Last week I was reminded of a delightful anecdote from Dr Paul Brand, the medico who did revolutionary work on leprosy. Brand, who grew up in India, was sent to boarding school in England at the age of nine. When he was fourteen he received a telegram telling him that his father had died. The young Brand was heartbroken. A few weeks later a letter arrived that had been written by his father just before he died, but as it was sent by boat it arrived after the news had reached Brand of his father’s death.
Paul Brand’s father described the hills around their home and then finished with these words: “God means us to delight in his world. It isn’t necessary to know botany or zoology or biology in order to enjoy the manifold life of nature. Just observe. And remember. And compare. And be always looking to God with thankfulness and worship for having placed you in such a delightful corner of the universe as the planet Earth.”
Coming on the back of weeks of distressing news – the refugee crisis flowing out of Syria, war in the Ukraine, an ebola epidemic in West Africa, the brutality with which Australia treats asylum seekers – I found this a very helpful reminder. Neither Paul Brand nor his father were escapists. They were not people who retreated from the difficulties of the world, but spent their lives confronting them head on. Nonetheless, they also saw the beauty and glory of our world.
I cannot help getting myself involved with the injustices in our world. Something burns deeply within me that drives me to leave this world a better place than I found it. At the same time I find myself dancing crazily to the closing themes of the TV shows we have been watching, getting a buzz out of a brilliant sunset, feeling my spirit soar when a dolphin surfaces when I’m out on the water. The words in that letter sum it up perfectly, these things create within me a sense of thankfulness that I’ve been placed in such delightful corner of the universe as planet Earth.
It seems incongruous, even trivial, to celebrate a dolphin leaping from the water at the same time bombs are falling in Gaza. But I need to do it. I think we all need to do it. Thankfulness and worship enable me to not only see, but to feel in my bones the goodness in our world and in others. They create hope that the final word in history and in the causes I join will not be despair but delight. Far from representing an escape from the pain, thankfulness and worship provide me with the lens through which to engage it. So I will drink deeply of all the beauty I can. I need to, for without this all that is left is escapism and despair.