Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Astonished By Grace

God speaks to me in nature. A couple of weeks ago I stood at the top of a mountain, looking down the canyon at the sweep and flow of trees clapping and shouting for joy. And a wind picked up to touch me, almost to lift me. The Hebrew word for wind, ruach, is also the word for spirit, often specifically the Spirit of God. It’s no wonder to me that wind has often been seen as holy, a manifestation of the invisible yet tangible. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (Interestingly, the Greek word pneuma is used for both wind and Spirit in this verse.) We live in a world in which the invisible is as real, I think, as the visible.

But what I see with my natural eyes often teaches me of what I do not. So I try to perceive with other eyes. “Earth’s crammed with heaven,” wrote Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “And every common bush afire with God; / But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.” Last summer we had rains and water like I’d never seen. And a waterfall taught me of God. I made this little essay-on-video:

(If the video doesn't work, here's a link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ui4odDwMfns )

Moses hit a rock and water gushed forth. Refreshment from a stone: an astonishing moment. But it was the liberality of the act that delights and teaches me. “And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly.” Or this from the Psalms: “He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers. . . . the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed.” God’s grace is sometimes sufficient: the Israelites were given manna from day to day. And that would be enough. And yet, sometimes, God is prodigal in his tender mercies and lovingkindnesses. Annie Dillard notes, “If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor.” Quail up to the elbows as far as the eye can see.

Muhammad said that God is beautiful and loves beauty. The beauty of this world shows me the face of God. Dillard again: “Beauty itself is the fruit of the creator’s exuberance that grew such a tangle . . . . This, then, is the extravagant landscape of the world, given, given with pizzazz, given in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” Praise him.

1 comment:

  1. Praise Him, indeed. I love the picture EBB paints after the "Earth's crammed with heaven . . . " part of that poem. She goes on:

    Earth’s crammed with heaven,
    And every common bush afire with God;
    But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
    The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
    And daub their natural faces unaware . . .

    I'm afraid I fall in with the purple-stained-lips-mouth-daubers more often than I would hope. But just as often I vow to not live "unaware" and then I see the pillar of fire in broad daylight.