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We cannot open our eyes ….

May 29, 2013

The genesis of this post has undoubtedly been my latest opportunity to enjoy the special beauty of the Okanagan Valley.  I am by no means saying that other locales are lesser, for every one has its own appeal, but there is something here that whispers a bit louder to my soul.  I marvel at how in many ways the Okanagan resembles Haiti.

I am including a couple of pictures taken from the deck of a dear friend’s house, for no reason at all, and for so many reasons.

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I am not an advocate of multi-tasking.  I am firmly in the camp of those who hold that if one divides their attention, they cannot apply their best efforts to anything.  That said, I see God as the ultimate multi-tasker.  My mind reels when I try to imagine attending to not only the seven billion struggling souls among whom I am one, but also all the animals, plants, and non-animated entities that comprise our world.  But that is only a tiny part of creation.  There’s a whole infinite universe out there under His care.  Without the constraints of time and space, I imagine it is possible for Him to have His fingers in many pies and still give His best to every one of them.  I know He certainly gives His best to me.

The reason my thoughts have wandered in that direction is that I have come to see God in terms of His grand mission, in terms of all of His creation, rather than, but not exclusive of, my personal relationship with Him.  The Bible speaks of God as the creator of all, and to my reading makes it clear that He intends to redeem it all from the effects of the Fall.

Not only does the Bible say we are created in His image, it also says all of creation reflects His qualities, that He is unmistakably revealed in what He created.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.  Romans 1:20 NIV

 

This has certainly been my personal experience throughout my entire life.  Perhaps that is why in the course of my reading I find writers who address this subject so engaging, and why I cling to their truth.  I give you a couple of examples:

 

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.

— Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

Everything in creation speaks of God.  

God has created an entire universe to point us to Himself.  

Creation is thick with meaning.  

Everything around us demands that we explore, that we discover, that we understand.

 

The signs are there.

            We live in a universe that is elegant.

            On a planet perfectly created for life.

            In a world filled with beauty.

— Erwin McManus, Soul Cravings

 

Perhaps that is also the reason certain hymns have long had special appeal to me, speaking lovingly of God’s creation in much the same way I see it.  A couple immediately come to mind:

How Great Thou Art (Second Stanza)

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze;
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee; How great Thou art!
How great Thou art! Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee;
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

Great Is Thy Faithfulness (Second Stanza)

Summer and winter, and spring-time and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

From as far back as I can remember, I have been an observer of creation, the disarming beauty of the world around me evoking rapturous wonder.  You might say I have been a creationologist, one who studies creation.  I don’t think you’ll find that term in any dictionary, but it has begun to appear on the Internet to describe those who ascribe to Creation Science.  But since that fellowship would likely give me the bum’s rush for some of my beliefs on the subject, I guess I’ll have to dream up another term.  But not today.

As a child I was fascinated by the mysteries of the seemingly endless variety of life that teemed in the creek that ran through our farmyard, and the diversity of flora and fauna that shared the fields, meadows and woods of my environs.  As Adam named them, so I came to know them first by name, then visiting them frequently, grew to know them more intimately.

I was a sky watcher.  By day I dreamily imagined fanciful shapes in fluffy cumulus clouds, gazed at wispy mares’ tails, the portents of rain, or stood transfixed at the dramatic shifting, roiling aerial ballet of the building of towering thunderheads and anvils that blackened into electrical storms or yellowed with hail. Dwarfed beneath the inky vault of the night sky I would search the heavens for the celestial orbs and constellations of my acquaintance.

I became a collector of all things, each summer facing with painful resignation the time when my mother would rescue her canning jars, emptying them of the insects, tadpoles and other creatures I was studying.  My parents tolerated my innumerable “pets”, my father only once in my memory drawing the line when I captured some prairie dogs.  He would not stand for my nurturing the animals whose numerous holes in our pasture occasionally resulted in one of our cattle breaking a leg.

I was enthralled by the miraculous metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies and tadpoles into frogs, their transformation into new creations, still the same creature, but so different.  With rapt attention I remember sitting for hours over a number of days observing the incredible industry of burying beetles and their power to communally accomplish the monumental task of interring our beloved old mare where she had laid down and breathed her last.  I marveled at the varied architecture of birds’ nests—from the spare simplicity of that of a killdeer to the sophisticated hanging pocket constructed by an oriole—and the ingenious engineering of beavers.  Fascinated by the wonder of the emergence of seedlings from seemingly lifeless seeds, and their development into plants, I became a gardener before I started school.  At the time I was only vaguely aware of the spiritual implications of these things, the lessons they taught about the Creator, but the seeds of ideas yet to come were sown.

As I stood face to face with God’s creation, everything about it intrigued me and cried out for explanation.  My appetite to experience and to understand was voracious.  My older sisters had taught me that whatever my question, the answer could be found in a book.  My observations then were matched with time spent in tireless research.  Where was the explanation for the baffling navigational skills of the birds I learned traveled thousands of miles to nest in our yard, only to make the return trip to some exotic locale each autumn?  And what of the Monarch butterflies whose fat striped caterpillars feasted on the milkweed that grew at the back of our garden?  Who could account for the complex aerodynamics of the bumblebees and the hummingbirds that I stalked?

As I pursued my education, science provided rational explanations for much of what I observed. But rather than eliminating the mystery, knowing the answers to the when, where and how merely shifted my focus to the question of who.  Here I found the scientific explanations unsatisfactory, suspect. In my estimation, the scientists were stepping past their own criteria, trespassing into the realm of philosophy and religion, trying to answer more than they could empirically prove. The suggestion that all I observed was random and meaningless left me incredulous.  The creation of my experience was unmistakably numinous.  I chose to embrace the mystery rather than settle for something less than the truth.

More and more I connected the creation I so loved with its Creator.  The exhilarating spectacle of a prairie electrical storm and the savage fury of a winter gale on Vancouver Island’s west coast for me point to the untamed power of God’s passion, the passion to which He invites me, a spirituality translated into the passionate pursuit of life.  The lowly dandelion breaking through asphalt, and the roots of a spruce tree struggling for survival on the Canadian Shield splitting solid granite are pale reflections ofthe tenacity of His passion against all odds.  The communal might of an anthill illustrates the power He has given us to participate together in His missional dream.

I encounter His beauty in the pale green translucence of a Luna moth, in the strung pearls of early morning dew glistening on spider webs, in the heady perfume of lilacs that insists I inhale deeply, in the majesty of the big sky of the prairies dressed in a blazing sunset, in the robins’ cheery greeting to the dawn, in the intense coloration of a Sockeye run, in the White Witch’s rimy kingdom of winter, and in a mosaic of stones polished smooth by the deliciously cold crystalline waters of a mountain stream.  My list could go on ad infinitum, for in truth everything in His creation is beautiful if one takes the time to look carefully.

I find something very cathedral-like in deep woods—the incense of earthy smells, the spongy carpet of moss underfoot, the rare sight of ghostly Indian pipes emerging like waxen candles from the forest floor, the ethereal dappling as streaks of sunlight reach down from the heavens through the canopy, the silence only broken by hymns of praise offered by the birds accompanied by the buzzing of insects and the creaking of trees.  God is very palpable in such a place.

The sacred geometry of a beehive, or of a seashell, indeed of all of creation from the hydrogen atom to the cosmos, evidence God’s unparalleled creativity.  “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light,”(Genesis 1:3) existing as both a wave and a particle, but never both simultaneously, suggesting to me the nature of the Triune God.  The astonishing intricacy of all things, living and non-living, and the delicacy of the balances in our bodies, in our world, and in our universe, all parts of a grand system working together to sustain life, boggles my mind. 

Sitting as silently and as still as possible, enjoying the rare privilege of observing a lynx watching over her kittens as they tussled and frolicked in the winter sunshine, I could see a suggestion of God’s love for me.  In the Canada Goose gander that returned year after year to the nesting site where his mate was killed, staying all season, mournfully calling for her every day, I saw a hint of the endurance of that love. 

A book that truly resonated with me was Annie Dillard’s Pulitzer Prize winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. The author’s words evoke my childhood, crouched on the banks of Tobacco Creek, my toes sunk deep in the mud, my eyes straining to see the miracles its waters held.  I saw myself in the unidentified narrator, for I have shared much of her experience in observing the natural world around me.  Like her, I was driven to delve deeper and deeper into it in search of meaning.  And although the book does not expressly indicate the narrator saw the God of the Bible there, it is certainly implied.  Dillard insisted her work was theological in nature.

It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale. So many things have been shown so to me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever-renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free.

But seeing God in creation is by no means limited to things.  While I admit it’s often difficult for me, as a part of my journey left me with a tendency toward being judgmental (Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them”), and I am finding that difficult to shake, I am learning to see Him more often in the people around me.  We are, after all, created in His image—every one of us—people of every faith and people of no faith at all.  If I open my heart as well as my eyes, I may see Him, for He is hidden in every person.  I believe that if more people would make the effort to see God in others, the world would be a very different place.

 

The French philosopher and Christian mystic Simone Weil suggests in her book Waiting for God that attention is the chief means by which our souls encounter God.  It has been my personal experience that staying on the surface of things allows me to miss the point.  Every bit of God’s creation is sacred.  He himself declared it all good.  Yet all things are profane if experienced superficially.  Only when I pay attention to the details, when I plumb the heart of things, is His grace always revealed.

Experiencing God in creation goes beyond what is perceived through the senses.  It is much more than observation or the acquisition of knowledge.  It is the experience of something much deeper, the apprehension of a revelatory and transformative truth.  It is the heart’s communion with its Creator.  And as I have long believed, the heart knows things the head does not.

I reflect sometimes on how my experience of God’s creation is so highly personal, unique.  For what I see, what I hear, what I smell, what I taste, what I feel is at least slightly different from what others do, for at any given moment I occupy a exclusive space giving me a unique perspective.  It is as if God unfolds before me a creation meant just for me.  And He does the same for everyone.  As John Calvin wrote, “We cannot open our eyes without being made to see Him.”

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