Common Ground Editorial: September 2021

At a cursory glance, Jesus’s wisdom when it comes to worry and anxiety seems contemporary, if conventional. Look at the birds, look at the flowers—you’ll get some perspective, feel better. Reading chapter six of Matthew’s gospel for techniques of calm, you might conclude Jesus is all about dialling back the worry while taking walks in the beauty of nature.

The truth is far stranger and far more comforting. “Nature” is not some happy otherworld, a vulnerable and beautiful reservoir of calm that we tap into to feel good. Jesus’s wisdom—that we should look at the world and ponder its nature—tells us that the world of the birds and flowers, of beauty, providence, and care is our situation also. We don’t need, then, to escape the world of worry for the world of nature; rather, in anxious times, it is good to consider the works of God’s hands and to understand anew what it means to be a creature—a creature made and sustained by God’s love.

In this month’s Common Ground, we’ve prepared a generous picnic for difficult and anxious times. Even before lockdown stilled the traffic, Andrew Shamy was looking at the birds of the air. His meditations on birds and cultivating habits of attention are a timely leaf out of Jesus’s book. In this month’s companion practice, Olivia Burne shares her experiences of learning to look in faith at God’s world—do consider joining her in the practice she details. We also interview Emma Sage, whose enthusiasm and joy in cultivating a garden has resulted in the beautiful Sage Journal.

We’re delighted to be able to feature new work by artist Mark Compton. As he explains, Mark’s pieces reflect a process of renewed trust, stepping back into art practice after a fallow period. The results are stunning.

In last month’s Common Ground, we explored what it means to read—to keep company with—the Christian tradition. It’s a mysterious and little understood commonplace of the Christian life that some of our best friends may be long dead and yet known and loved through the provisions of tradition. With that in mind, we’re launching a new column called From the Tradition, where each time we’ll ponder some element of this inheritance, be it art, writing, or other artefact. This month, John Dennison finds treasure in the margins of a 9th century Irish monastic text.

The COVID-19 season, of course, continues. We know you’ll enjoy Jannah Dennison’s low-key wit in “Radio Vaccine.” More seriously, we continue to hold you in prayer—your whanau, churches, businesses, work, study, and households. If you have particular prayer needs that you’d like the Venn team to join you in, please do get in touch.


John Dennison
Editor, Common Ground