Hearing God in Nature

A hiking trip to Utah left me unexpectedly with a wealth of spiritual insights, as if God were speaking to me in the rocks.

You enter Arches National Park and then take a drive to the area where you want to get out of the car.  The drive is spectacular, worth the trip in itself.  Along the way there are three tall rock towers adjacent to each other.  To us the structure became The Three Wise Men from the biblical story of the birth of Jesus.  Their three heads seemed to us to be topped with crowns or headdresses and they seemed poised to worship.   After learning the official name, The Three Gossips, I felt glad to be so grounded in the biblical story that how I see and what I see is shaped by that story.

Having arrived late one afternoon when the park was closing early, we took a trail to an overlook to see the famous Delicate Arch.  What we saw was splendid.  But the next day we hiked to the arch itself.  I even stood under it.  Our appreciation of the arch and why it is such a favorite dramatically changed.  One could say we went from learning about it to being in it.  In the spiritual life the beginning of the life of faith has a luminous and wonderful quality, and yet it is only a shadow of what comes in the journey over time as the truth of the faith becomes a part of you.

Another area of the park was called Petrified Sand Dunes.  It looked just like wind-swept dunes of white sand.  But geologically they had hardened and rigidified into rock.  I felt warned by them to stay loose, open to the winds of the Spirit, never feeling certain that I had learned all there is to learn, never being so sure that I am right that I can’t learn from someone else, and never working so hard to be in control that nothing can be changed.

I found myself the whole time being awed by the majesty of God.

Queries:

On what is your faith life grounded?  What impact does that have on your everyday life?

What spiritual insights have you gained from non-church sources?

Prayer:

“Eternal and Immortal One, You have been our refuge in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, before You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, You are the Alpha and the Omega” (Psalm 90: 1-2, Nan Merrill, Psalms for Praying).

For further reference:

“O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (See Psalm 8.)

“You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken….You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.  At your rebuke they flee.…They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them.”  (See Psalm 104.)

Seeing

I have heard it said that the logic of faith cannot be seen until the choice for faith has been made.  Then the truth and reasonableness of Christian beliefs gradually are revealed.  That has been my experience.

One Sunday the lectionary readings for that day included two of my favorite Bible stories—I Samuel 16: 1-13 and John 9—both of which talk about seeing.  The first is the story of Samuel’s anointing of David as king.  In that story Samuel is sent to Jesse to worship with him and his sons and from among them to anoint the one whom God has chosen to be the next king.  What I like is that God didn’t choose the eldest son, who had the family preferential position and looked the part, or any of the others who were logical choices.  Instead God chose the youngest, who was a mere herdboy (typically around 9 years old) and counted for nothing.

There are several things we learn about seeing.  One is that “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (verse 7).  Furthermore we learn in the story that Samuel is enabled to see with God’s eyes.  Samuel knows when he sees the son that God has chosen.  He also sees during the whole procedure what is happening.  The others who are there see but do not see.  They do not yet understand what they have witnessed.

Similar insights are in the second story, a whole chapter in the middle of the gospel of John about a man born blind who is given sight by Jesus.  The strange thing is that when the man gains sight the people who have known him or know about him do not recognize him.  What they expect to be true keeps them from seeing what really has happened.  The questions they ask keep them blind.  Yet they assume that they are seeing.

On religious questions, in family relationships, in social justice issues, even in science (for example, notice the changes in medical and nutritional advice), how often we think we see when we are in fact blind.

Queries:

What details in the above stories stand out for you and what truth for yourself are you enabled to see?

Being blind in these stories has more to do with the heart than with the eyes.  How does your heart inform your eyes, or not?

Prayer:

In your imagination, put yourself in one of these stories.  Imagine that you are one of the characters or that you are an observer in the story.  How does the story unfold for you with you in it?

For further reference:

[Jesus answered,] “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11: 5).

“for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5: 7).

Compassion

Out of curiosity I went one night to a Racists Anonymous meeting.  We were a small group of many colors who had arrived there from different routes.  One had been sensitized to racism by connections with LGBT people and issues; another by discovering his unconscious prejudice against the South and southern people only after he happened to move there.  Being aware of what prejudice feels like and does to one group that is discriminated against can tender one’s heart to how other groups are treated and to one’s own participation in that system of discrimination.

I think attending such a group could help me live a more compassionate life, a call to which is a clear part of Jesus’ message.  He spent time with, touched, and told stories of persons who were outsiders in his day—lepers, tax collectors, Samaritans, women.  Our tendency is to see a particular person and make judgments about that person based on assumptions and fixed ideas about a whole group of people.  Sometimes such notions protect us from foolish mistakes, but other times they close us off from presence and compassion: just what Jesus wants us to know.

True compassion isn’t comfortable.  Jesus teaches that we should first take the wooden beam out of our own eye before we take the splinter out of our neighbor’s eye.  To have compassion is to uncover things in ourselves that we would rather not see, to look within rather than to criticize or blame others.  A lot of unraveling of defenses has to take place in order to be present to others and to care about them.

At the Racists Anonymous meeting I felt the vulnerability, self-giving, deep caring, and humility that go with compassion.  We weren’t taking care of anybody or fixing anyone.  We were trying to listen, learn, and respect.   And we were calling on the only One who can gift us with true compassion.

Queries:

What is my responsibility to my neighbor?  And who is my neighbor?

Where are there hard edges in me?  If I look at them in God’s light, what will I see and hear?

Prayer:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19: 14).

For further reflection:

“Now I know that you [Elijah] are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (See I Kings 17: 8-24, the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath).

“Was none of them [the ten lepers] found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  (See Luke 17: 11-19).