates of the last century, the brilliant atheist mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell was challenged by the equally brilliant Jesuit philosopher F C Copelston about the ultimate origins of things – why is there something rather than nothing?  Russell’s reply was that the universe may indeed simply be a brute fact, and needs no further explanation.

Life is simply a fact.  It just is.  Get over it.  Me?  I’ll have a Tuna mayo.  Next question.

This became known as Russell’s ‘Brute fact’ argument’.

(not the tuna mayo bit).

In his book An Atheist’s Guide to Reality, Alex Rosenberg spells out the hard logic:

1. Is there a God? No.
2. What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
3. What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
4. What is the meaning of life? Ditto.
5. Why am I here? Just dumb luck.
6. Does prayer work? Of course not.
7. Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding?
8. Is there free will? Not a chance!
9. What happens when I die? Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us.
10. Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.

(-  #10 – does being moral always make you feel better?)

No one can ‘prove’ that Russell or Rosenberg are  wrong  – that life and the universe just happens to be, that everything springs out of nothing, that nothing made everything –  which is ultimately what we must say if the universe (or multiverse, if it exists) is not a Divine creation.

When some of my (truly, much-loved) atheist friends tell me that they admire my faith, I say, with a smile, ‘Oh, but I admire yours – the faith that nothing made everything’.

I’m not trying to  make a cheap rhetorical point there.  Christ knows it’s hard.  A former aid worker told me this week that a Ugandan street child once said to her, with tears, ‘there is no God.  There just isn’t’.

We all make a leap of faith, of intuition, that stretches beyond forensic -standard proof.  It’s something I can’t prove,

that when we look at the natural world,  at life itself,

at life now, in its most extravagant and wild glory,

at harvest, in its autumn,

where in the very act of dying the trees become more beautiful than ever –

that what we’re seeing is not a complex arrangement

of interesting but ultimately meaningless facts

but gifts.

I can’t prove that life isn’t a brute fact but a gift, a Love-creation, with a reason to be and an insistent demand that we respond in kind, with wild generosity.

I can’t prove it; I just choose to see it that way.

But I do believe that there’s a heart-logic to it.

Heart stone, Oxfordshire

The Christian writer C S Lewis struggled with his faith after his wife Joy Davidman  died from cancer.   What brought him back was what he felt his experience of loving her told him

Looked at as a collection of facts, Joy’s life  amounted to an advanced arrangement of carbon molecules and bits of brain circuitry that had simply burnt out.  That’s all any scan or X-ray could ever see or show.

But reflecting on this In his book ‘A Grief Observed’, Lewis wrote,  ‘if she is not now, she never was, and I never knew her.  I mistook a cloud of atoms for a soul”.

If she is not now, she never was, and I never knew her.

If there is no soul, no deep mystery, just the brute, meaningless cause-effect realities of tissue, hormones and skin, Lewis had never known Joy; what he had known, ultimately, was an expression of matter, of chemistry, of stuff.

Thinking of creation-harvest, I’m not saying that the observable facts aren’t important, and that the scientific method isn’t the best instrument we have for understanding how they work and behave; I simply claim that those facts aren’t everything.  And on the question of whether the universe, nature, life itself is a brute fact or a gift, I claim that a bus driver, a teaching-assistant, a carer, a parent, a patient, an artist is as qualified to answer as an astro-physicist or micro-biologist.   The question goes beyond the mechanics.

For all of its pain and sorrow, the act of loving someone (of loving trees, in fact!) persuades me that life is a gift, a creation, a deep, welcoming mystery, full of hope and purpose, not simply a set of facts.

Harvest.  Creation.  Our faith is that the face of a child, an apple, a seed, words that heal, food that nourishes, relationships, friendships, conversations, sunsets, water, air the universe itself, the demand for radical justice, doesn’t just happen to be.   They  only exist at all because hearts, and The Heart behind all things, loves them to be.

That’s how we understand the world:  as a creation-harvest.

a mystery to behold, a gift,

for which you can and should say,

Thank you.


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