Captivated by Creation

 

cactus wren with beak full
Cactus wren, Arizona

I love the high desert where we live: comical cactus wrens dart through the underbrush, their beaks crammed with grass and weeds for their nests; soaring night skies glitter with stars; impossibly fragile flowers adorn our desert plants with astounding color. Even the harvester ants—that arrived in countless numbers and with interminable energy to pillage my newly planted lawn and carry off every last seed—are evidence of a brilliant creator.

 

Imagine being a witness to creation! This is what I imagine…

Long ago and far away, before the first tadpole wiggled in a ditch or the first bright green blade of grass pierced the earth’s crust, there was nothing at all, anywhere. Time had not begun.Light lay locked away in the treasure vaults of God’s mind.

Only God existed somewhere, somehow.

Some time, God began a journey, an amazing journey. He decided to take a walkabout through the outback of nothingness. When God began to wade through the void, in his wake swirled glittering galaxies, spinning solar systems, and worlds without number. The stars shone with the white-hot fire of new birth, but their brilliance was only a residue of God’s presence. His glory was so vast that his every movement sent showers of stars streaming into a million orbits.

For centuries, millenniums, perhaps billions of years, God walked, leaving suns and moons in his footprints. If we had been observers of this fantastic journey, we never would have guessed that these marvels of the heavens were only the forerunners of God’s creative genius! There was a moment when our world was set into the infinite vastness of his heavens like a turquoise jewel on dark velvet. To this spot God focused his more intense attention.

Great mountains heaved themselves up from lifeless seas and belched lava and smoke into the pristine air. This small planet seemed to be in the throes of becoming something. Clearly it was being readied for some grand occasion. But what?

In God’s perfect timing, it was finally prepared. Rich soil covered the ground. Warm sunshine bathed the hills and valleys.

Suddenly life overflowed God’s hands in unbelievable profusion. Fragile tendrils of plant life lifted themselves from the soil and hung quivering in the golden light. Great ferns spread out their green sails. Luscious fruit hung heavy on a thousand branches. Orchids set the treetops ablaze with purple and white fire. An aromatic fragrance filled the air, a smell of moisture, sweetness, and life.

redwood-forest- (2016_07_21 01_37_36 UTC)
Redwood forest in Northern California

Crystal rivers and lakes reflected the transparent azure of the sky. The oceans seethed with living organisms, and soon flashed with the sudden movements of silver-sided fish and carefree dolphins. Ladybugs whirred into view, heading for richly petaled flowering trees. Their tiny gossamer wings, beating a thousand times per minute, brought them in for flawless six-point landings as though they had practiced for weeks. When they alighted, their wispy sails folded away like little parachutes under bright red enameled wing covers. Chipmunks skittered across the meadows as though blown out of a chute. Gazelles bounded in great circles, celebrating grace and life. Tortoises appeared like living lumps along the shore. A beating of wings heralded the arrival of flocks of iridescent birds, resplendent parrots, and graceful flamingos, a moving rainbow of color. Spotted fawns stooped to eat in the mottled shade encircling lush pastures.

In the words of master poet James Weldon Johnson[1]:

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down–
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.

Perhaps these words seem fanciful to you, lacking as they are in any scientific basis. Since people first arrived on the scene, some have had trouble believing God is behind our world and the universe. Today we worship science instead of God. Doesn’t scientific evidence that goes back billions of years cast doubt on the Creation Story? Not to me. I think it takes a far greater leap of faith to say it all happened from a Big Bang. A big explosion of what, exactly, and where did that whatever it was come from? And what  caused the Big Bang? How can an arbitrary explosion explain the phenomenal mathematics and science built into every single living creature? A Big Bang cannot explain the uniqueness of billions of people, each with unique fingerprints, voice prints, retina prints, and not to mention personalities. A Big Bang cannot explain intelligence, creativity, love, or loyalty. It was not happenstance that created birds that instinctively know how to build nests (every species a different type of nest, of course), or to migrate over eight thousand miles as does the arctic tern, using celestial cues from the sun and stars, the earth’s magnetic field, and mental maps.

I was reading in 1 Corinthians recently and reread this verse, “God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:21).

Truth must be revealed. God can neither be proved nor disproved. Each of us must choose to believe. The psalmist wrote, “the heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship” (Psalm 19:1).

Every bird I see with its intricate feathering pattern and its ingenious design that allows flight; every plant I see with the ability to synthesize light into chlorophyll and produce fruit;

butterfly scales
Scales from the wing of a sunset moth from Madagascar. If you photograph these from the opposite side, they would be different colors.

every time I contemplate the fragile beauty of a brilliant butterfly whose magnificent colors are made up of microscopic scales; every time I contemplate nature, I thank God for his wisdom, vast intelligence, and pleasure in creating such a gorgeous world for us to live in.

George Bernard Shaw, that brilliant playwright and self-professed atheist, was once asked, “What if, when you die, you discover that you have been wrong and there really is a God?” He answered, “I will tell him that he gave us insufficient evidence.”

Some might respond by saying—or thinking—”brilliant retort.” No. It’s a tragic, smart alecky reply. To be so intelligent and yet be blind to spiritual truth is heartbreaking. You cannot discern God with human wisdom. But you can see him everywhere if your eyes and your heart are open.

 

 

[1] Excerpt from “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson

Why Silence Will Heal Your Soul

I had a few hours between flights and the airport was almost deserted. A quiet spot and comfortable chair beckoned me. There was even a bonus: a plug-in to charge my cell phone! Dropping my backpack into the adjoining chair, I unzipped it and pulled out my yellow pad and pen, preparing to write a bit.

As I started to gather my thoughts, music from overhead speakers butted in. Voices, drums, and guitars assaulted the quiet, making thinking impossible. “Till your world burns and crashes, Till you’re at the end, the end of your rope, Till you’re standing in my shoes, I don’t wanna hear nothing from you From you, from you, cause you don’t know.” One singer after the next wailed on and on about lost love and unfaithfulness. “I put your picture away ‘cause I’m lying next to him.” “I can’t go on.” “You just have to wait.” The depressing lyrics pumped into my brain. The relentless strumming was an angry child throwing a tantrum between my ears. Ironically, every other song was interspersed with a recording reminding the listener that this was the blessing of ad-free music! (The repetitive announcement was worse than the ads.) I remembered sitting in the Las Vegas airport some years ago with a ruckus that made this music positively saintly. The halls and waiting rooms of that Nevada airport were crammed with slot machines and other gambling games, creating a cacophony of beeping and chiming that occasionally was interrupted by sultry female voices inviting anyone within listening distance to a sure-to-win gaming experience. In that airport—as well as another—I wished for ear plugs.

It’s one thing to be held hostage to unwelcome music in a public place. It’s another to willingly submit to constant noise and music day after day and month after month. The TV is always on. Music is always playing. Newscasts drone their unremitting opinions. Computers chirp. Cell phones ding. IPad games talk and beep. Have we grown so used to constant audio and visual stimulation that we no longer remember how to or want to carry on a conversation in a quiet room? It’s as though real people—or even God—are boring and so we prefer digital companionship. I think that some people never experience silence. It seems that silence scares us with its unwelcome invitation to think or experience nature without musical accompaniment.

It takes silence to learn who you are.

When you are silent you can get in touch with your inner self. If you are always listening to other people’s ideas, how will you know what you believe? Lyrics of songs are life philosophies and outlooks. Play them often and long enough and they become your philosophy and outlook. Consistent reading of newsbytes and listening to info-bits suspends your own thought processes with predigested information. (But that’s another tempting subject I will not pursue at the moment.)

It can be intimidating to unplug, turn off, and think. However, unless we have silence, we often do not ask the big, important questions which, left unanswered, keep us from personal peace and emotional homeostasis. Who are you? What kind of personality do you have? What do you believe and why? How does God figure into your life? How connected are you to your family and why? Do you like your work? Why do you choose the things you choose? What thoughts run through your mind? What attitudes color your choices? Which experiences hold you hostage and still poison your hope?

It takes silence to get in tune with our world.

Contemplating the natural world opens our minds and hearts to incredible insight and discovery. Quiet observation and reflection reveal God’s genius and the innumerable patterns of the sky and sea. Those who discovered gravity—and a thousand other things–spent long hours quietly paying attention to nature. But even those of us with no scientific intention can benefit from learning the gentle come and go of the seasons and the ways of the butterfly and dolphin.

The sounds of nature will enchant you. Ocean waves sweep up the shore scattering pebbles and foaming upon the sand. A dancing campfire crackles and hisses as it casts flickering orange light across your face. Great trees bend before the wind, their leaves whispering of autumn. A mockingbird’s silver song echoes through the clear morning air.

The beauty of our world will mesmerize you. Warm turquoise waters shelter brilliant tropical fish among the undulating sea fans. Sunflower seeds grow in intricate precision and design even if no one sees them. The tiny feathers of hummingbirds and the minute scales of butterfly wings glitter neon colors in the sunlight. The moon pulls vast oceans as they ebb and flow in ageless rhythms. From the fireflies twinkling over the soybean fields of Indiana to the aurora borealis swirling fantastic colors over Alaska and Finland, our world spills over with exquisiteness and wonder.

Can’t you feel the frantic pace of life disappear just thinking about it? Only those who commit themselves to observe without interruption will learn the calming serenities of nature.

It takes silence to hear God’s voice.

Meditation and contemplation are time-honored ways to still your soul and discern God’s voice. We pay an enormous price for the never-ending, frenetic lifestyles we lead. Today’s social media are hypnotizing and addicting. Just try to find a crowd in which at least 90% are not glued to their cell phones. Everywhere you go, in every household, school, and event, cell phones rule. Now I choose to have a cell phone and I truly love the way I can connect with my children and grandchildren who never use e-mail anymore and don’t even know what a letter is. Minutes after it’s happened I can see my grandson, Caleb, hit a line drive, courtesy of the wizardry of cyberspace. I played computer games for a while until, thankfully, dry eyes put a stop to watching a screen for more than a few minutes. Only then did I realize how much time of every day had been consumed by trivia. Suddenly I had time for for reading, observing, writing, and contemplation. When we choose to be in touch with everything and everyone we choose to abandon God. We might deny it, even be shocked by the idea of it, but the truth is that you cannot be in touch with God without silence.

I’m thankful that there are an increasing number of people demanding that their kids not use cell phones at home, period. Family survival depends on real conversation, not texting that dinner is ready.

How much more must be unplug ourselves and spend time with God.

If anyone needed to hear God, it was the prophet Elijah. Jezebel was intent on killing him and he was emotionally distraught and running for his life. In fact, he was begging to die when a huge storm swept in. “…but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper….‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”[1] It was God.

Put down your cell phone or tablet. Walk outside and look up, not down at your screen. Begin looking and listening for the divine. If this is new to you, be prepared to wait. We will have to train ourselves to recognize His voice. It is not surprising that heartbreak often sharpens our receptiveness to the divine. Cancer, job loss, divorce, and the death of those nearest to us stop the clock of routine. We are suddenly all ears and eyes, wondering what will happen, who will take care of us, or what course of action we should take. Calamity abruptly jerks us awake and we see life’s true priorities in high relief. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for tragedy to do this. We can learn to lay aside the superficial and become conversant with the eternal. This quest is quite possibly the most important you will ever take.

[1] 1 Kings 19 (NLT)