Submitted by Rev. Dr. Don Longbottom, Conference Minister
The recent collision and gas spill in the Houston Ship Channel has reminded me of what we humans are doing to God’s creation. I am convinced, if humans are to keep from destroying earth, we must return to the belief that nature is sacred. Here are some thoughts of my heart.
Psalm 19:1 “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their vast expanse is declaring the works of God’s hands.”
Psalm 24 “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. For God has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the rivers.”
Psalm 29 “. . . The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; The God of glory thunders, The Lord is over the many waters.”
Psalm 104 “. . . God walks upon the wings of the wind. She makes the winds Her messengers, the flaming fire Her ministers. She sends forth spring in the valleys. She causes the grass to grow for the cattle and vegetation for the labor of man. O Lord how many are your works.”
Psalm 148 “Praise the Lord; from the heavens, His angels, His hosts, the sun and the moon, all the stars of light, the highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens. Let them praise the Lord, for He commanded and they were created.”
This is the word of the Lord.
Kathleen Norris writes in her book, Dakota, A Spiritual Geography, “Once when I was describing to a friend from New York, a place on the plains that I love, a ridge above a glacial moraine with a view of almost fifty miles, she asked,
‘But what is there to see?’ ”
This question would have dumbfounded the Psalmist, not to mention the Apostle Paul, who believed that all of Creation is a testament to God, and gives insight into the nature of our Creator. “The heavens tell the glory of God.”
Norris tells of a little girl attending an elementary school at Minot Air Force Base who had recently moved from Louisiana. The little girl wrote: “The sky is full of blue and full of the mind of God.”
“But what is there to see?” The question frightens me, for it reflects a problem, or perhaps even a sickness. More and more we human beings seem to be losing touch with nature, the created order of which we are but a part. We have lost a sense of the sacredness of nature.
Milk comes in cartons, not from the udders of cows.
Pure water comes in bottles with names like Perrier, not from springs, or rivers, or even wells.
Meat appears by magic at the market, killing is not required.
We love our showers and our pools without realizing that the water is coming from a dying American river system.
We are spending so much of our lives on rubber tires and asphalt that we have lost the feel of dirt beneath our feet and between our toes.
The skyscraper and the cyber-shopping mall are the symbols of our age. Almost totally self-contained, they are artificial environments designed exclusively for human purposes, mostly greed.
“But what is there to see?”
Technology is the new Messiah. We marvel at it with its bells, and whistles, and gizmos. It is the answer to our children’s educational needs. If we can only get the right chip in our TVs it will solve our moral problems. Medical technology promises to save us from that ageless nemesis called mortality, or barring that, to reduce costs enough to at least solve Medicare’s budgetary problems.
We can send and receive messages all over the world through the Internet, but frequently we cannot communicate with others in our own families and community.
If it’s not new, or novel, or at least flashy, then it’s just not worth looking at.
We see but we do not perceive. Professing to be wise we have become fools.
The issue that I’m lifting up here is not primarily ecological, though ecology is vitally important. My point is that we human beings are wounded and hurting. We have lost touch with a part of ourselves, without which we are not whole. I am calling us back to a creational spirituality that can give us a sense of place in time and space.
Some time ago I read an article in the National Geographic about trout – that’s a fish. People are spending thousands of dollars to build artificial trout streams in their homes so that they can come home and behold nature. Something is missing. Somehow we have lost our way.
Prairie Chronicles – In a letter whose, origin is questionable, to President Franklin Pierce, Chief Seattle writes:
We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of the land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his father’s grave, and his children’s birthright is forgotten.
There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities. No place to hear the leaves of spring or the rustle of insect wings. But, perhaps because I am savage and do not understand – the clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there to life if man cannot hear the lovely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around the pond at night?
The whites too, shall pass – perhaps sooner than other tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste. When the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses all tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires.
Where is the thicket? Gone.
Where is the eagle? Gone.
And what is it to say goodbye to the swift and the hunt?
The end of living and the beginning of survival.
“But what is there to see?”
Anthony of the Desert, was a fourth century monk who lived mostly alone in the desert wilderness. He spent his days and nights in a deep and mystic contemplation of God. Once Anthony was visited by a philosopher who commented on his lack of reading material. “My book is the nature of created things, and any time I wish to read the words of God, the book is before me.”
Bernard of Clairvaux wrote in 1130, “Believe us who have experience, you will find much more laboring amongst woods than ever you will amongst books. Woods and stones will teach you more than any master.” Can one even begin to imagine what these might have said about television?
I love books, but there is nevertheless an important point being made here. It is, in fact, the point being made by Paul in Romans 1:20. “Ever since God created the world, his invisible qualities, both of eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen. Humanity can perceive them in the things that God has made.”
I know this passage to be true not only because it is included in the canon of scriptures, but because I have found it to be true in my experience. It was in touching earth that I began the process of finding God. Understand please that I am not saying nature is God, but rather an expression of God. “The heavens are telling the glory of God.”
“But what is there to see?” I remember as a young boy of 12 camping out in the Sonoran Desert. The fire has burned down low and the night air is chilly. The old folks are talking quietly around the dying embers. Jimmy and I are in our sleeping bags and warm beneath the covers. Even so I have goose pimples on my arms for something is in the air. We are peering upward into the heavens. It is as though someone, perhaps God, has hung constellations before our eyes, and within our reach. It isn’t just that there are stars beyond our numbering laid out above us on a flat plain. There is breadth and depth, complexity and infinity. All around us are swirling constellations of falling stars. We can almost touch them, for we are truly among them. I am not a Christian nor even a church goer but I feel the breath of God in this moment. I feel it still, and know that life is no accident and that we are not alone.
“But what is there to see?” I love the ocean – but not for sand and sun like so many. That’s OK, but it’s not what moves my soul. I love the ocean on a cool, almost cold and foggy morning. Peering out in the soft light, I see the gray waves as they build and finally come crashing against the coastal rocks. The waves come and then recede, a subtle combination of raw power and delicate balance.
But it is the sounds, perhaps even more than the sights of the sea, that touch my soul. The outer buoy clanging in the distance reminds me of life, death, infinity, eternity, and my own mortality. I am reminded of those still here, and of those long remembered, gone but never to be forgotten. I feel a sadness, tinged with joy, but finally joy. In the words of Dag Hammarskjold, “Night is drawing nigh, For all that has been – Thanks! To all that shall be – Yes!”
My Creator is near.
The distant murmur of the surf as it climbs high onto the sand and then retreats again to the sea is like a lullaby. It’s calming and soothing, and restores a sense of rhythm and balance to life.
I remember boarding a fishing boat about 4 a.m. one morning, going below to a bunk in order to sleep away the trip to the fishing area. And sleep I did – deep, wonderful, restful sleep. But not only sleep, for it was to be a time alive with presence. I found myself poised on the edge of consciousness, infused with a deep sense of peace. God is near. To be moving in the night through the infinite waters of the pacific, out of sight of land, feels safe. All is well with me and with the world, for we live and move, and have our being in the embrace of a loving God. The moment becomes translucent and I feel as though I am one with the waters of the Pacific, nestled in the very womb of God.
I know God because I have sat in the lap of the sea and and been held in loving embrace by the birth mother of Creation.
“But what is there to see?”
Norris writes of the prairie:
The sun is setting and a nearly full, fat-faced moon is rising above the prairie. We have time on our hands here, in our hearts, and it makes us strange. I barely passed elementary algebra, but somehow the vast space before me makes perfectly comprehensible the words of a mathematician I encountered today; It is easy to “demonstrate that there are no more minutes in all of eternity than there are in, say one minute.”
Eternity lives in each moment. Infinity is embedded in each instant.
The vespers hymn reads: “May God ever dress our days in peace and starlight order,” and I think of old Father Stanley, who said not long before he died, “I wish to see the Alpha and the Omega.”
He had been a monk for over fifty years, a Dakotan for more than eighty.
The old monk said, “It’s a dangerous place, this vast ocean of prairie. Something happens to us here.”
“But what is there to see?” More than our eyes can behold and our hearts contain.
Surely our Creator is near and in creation herself.
Let us treat earth…our birth mother with love and respect she deserves.
Peace and Light,