Week 2, Tuesday August 2, Earth is a Book of Nature - Peter Bean
If you visited my office or almost any of the rooms of my home you would see shelves of books: Books on all sorts of topics. While the majority are theology or counselling, there are also books that deal with stress relief, health, nature, the environment, kids stories, comics; poetry; lots of books on organic gardening and then there's the novels. I have promised my wife when I retire I'm going to read all of these once more and then get rid of them in some way whether it's to sell, give away, donate somewhere, but I've got books everywhere. I would imagine some of you might have parents who have shelves of books like this but probably most of you don't; and if you do read a book nowadays, it's quite possible you go to Kindle, to your laptop or your mobile phone – something like that;
No matter what books we have or access, the reality is we all have access to the book of nature.
Earth is a book of nature.
The earth is our book of nature revealing the presence of God. That's just my way of saying what Isaiah 6 verse 3 says: all the earth is full of his presence. Without going into too much detail, the word translated presence is the same word translated glory in other places, and in these other places, this glorious presence of God is in the temple, in the holy of holies, in the place no-one except the priest could go, where he came before God. The prophet Isaiah changes that and he says the whole earth is full of his presence.
We can all look at scenery, we can all go for walks in nature, we can all enjoy sunsets and walk along the beach and marvel at the waves rolling in: the presence of God. Do we take the time to see it? Do we know how to see this presence? I've been reading a book called Thunder Dog which is the story of a blind man, Michael and his guide dog. Right at the beginning Michael talks about running around the house crazily as a 4 year old and gashing open his head because he couldn't see. When he had recovered from his injury his mother said to him Michael, you need to learn to hear the furniture. Now that might sound very strange to you - it does to me but in writing this book, Michael says that's what he did. He learnt to hear the furniture and the walls so that he could run around like a normal 4 year old and not bash his head against the walls and against the tables. I wonder if, just as he had to learn to hear the sound of the furniture, whether we don't need to learn to read the book of nature and to see God present.
And when we stop to marvel and be in awe for a while, perhaps we will be aware of the other, of presence; perhaps we may not know what this presence is, or be able to name it but that doesn't deny the existence of presence and the existence of grace in all the gifts of creation.
In the recent holidays I was fortunate enough to go walking in the Blue Mountains with my wife Jan. We were constantly taken aback by the grandeur of the mountains - amazing sights, amazing workmanship that has gone into creating steps and viewing platforms. Let me tell you one story: this picture here is of a group of men over 100 years ago at Wentworth Falls. The local council held a competition so that someone would find the best way to the bottom of the falls. The caption alongside this photo tells us that the leader of these men had said to them: I want you to lower me over the cliff in a bosun’s chair. So he'll be sitting in a chair with just two ropes being let down with no idea what he is coming to and what he would do, and how far he would go.
This cliff he was being held over was 100 metres sheer drop. It’s fascinating when you walk down the pathway you can actually see the shelf these men were standing on. There's nothing more than some chicken wire and a couple of star droppers preventing them from falling over the edge. Both the workmanship in creating the steps down and the steps carved into the rock face as well as the grand views for me can't help but tell of God's presence and blessing. Our earth is indeed a book of nature. We can learn from it; we can appreciate God's presence; we can bask in the nature of grace.
This morning I want to finish with something different: I'm going to read a poem by Mary Oliver. It’s called: The Moth, The Mountains, The Rivers and then I'm going to show a clip called Elegy for the Artic to finish with.
The Moth, The Mountains, The Rivers – Mary Oliver
Who can guess the luna's sadness who lives so
briefly? Who can guess the impatience of stone
longing to be ground down, to be part again of
something livelier? Who can imagine in what
heaviness the rivers remember their original
Strange questions, yet I have spent worthwhile
time with them. And I suggest them to you also,
that your spirit grow in curiosity, that your life
be richer than it is, that you bow to the earth as
you feel how it actually is, that we- so cleaver, and
ambitious, and selfish, and unrestrained- are only
one design of the moving, the vivacious many.