The Animal Will Teach: A New View of Creation in All Creation Sings

by David Sims

Sometimes you fall in love with a hymn the very first time you hear it. “In Sacred Manner” by Susan Palo Cherwien is one of those for me. It’s included in All Creation Sings, the supplement to Evangelical Lutheran Worship coming in November 2020, and one reason I’m so struck by this text is that it suggests our relationship with creation should include learning from nature, not just inviting creation to join our song.

So often we center ourselves when we talk about creation, either as protector or polluter. “In Sacred Manner” (ACS Preview 914) suggests a different focus. Can we show enough humility to be the students? Can we admit that creation can teach us about being a good creature? Stanza 2, for example, invites us to observe first and then behold with wonder what creation can teach us:

In sacred manner may we see
The luminous and loving stars,
With wonder and with awe behold
Their ever-new creative powers.
The heavens show us God.
The heavens show us God.

Stanza 5 is even more clear that we are to be the students. Look at the verbs given to the humans: we only get to “live among” and “sit humbly.”

In sacred manner may we live
Among the wise and loving ones,
Sit humbly, as at sages’ feet,
By four-legged, finned, and feathered ones.
The animals will teach.
The animals will teach.

“As Rivers Flow from a Distant Spring” by David Bjorlin (ACS Preview 901) is another hymn that invites us to first learn from nature’s example. The first three stanzas all start with a model from creation that can inform how we learn and shape our lives in a similar way:

As rivers flow from a distant spring
to quench our thirst and feed the earth,
so let our lives flow from you, our Source,
to counter death and nurture birth.

As trees rise up . . . so let our lives rise in praise.

As woods make shelter . . . so let our lives be a sheltered space.

To be clear, respect for others’ actions and unique abilities is important, too! We have great hymns about how everything praises God in its own way, and so should we in our own way:

Earth and all stars! Loud rushing planets!
Sing to the Lord a new song! . . .
I too sing praises with a new song! (ELW 731)

The hills and the mountains, the rivers and fountains,
the deeps of the ocean proclaim God divine.
We too should be voicing our love and rejoicing . . . (ELW 881)

But “In Sacred Manner,” “As Rivers Flow to Distant Springs,” and other hymns in All Creation Sings add to our hymnody by giving us more language to describe that relationship to creation, language that calls us to first be quiet, then observe, and finally to wonder about how other creatures live their lives, humbly admitting that we can learn from them.

One thing we can gain by asking these questions in our hymnody is a growing appreciation that we are part of creation, not separate from it, nor at its center. Instead, the good news is that our lives are bound to the rest of creation by God’s love. That de-centering becomes a matter of justice as we realize all the ways we normalize our own experience, all the ways we might hold on to power if we are the dominant culture or assume we know what is best.

Learning from the earth itself how to be a good creature requires humility and the willingness to admit that we have more to learn. May we continue to sing in new ways when we approach creation. We are always standing on holy ground.

Posted on Aug 13, 2020 9:22:37 AM
Filed Under: Hymnody, Filed Under: Music Ministry,

David Sims

Written by David Sims

David Sims is the Music Development Manager at Augsburg Fortress, where he will direct development and production of choral, instrumental, and congregational song resources. Since 2014 he has served as Cantor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, and prior to that worked as an organ builder and church musician in Indiana. David grew up in the cornfields of central Illinois and holds degrees in Church Music and Organ Performance from St. Olaf College and Indiana University. His compositions are published by Augsburg Fortress and GIA, and you can usually find him on a search for a new hymn text, recipe, or a source of coffee.