Seeking God

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:”To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.

The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth-when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.


Psalm 8

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!


FWJ7-Boxed640x480.jpgWhen I was a child, my parents would take us in the summers on camping trips to see natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Lake Tahoe. We would travel in a camper for what seemed like DAYS, and every night we would stop at one of those KOA campgrounds. As an adult, it sounds like the background for a horror movie, but as a kid, it was amazing.

Every night, we would like a fire and roast marshmallows. My mom would inevitably turn in early, done in by smoke and burning sugar. My sister and I would often want to stay out late, our heads craned upwards as we drank in a sky drenched in starlight and punctuated by comets.

Even in the late 80s and early 90s, it was hard to find a place where you could really take in the stars.

There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 5000 stars that are visible to the human eye, but most of us have never really seen them. Urban light, and increasingly, the tendency of humankind to light their houses, their parking lots, their strip malls and churches 24-7 has all but erased the natural light of the heavens. In the last 100 years, humans, especially in industrialized societies like the US, have lost the ability to see, let alone wonder at, the heavens which

tell the glory of God. In order to see the stars that caused the Psalmist to gasp, we need to turn the lights off.

I wonder whether there is a moment, or a place, or an experience that you can point to, where you yourself felt the wonder and awe of a world that is filled with mystery and awe. Where you looked out on all that is created and said to yourself—who am I, that God made me? That God made all this?

Wondering at the mystery of the universe, and our place in it.
-How interesting, that the God whom we know as light is so easily marveled at in the darkness. From the beginning of time, we humans have asked the big questions about the world and our place in it. In the world of philosophy, these questions get their own subfield: metaphysics, the exploration of the fundamental nature of being and the world. As early as Aristotle, humans have looked up at the stars and wondered: what is beyond us? Is there a purpose out there? Is there something bigger than I am?

And for thousands of years, many of us have answered that question by reflecting on the existence of a Creator, a God. For us, the God we know as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

One of the important tasks of metaphysics is to demonstrate proof of your theory. How can you demonstrate that there is such a thing as a God?

For most of our history, the church has affirmed that the proof is right in front of us. In the stars we see and the tiny atoms and cells that we cannot. At the top of Mt Everest with the sherpas and in the Marietta Trench with the fishes. In the dance of existence and createdness.

Where once we marveled at the skies and wondered at its mystery, now we marvel at the complexity of creation that is revealed by the dazzling intellect of the sciences. The intricacy of our bodies shouts the name of our God. The lush biodiversity of rainforests, tropical reefs, temperate forests and even the desert confound our sense of what we know. Every day, we are presented with new reminders that there is much we do not know about this world, that there is much to marvel at. God keeps surprising us.

According to Scripture, it is as though wisdom is crying to us from every corner of the world, just as she has for millennia. Pointing her fingers she cries out—God is here! God is there! God is everywhere.

And if we pay attention, I think perhaps we can make out her voice as she rejoices in the world God has made. For the God whom we encounter in Jesus Christ makes himself known not just in history, but right now, through the continuing and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit reveals God right here, right now, through the gathered Body of Christ.

What does that look like? How is God at work in our midst?

  •   through grateful, dynamic worship, in church and at home.
  •   the ministry of the deacons
  •   the showering of love and affection upon our members when they are sick and suffering.
  •   the vibrancy of our witness to the power of prayer
  •   engagement in our community, and desire to make a difference
  •   our embrace of the beauty of God’s creation, and of the arts, the gift God has given us for sharing our appreciation for the world God has made.
  •   the warmth of hospitality which reminds us of Christ’s friendly embrace.
  •   the Spirit-filled ministry of countless good people whose quiet actions we will never fully know, but are known to God.

I wonder: what might you add to this list?

And who are we, that God should be at work amongst us?
We are the very substance of God… the imago dei, the created ones. And, thanks be to God, we learn in Scripture that God our Father embraces us with all of our questions and struggles, with all of our confidence and all of our doubt, when we are filled with wonder and when our eyes fail to see.

We are, in other words, not all that different from our ancient brothers and sisters who gazed star-ward and wondered at the mystery of the universe, who sought God in the wisdom of the world and in their community of worship. Like them, we are amazed to find that we are part of the story that God has been writing from the dawn of time, called to participate in the work of reconciliation of all creation begun in Christ that continues through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And all of us, wherever we stand, whatever we wonder at, are encompassed by our trust in the one we know as Father, Son, Holy Spirit. One God, forever and ever.

O Lord, Our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!


Poison Ivy: God’s Great Leveller

For the lover of Nature, there is no end to the supply of theological and philosophical musings on the wonder of God’s creation.  Whether it is Ralph Waldo Emerson or Anne Dillard, Michael Pollan or Aldo Leopold, Wendell Berry or Barbara Kingsolver or even Mary Oliver, one does not have to look far to find 200 pages or so of poetic verse dedicated to the intricate beauty of those who inhabit the land.

It is a secret delight of mine, I must admit, to linger over the pages of authors such as these, and to imagine in full color and with vibrant imagination the experiences that they detail on paper–the rush of the mighty wind, the cool waters teeming with dappled trout, the way in which words can transform even the obnoxious gadfly into a meditation on the holy, or a rotting trunk into a moral on the universe.

But there is a limit, it would seem to such musings.

Rarely, for example, have I seen an author turn their “reverent” gaze on poison ivy.  It is as though this persnickity plant, ubiquitous though it may be throughout the United States, has failed to register in the writer’s worldview.  It would seem that it is not worthy of the printer’s page.

Perhaps it is the visual humility of this plant that causes it to escape our notice.  For certainly it grows low to the ground, with only a few leaves to its name.  No wonder the plant at first glance–and even perhaps at a second and third–seems forgettable.  It is literally drowned out by the glory of the oaks and the buzzing of the arthropods, often hidden beneath its more majestic neighbors.

And so it is that we too easily forget this lowly creation as we turn our gaze to the grander aspects of Nature.  We write it off as base, a pest to be avoided, and we go about our business glorifying its neighbors.  But is this fair to poison ivy?  Is it not majestic in its own way?  If we wish to wax poetic over the majesty of God’s creation in the oak, ought we not also wonder at the cunning of this creature?

I found myself wondering at precisely this question last week, following my first encounter with this lowly little vine. As a Californian from the Bay, I grew up unfamiliar with ivy, for I lived in one of the few places in this country where the plant doesn’t grow.  And so it was that, when I moved to Philadelphia and began the process of amending the impoverished soil in my back yard for a small garden, it never occurred to me to familiarize myself with ivy.  The problem of ivy never even crossed my mind.

Which is precisely why, the day after a particularly vigorous weeding sans gloves, I was suprised to discover that my the space between my fingers on my right hand was becoming swollen with tiny blisters that itched the living daylights out of me.  Even then, it took me almost a day to discover the source of the blisters, and to begin to educate myself so that I would never make the mistake again.

Score one for the poison ivy.

In underestimating poison ivy, I had, like so many nature writers, dismissed it from my notice, and this is precisely what allowed this little plant to teach me a lesson.  For in underestimating its power, I succumbed to it.  In ignoring the plant, I made it possible for the ivy to hold my attention for at least a week, an unfortunate reminder to me that some plants know how to pay it forward in ways that we cannot imagine.  Some plants, like poison ivy, have a way of teaching respect to those who would offend them.  For certainly, the oak is majestic, but its beauty has never impelled me to scour the library and the internet for information on how it works.

It is interesting to me, in fact, that it is the more pesky plants and animals in God’s creation that inspire knowledge.  We are often much more keen to understand the mosquitos and the poison ivies of God’s created order than the gaudy and obvious splendors.  But rarely to we engage them with an eye towards the sacred.  Rarely do we speak of the sumacs and the fleas as God’s good creation as well.

As for me, I may have trouble seeing the fleas as beautiful, but I have gained an appreciation for poison ivy.  In the garden, I approach it with reverence, and I think twice before I deign to interfere with its turf.  It may look lowly, but even the highest of us all dress down once in a while.  And besides, it was in some of the lowliest creations that Jesus himself found beauty and God’s glory at work.