catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 13, Num 10 :: 2014.05.16 — 2014.05.29


The words the earth spoke

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world…. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature -– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:20

There is nothing new I can say about the earth that has not been said by others, from mouths that recited creation in Genesis again and again and again, to the poetry and essays of Emerson, to the Rachel Carson’s call for us to care in the same ways as our predecessors, to Richard Louv’s call for us to pass on this caring to our progeny; I am overwhelmed by the echoes of their sentiments that, every spring, find themselves blooming in new ways in my mind.

Today, in the land that I love, those who are inclined will be celebrating new growth, new life. Their altars are their kitchen counters where fresh basil is chopped so that it may nourish; they are woods breaking up suburbia with children exploring their last frontiers; they are tomato gardens where grandmothers are falling on their knees to smell the earth. Between the unseasonably long winter that seemed to echo the Lenten cycle we all shared this year and Earth Day, it is hard not to think of such things. For me, there is so much to celebrate. In the face of the cynicism I so easily fall into, I consider the miracle that is new birth: life! The universe is full of wonders that I could lose myself in, but I pray I never stop wondering at this great gift God has given us: our world, like no other we know.

I have been told there was a time before Babel and Rosetta Stones and Enigma cyphers when words were not written as they are now, and that language had not reached its current, elegant, confused, structured state. Grammar was not worshipped the way it is now, Oxford commas had no place in dividing our simple hearts; our words did not have to conform as long as they reflected what was. I am told that our earliest and simplest words reflected natural phenomena; our earliest words to describe the unknowable God, reflected our understanding of the wind, of the sun, of the sky. And today, I believe I know so much more than the ancients and can look down on their words — their understanding of God and their split infinitives — with disdain, no? I wonder, when a building is burning down, in that truth, does it matter if I know the workings of fire, air and wood — or, rather, “fire, air, and wood” — or does it only matter that fire is? Nature is full of honest words and the phenomenon of a young forest blooming out of ashes  cannot help but speak to me of Christ rising from graves and three youth worshipping God while fires roar all around them.

I am thankful for the prophets, the poets, the laws, the scribes, the rabbis and Emmanuel Himself who have all helped clarify and refine our ideas of God. I am thankful for physicists, theologians, psychologists, microbiologists, scholars, economists and mechanical engineers who dig deeply and try to make sense of it all. But I honestly ask: because something better or clearer or more complete has come, should I completely disregard the teachers and lessons of the past? Christ came and spoke with philosophers and scribes, but he also spoke with illiterates, with prostitutes, with the blind.  He spoke to children, farmers, shepherds, laborers; individuals who knew the land like a daughter knows her mother or a wife knows her husband: by facts, for certain, but also — more so — by almost a matter of fact. I wonder again if the blind cared whether Christ was going to heal them lovingly or whether he was going to lovingly heal them or if they only care that earth and spirit mix on their eyes, and there are no words to describe the light and this new Truth.

Is my heart made only of carbon or stone, or is there something higher? If I truly believed that God made nature not only to sustain us, but to edify us, would I ever step on another ant again? I do not pretend that things can live without other things dying, nor am I prone to the worship of insects — I don’t really even like insects — but would I be so careless with all of these miracles if I believed God fashioned them; these signs that God has created them and us  and that He Is? An ant starts as single cells just like us. It is a product of the genetic lottery, and it works so hard and grows so strong; how can I not wonder? I am told that though He often allows humans and the winds run their course, He has ultimate dominion over everything; I am thankful the Almighty does not exercise His dominion as thoughtlessly as I do.

I look at the way my niece marvels at a butterfly or my nephew handles sand and water, and I cannot help but wonder if they know something that I forgot. My niece believes in God only because this is what I have told her and because this is what she sees in every leaf she chases and every seed she plants. I have forgotten so much from my youth that I need a doctorate’s worth of knowledge to even come to the point where I can allow that God walked the earth.  I believe God speaks in Fibonacci sequences and the workings of DNA or principals of harmonic resonance as much as in a dead tree returning to bloom or a camel surviving in the desert or a vulture turning death into life, but sometimes, the Almighty can be very simple. And through their matter of fact understanding, I am told the simple are often made wise.

For me, at least this spring, I will try to take moments to see the world as it was seen before we realized how much we could know — how much we thought we had to know. I imagine I love language arts more than most and, though I do not like the rules or apply them well, I have learned why it is important and why it’s is also important. I sometimes wonder what our world would look like if we taught children to revere it and its Creator at least half as much as we teach them what is “good” or “bad” about a sentence or work of literature, or a color scheme in a house, or a painting, or a song? I nit pick about a child’s sentences because I honestly believe it is important on some level, but I never tell them the world they will inherit from me has oceans more poisoned than at any other time in recorded history. 

I find time to tell them about the God who separated these oceans from land only in Sunday schools and the half remembered moments before they fall asleep. It all seems like misdirection, and like my ancestors, I believe I am “without excuse.” What would our world look like if we relearned this ancient language of leaves and fruits, eggs and burrows, mountains and rivers, that we listened to so much more when we were young and the earth was new? There was a time in a garden when a tree was only a tree; but then we took the fruit and our view of the earth changed and I think the further I get from that garden, the more a tree is chloroplast and an environmental protection movement and a new bookshelf…

God works and can be reflected in all of these things — I am sure of it; but some days I wish there was only you, me, God, and the tree. 

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