When I was eight years old, our big, red family Bible was a thing of fearful wonder to me. I didn’t know it then, but its design harkened back to the “illuminated” Bibles of the pre-printing age, when medieval artisans would copy and illustrate each book by hand. The first words of each chapter were oversized, gilded, and festooned with twining scripts like vines around a tree. There were illustrations, too, of fiercely beautiful angels.
These glorified words and images made one thing clear: matters of God and faith, life and death, heaven and earth were not to be trifled with. Our Bible made that point in regal fashion, even if we did buy it with the S&H Green stamps we earned at a Publix grocery store in Florida.
The essays in this collection draw on the same reverence for words that I saw illumined in those sacred pages. The seven I’ve chosen are delight, fear, wonder, care, work, dominion, life. All figure significantly in Holy Scripture.
Most of us can recall a time when we strongly felt God’s presence in creation. Perhaps it was a sunset, shooting star, skein of honking geese against the moon, or cloud of starlings that turned and whirled as one with hive-mind precision. Why do these experiences delight us so? The best explanation I can give is that God placed in our hearts a holy appreciation for creation. It’s like a spiritual tap on the kneecap. When we’re smitten by creation’s grandeur, our first reflex (curiously, this even holds true for unbelievers) is one of gratitude. We can’t help ourselves. A good dose of creation makes thankfulness rise up in our souls like maple sap on a bright February day.
That said, we also live in a 24-7 culture, with our senses forever assaulted by ambient noise and electronic gadgets. It’s as if we’d all rather be somewhere else, anywhere else but here and now. The next social media tidbit promises fulfillment, but as with any addiction, leads only to more anxious yearning. It’s hard to be still and know God (psalm 46:10) with our eyes and ears so beholden to things artificial and fleeting.
It doesn’t have to be this way. God can teach us through creation, if we but take time to wait and listen. When we do, we join a great lineage of prophets and holy men and women who have done the same. Moses, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hannah, and David all found God’s care and instruction revealed in the temple of nature. Chief among them was our Lord himself. Jesus’s teachings and parables were grounded in the everyday natural lessons he learned as a boy and working man in rural Galilee. The Gospels tell us that Jesus often fled to wild places for rest and prayer, especially before times of great trial.
On one of his final sojourns, Jesus was transfigured on the heights of Mount Tabor. His countenance and clothes glowed white—illumined, one could say—in preparation for the closing chapters of his earthly mission.
I don’t expect that I’ll ever be transfigured by a summer evening spent hoeing weeds in the garden. But something in my countenance does glow afterwards and it’s not just from perspiration. After I’ve washed up at the outside spigot, a patina of grace remains. It will ease my sleep and profit my mind for the next day’s work at my day job. Somehow, in ways unknown to me, I too have been tended and cultivated in ways that will bear new fruit.
These essays describe moments from my life when the light of creation shined particularly bright. It’s my prayer that they will do the same for you in ways that I can’t imagine. How we live may differ in every respect, but to this we can both bear witness: God’s life force remains present in every molecule he ever created. He’s not some divine watchmaker who built this vast machine, wound it up, and walked away. He’s still digging the Grand Canyon. His rivers still clap their hands with joy; his heavens still proclaim the glory of God. Why should we wait any longer to join them?