As I sat out on the deck the other day, I experienced the lively sounds of nature all around me. It was fairly early, the time I usually use for reading a psalm and some other scripture, plus journal writing and prayer. But I stopped doing my thing and listened to nature doing its thing. I could hear birds talking, among them many different calls I could not identify. I haven’t learned bird calls. But a few years back when we had a visitor who was a birder, he identified about 25 distinct bird species in just a few minutes’ walk down our road. Besides birds, I heard a frequent loud croak from the bullfrogs that enjoy our shore line. Now and then when they have reason, the loons let out their eerie call, either of warning or celebration. I saw a grey heron land in the water just a couple feet from our shore. Its long “S” shaped neck and head held eyes carefully examining the water, while its legs moved with cat-like smooth caution. Then like a flash he/she thrust its beak down and came up with a small morsel of living food.
Purple martins glide a few inches above the water like precision guided aircraft, and then swoop into the water for a fraction of a second to catch a wet insect by surprise that becomes an instant breakfast. A pair of loons are out in the water a little farther, teaching their two five-week-old youngsters how to dive and swim beneath the surface to chase down their own meals. Over to the right the artificial “loon island” our neighbor constructed a few years back for their nesting site, has now become the favorite sunning spot for a dozen turtles, lazily soaking up the warmth. The loons don’t need it anymore this year, since as soon as their babies hatched around Memorial weekend, the family has lived in the water, floating effortlessly, even when they are sleeping.
Overhead the sun shone brightly through an almost cloudless sky, but filtered for me by an abundant canopy of tall oak and maple branches. This piece of God’s creation seems to me a small taste of Eden. And it comforts me to be immersed in it, if only for a few moments.
What’s this all about? I think it’s refreshing when I get to settle down in a world so much bigger and varied than my own homemade world. The things we make and build are sort of under our own control, our house, our lawn, which I shape and trim to my own preference, my car which moves when I tell it to do so. The mail carrier comes regularly, and our phones serve to reach out to others as desired. I spend half my time managing my little spot in the world, scrubbing, fertilizing, cleaning, painting, repairing. And that is the difference. The ‘real’ world goes on and on without me, unless I make some massive intervention, like using a back-hoe to reshape the shoreline, which fortunately is illegal unless I get a permit.
Nature is the big circle of life and processes that have been going on for thousands of years without my help. And when I sit and observe the activity of it all, I am in touch with something much bigger than my personal concerns or desires. I am a small creature within a vast natural world. And it’s refreshing to me because I am not in charge. I don’t need to make anything happen. I am not God.
On the other hand, it is my daily effort to manage many little or big things that wears me down. My list is always longer than my day will allow. I heard a wise person say that taking Sabbath time to rest and ‘not do anything’ is one way to let go of our delusion that we can be like God. Besides, we need to accept the fact that we will always end our lives with unfinished business, things we may have hoped to accomplish. Learning to accept these natural human limitations is a way of acknowledging again, “I am not God.” And it’s good for me to let go of my urge to constantly be doing something to accomplish things. It’s good for me to sit and be immersed in the beautiful world of life all around me that goes on without me. And when I appreciate that privilege, it makes me grateful to God for the wonders of life.
Now, I realize many people live more deeply immersed in the concrete buildings and streets of modern urban life. Trains, planes, cars, buildings, bridges, streets, houses, and TV or computer connections mass together to make an environment many of us live within and might imagine is the ‘real’ world. If we do live in those places, we will seldom be refreshed unless we take time to sit in special spaces set aside, like Central Park in New York City, or the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, or take time to visit one of the state parks that make the natural world available to all of us. Perhaps just sit in your own back yard, or walk down the street to a place that is green,
Taking such opportunities is more then entertainment. It is an opportunity to breathe and be refreshed, to be in touch with another world, the big world God has given us.
© 2021 Stanley Hagemeyer