I mentioned last week that I’m leading a study group through Philip Yancey’s book, Rumors of Another World. The chapter we looked at this past Monday had a lot to say on the subject of “seeing Creation” so I thought I’d share some of its insights with you here today. One of the things Yancey does in this chapter is encourage people to “make daily life sacramental.” The word “sacrament” literally means to keep the sacred (sacra) in mind (mental). Yancey says we are called “to seek a mindfulness—a mind full—of God’s presence in the world.”
Another insight I found intriguing comes in Yancey’s discussion of the importance of Creation in God’s revelation of Himself. He quotes Meister Eckhart who said, “If the soul could have known God without the world, the world would never have been created.” I had never thought of the necessity of Creation in this way. Eckhart’s words, however, have other implications. Yancey says “If I take seriously the sacred origin of this world, at the very least I must learn to treat it as God’s work of art, something that gave God enormous pleasure.” Then he adds, “Clearly, modern society is not treating creation as God’s work of art.”
This morning I took five of my photographic prints downtown for an exhibit that will be held tomorrow night. They are five of my favorite prints. I’m excited that people will be able to view them at the Artisan Alliance of Pikeville/Pike County. I am hopeful that people will like what they see. I hope they will also see in the images manifestations of God’s glory. A part of me would be hurt if people did not like the pictures. What would be even more disturbing would be if someone spit on them, marked on them, or in a fit of rage smashed them. I can’t even imagine how upset I would be if something like this happened.
If I feel that way about my own art work, I can certainly see how God could be upset with us for the way we have treated His art work—Creation. It has to hurt Him when we do not show admiration for His handiwork. It must anger Him when we harm or destroy what He has made. Surely we would all take better care of Creation if we stopped and considered how our actions affect God. Surely we would take better care of Creation, and appreciate it more, if we learned to view it with sacramental eyes.
I encourage you in the days to come “to make daily life sacramental.” As you view the beauty of autumn remember that what you see is God’s handiwork. Be open to ways that God may make Himself known to you through His art work. Find ways to express your admiration for what you see. Remember your calling to be good stewards of what He has shared with us.
(Above you will find three of the images that will be on display at the exhibit tomorrow night. The top one is from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The middle one is from Kingdom Come State Park here in Kentucky. The bottom one was taken at Dallas Divide in Colorado.)
Last week I started teaching a book study at church. The book we are reading this fall is Philip Yancey’s Rumors of Another World. This past Monday the group met to discuss chapter two of this book. In this chapter, called “Rumors,” Yancey says something I’d like for you to think about. He writes: “The ordinary, natural world contains the supernatural, a necessary step since we do not have the capacity to apprehend God directly. We see God best in the same way we see a solar eclipse: not by staring at the sun, which would cause blindness, but through something on which the sun is projected.”
The Scriptures do, in fact, teach us that no one can look at God and live (Exodus 33:20). As things are now we would be overwhelmed if we saw God directly. You may recall that Moses was permitted to see God’s backside for a fleeting moment and this just about did him in. God is too great and too wonderful for us humans to look at face to face but because God is also love, and desires to make Himself known to us, He has established other ways to reveal Himself to us. One of those ways is through His Creation.
In volume one of Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin says God has chosen to “accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity.” This accommodation by God is a sign of His mercy and grace. It is also another indication of His desire to make Himself known to us. Calvin claims that God “revealed himself and daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe. As a consequence men cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him.” Later he adds, “upon his individual works he has engraved unmistakable marks of his glory, so clear and so prominent that even unlettered and stupid folk cannot plead the excuse of ignorance.” Calvin compares God’s revelation in His Creation to “a sort of mirror in which we can contemplate God, who is otherwise invisible.”
Reflecting on both Yancey’s and Calvin’s words I find myself incredibly grateful for God’s revelation of Himself in Creation. I certainly realize this is not the only, or even the best, revelation we have of God but it is one that has enriched my spiritual journey immensely. I fear, however, that many people (including lots of Christians) still do not understand what an incredible gift Creation is. Too many people see it only as something that benefits one physically or materially. If they stop there they will miss Creation’s greatest benefit—it’s revelation of the almighty God whom we do not have the capacity to apprehend directly. As we enter this fall season I encourage you to keep your eyes wide open. All around us is the evidence of both God’s love and presence.
(I took the images above a few years ago on a September trip to the Canadian Rockies.)
In his book, Rumors of Another World, Philip Yancey speaks of having undergone two conversions: “first from the natural world to discover the supernatural, and later to rediscover the natural world from a new viewpoint.” The second conversion led him to try to make daily life sacramental. This means attempting to see God in the world around us each day.
Yancey says, “Every day, every hour, every moment, I must exercise my calling to hallow God’s creation, whether it be leatherback turtles in Costa Rica or the irritating kid next door who peppers my yard with golf balls. Holy sparks are potentially trapped in every moment of my day, and as God’s agent I am called to release them.”
I think a lot of us are in need of the second conversion Yancey speaks of. We need to understand that the world God has created is indeed sacred. Likewise, we need to grasp that God uses what He has made to reveal Himself to us. There are lots and lots of “holy sparks” waiting to be released. But before they can be released we must recognize that they are there and look for them. In The Imitation of Christ Thomas a Kempis wrote, “If your heart were right, then every created thing would be a mirror of life, and a book of sacred doctrine. There is no creature so small and worthless that it does not show forth the goodness of God.”
Yancey also speaks of another effect of his second conversion. He says, “If I take seriously the sacred origin of this world, at the very least I must learn to treat it as God’s work of art, something that gave God enormous pleasure.” Normally we treat works of art with great care. Apparently many today fail to see Creation as a work of art. This is evidenced by the destruction of the planet’s rain forests, the pollution of streams and rivers, the careless elimination of animal species, and a host of other environmental degradations. God’s incredible work of art deserves far better care than it has received!
Throughout Christian history there have been a number of “great revivals” or spiritual awakenings where thousands of people experienced the first conversion Yancey spoke of. Perhaps what we need now is a great revival where people will experience the second conversion. I pray that revival comes.
(The image above was taken at Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.)