These unexpectedly cooler July days, here in western Illinois, are reminding me not only of a typical summer day along Lake Superior (with highs in the ‘70’s), but also of a Vacation Bible School I experienced when I was about five, living then in a town (L’Anse, Michigan) alongside Lake Superior.
My mother was one of the VBS teachers so I pored over her teacher’s guide with interest. The theme that year was the beauty and goodness of creation, a theme captured in the illustration on the cover of our VBS booklets: a colored illustration of many kinds of animals. I recall the lion, perhaps a giraffe—but really only now remember the diversity of animal life all filling one page, and the spirit of joy that filled me whenever I looked at that image of all God’s creatures.
It was the early 1970’s, around the time Earth Day was started, and it was fitting that the Vacation Bible School curriculum was cultivating a spirituality of amazement and care regarding creation. It left me with a sense that the glory of God’s love was infused with a sense of the gloriousness of all God’s creatures.
Many years later, I spent a summer during college working in the Rocky Mountain National Park, in food service at a stop in the pass at an altitude of 11,000 feet. On rainy days we could see rainbows in the valleys BELOW us. On the bus to our work place and back, we could see big-horned sheep climbing the rocky cliffs nearby—creatures I recalled seeing on the cover of my Ranger Rick magazine years before.
That summer I was introduced by a co-worker to the music of Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, whose early music spoke to the beauty of the land around us. By the time I was in college, Cockburn had gotten involved in the sanctuary movement on behalf of refugees from wars in Central America. His anger at US-funded militias in places like El Salvador was voiced in one of his most well-known songs from the ‘80s, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” (a song that today makes me think of the Gaza Strip more than of Central America). But Cockburn’s early music was more of a shimmering mystical pop style, and his “Love Song” to God seemed to resonate with both my own sense of the divine and the landscape around me that summer in Colorado:
In the place my wonder comes from
There I find you
Your face shines in my sky
In your heart where the world comes from
There you will find me
Your eyes dance in my mind
Come with me
We will sail on the wind
We will sway among the yellow grass
When you be beside me
I am real
Though my eyes be closed forever
Still I would find you
You shine across my time….
(You can hear the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qohOpz2hIC8 )
In Matthew 11, Jesus speaks of the Father as the “Lord of heaven and earth” who has revealed the truths of the Kingdom of God to the “childlike.” It’s in this context that he adds:
“Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
Such a verse is often used to proclaim that only Christians, followers of Jesus, know God properly. But the context of the verse points to a quality that Jesus shares with all the children of God: a receptivity to God as a parent of us all, as the mysterious source of all of our existence.
Catholic mujerista theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz preferred to speak of the “Kindom of God,” to emphasize the interdependence among God’s creatures. Her translation of “basileia of God”—of the world as God’s realm—speaks to an ecologically-conscious age in which we realize that we cannot survive without other plant and animal species also flourishing. This shared survival is part of what we pray for today when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Surely a spirit of wonder is part of what it means to know God, in God’s own Word and Wisdom. The seed of faith’s beginning needs no other certainty than that evoked by amazement before the diversity and beauty of God’s creation, intuited as good.