Last night I decided it was time for me to reread C. S. Lewis’ classic series The Chronicles of Narnia. I began with the first book, The Magician’s Nephew. It is in this volume that Lewis tells the story of the founding of Narnia. It will be obvious to most people that Lewis’ tale parallels to a certain degree the Creation story found in Genesis 1.
The beginnings of Narnia are witnessed by a handful of humans from earth and a wicked witch that have travelled through time and space by using some magic rings. They all witness the arrival of the lion Aslan and his singing the new world into creation. They do not, however, all witness this in the same way. The two children are in awe of what they see. The witch ends up running off in fear. Another character immediately begins to see the potential for making a fortune from what was being created before his very eyes. After this same character offers a complaint while so many wonderful things were happening all around him a different character says to him, “Oh stow it, Guv’nor, do stow it. Watchin’ and listenin’s the thing at present, not talking.”
I think these words are some a lot of us need to pay heed to when we stand before God and God’s Creation. Even now God’s Creation continues to unfold all around us. Like the characters in the book, we too are witnesses of God’s ongoing Creation. The Bible makes it clear that God is not finished with the work He started long ago. God is creating still. As we witness this ongoing work we would be wise to do more watching and listening than talking. We’ll see, hear, and learn a lot more that way.
A couple of weeks ago Rob Sheppard came to visit me and I was reminded how lax I had become in listening to Creation. Living near Los Angeles, California, Rob does not get to hear the sounds he was hearing where I live. He opened the window in our guest room so he could hear the crickets and cicadas. When we walked through John James Audubon State Park he commented on the sounds of the forest. All of the sounds he pointed out were common ones that I no longer really pay attention to. I guess I’ve come to take them for granted. That is not good. In order to get the most out of God’s “Other Book” I need to do more “watchin’ and listenin’.” I suspect a lot of people do. Perhaps recognizing that is a first step in moving toward a greater experience of God through Creation. I hope so anyway.
(I took the pictures shown above at Yellowstone National Park. This is one spot where God’s ongoing work of Creation seems pretty obvious.)
I came across an interesting quote from Oswald Chambers this past week. In his classic devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, he wrote: “Nature to a saint is sacramental. If we are children of God, we have a tremendous treasure in Nature. In every wind that blows, in every night and day of the year, in every sign of the sky, in every blossoming and in every withering of the earth, there is a real coming of God to us if we will simply use our starved imagination to realize it.” What I found interesting about this passage is not Chamber’s recognition that nature is sacramental or that God comes to us through His Creation but that what often hinders us from experiencing this is our lack of imagination.
I have to admit that early in my life I did not consider imagination to be very important. I felt I should focus on what is “real” or “factual.” For this reason I even refused to read anything that was considered fiction. I really don’t know what led me in that direction but eventually I learned that the imagination is very important, even in the spiritual realm. In his Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius encourages people to use their imagination in visualizations of biblical stories to grasp better their meaning. C. S. Lewis, one of my favorite Christian writers, once said “Reason is the natural order of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning.” Today I cannot deny or minimize the value of imagination in many areas of life.
If you and I are going to experience God in nature then we must learn to exercise our imagination or, to follow up on what Chambers said, feed it. If we starve our imagination we won’t recognize God’s Spirit in the wind that blows across our face. We won’t see signs of God’s faithfulness in the changing of the seasons or even the passing of one day to the next. Without the use of our imagination we might miss the expressions of divine love that can be found in the birds at our feeders, the flowers along the side of the road, or the gentle cascades of a stream.
Mark Twain, who certainly had a way with words, once said, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” When it comes to seeing God in Creation that is unquestionably true so go feed your imagination; do whatever it takes to get your imagination in focus. So much depends upon it. It really does.
(I took the abstract water reflection at Jenny Wiley State Park in Kentucky. The middle image shows a pattern formed by lichen on a granite stone in Acadia National Park. The bottom image shows a magnolia blossom in my yard.)
Over the years I have benefited tremendously from the writings of C.S. Lewis. Back in college and graduate school I read a lot of his books. It had been a while since I read anything by him so earlier this year I picked up a book of daily readings from his writings. A few nights ago I came across the following passage:
“To love and admire anything outside yourself is to take one step away from utter spiritual ruin; though we shall not be well so long as we love and admire anything more than we love and admire God.”
We are reminded by Lewis that it is not a wise thing to be too self-absorbed. So many of our problems in society today are the result of people looking out for and thinking of no one but themselves. There is certainly a lot in the media these days that encourages such narcissist tendencies. Great harm, however, comes to both those who give in to these tendencies and those who must be near them. The narcissist path, as Lewis notes, leads to utter spiritual ruin.
As persons created in the image of God we are made to love and admire other individuals as well as the earth and all of God’s creatures. When we do so our souls are made stronger and more beautiful. When we fail to do so they are made weaker and grow uglier.
Later today I will begin a journey with my wife to two of the Hawaiian Islands. We celebrate our 30th anniversary in a couple of months and we decided this would be a great way to mark this milestone. I already love and admire Bonita and have no doubt that I will also find much to love and admire in Hawaii. Being with her and in this special place will greatly enrich my life. I am at the same time thankful for all the other people and places I have come to love and admire over the years. These, too, have led me many steps “from utter spiritual ruin.”
As important as it is “to love and admire anything outside yourself” it is even more important that we are careful not to “love and admire anything more than we love and admire God.” Jesus taught us that the greatest commandment of all is to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your mind and with all of your strength.” As the God who created us and all that we have He deserves every bit of love that we can give Him. As the God who has made salvation possible for us at such a tremendous price to Himself, He deserves even more love than we can give Him.
It is very easy for us to fall into the trap of loving the things and persons God has made more than we love God Himself. As C.S. Lewis reminds us, when we do this we are not well. We are only spiritually healthy when we give everyone their proper place. We should love God with everything that we’ve got and then strive to “love our neighbor (human and non-human) as ourselves.” This is what Jesus taught long ago and it remains to this day the one and only path to real spiritual health and beauty.
(I took the top image in the Tremont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I captured the bottom image at Panama Beach, Florida.)
As you may or may not know, my blogging partner, Rob Sheppard, has another wonderful site you can find at www.natureandphotography.com. This past week Rob wrote a delightful entry called “Finding Photos When Nature Is Filled With Stuff.” His main advice to photographers is to “go for the details” when they find themselves looking at a scene where there’s lots of “stuff.” I think his advice is also pertinent to those who seek to find God through His Creation.
The Bible clearly teaches that God makes Himself known through what He has made. That’s good news but it can also be overwhelming. If God reveals Himself in Creation where in the world do you start to look? There’s so much to see! Sometimes for me it is the overall scene or my surroundings that make me aware of God’s presence but at other times I find it helpful to look for the details. This calls for a more deliberate approach to “seeing Creation.”
I was thinking about all of this yesterday when I was walking in my back yard. This time of year things are kind of drab around here. My initial thought was “there’s not much to see right now.” Then I was drawn to our magnolia tree and the light reflecting off the tops of the leaves. I drew closer and took a good look at the glossy leaves and studied the patterns that can be found on each if you look close. I then turned a leaf over and was reminded how very different the underside of a magnolia leaf is. It is a completely different color and not glossy at all. Each side is different but both are beautiful. Unfortunately, most folks would likely never take the time to turn a magnolia leaf over to see its other side.
For those desiring to see more of nature–and God’s handwriting in it–I have two words of advice. First, slow down and look for the details. Pay more attention to what is around you. Draw closer. You might even want to carry a magnifying glass or a pair of binoculars with you. Be willing to explore more. Exercise your curiosity. Be adventuresome.
Second, ask God to help you see what is around you. A friend of mine recently reminded me of a wonderful line from C. S. Lewis’ writings: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” This is similar to words penned by the Psalmist, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (36:9) I am convinced that I see more in nature, as well as God’s hand in it, because I’ve asked Him to help me see more. I believe that God honors our desire to see Him in what He has made so don’t be afraid to ask Him, in the words of the popular hymn, to “open my eyes that I may see.” There’s no telling what He will show you…
(I photographed the magnolia leaves seen above in my yard this afternoon.)