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Vicar's column

‘All things Bright and Beautiful’

As we sing hymns (sadly not just at the moment but we can still listen to them!) we often find that familiar words and music can either elicit memories from the past or give us a fresh insight into a current situation. That most familiar of all hymns, ‘All things bright and beautiful’, has the power to alert us to the wonders of creation just as we have been more aware of them during this period of lockdown. It was written in 1848 by Cecil Frances Alexander to explain the line ‘Maker of heaven and earth’ in the Apostles’ creed.

‘All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.’

Haven’t we seen each little flower opening, heard each bird singing, especially in the initial period when it was really quiet, noticed colour more and more detail in so many different ways.

The ‘purple headed mountains’ was always a favourite verse of mine and I read recently that these could have been wildflowers at sunrise caught in the early morning sun on a mountain top. Mrs Alexander could have been thinking of mountains close to her home in Ireland when she wrote these words, causing us to think perhaps of the allure of distant places.

The ‘cold wind’ and ‘summer sun’ can remind us of the prevalence of extreme weather events. Mention of ‘the ripe fruits in the garden’ makes us both aware of how blessed we are to have so much fresh produce and yet reminds us of all those who are in food poverty and who do not have access to such balanced diets as we enjoy: where the failure of a single food crop means disaster. Mrs Alexander would have been only too aware of the catastrophic potato famine in Ireland in the 1840s.

We are constantly now being told of the importance of fresh air and exercise,  of relaxation and reflection, hence ‘the meadows where we play’.

This hymn is often maligned as trite and complacent, over familiar and only for children, with its emphasis on that in the natural world which is small. But small in size doesn’t mean small in significance. As William Blake wrote, one can ‘see a world in a grain of sand.’

In this hymn, we have a text that reminds us of a beautiful world that is also one of declining resources, one that God created and appointed us as its stewards. May we look after it to the best of our ability, continuing to view this powerful hymn as an inspiration for the future.

Gillian Gyenes LLM

St John the Baptist Parish Church Vicar's page