Sherry has been crowing about the beauty of Colorado, and I have to admit she's right. This is a beautiful state (as is Oregon, Utah, California and Arizona - all the states in the west in which I've lived). I had the blessing of doing some hiking in the Rockies last week with a friend of mine, Fr. Scott Steinkerchner, OP, who took a number of pictures of our adventures. I'm the small figure in the picture above.
That's part of the gift of hiking amid the mountains, streams, glacial valleys and alpine meadows of Colorado. I can't but recognize how insignificant my problems and concerns are in the presence of the majesty and beauty of God's creation. My background in geology and geophysics gives me an appreciation for the power at work in raising mountains, and the incredible span of history illustrated in the contorted beds uplifted before me, and the inexorable work of wind, water, ice and gravity in slowly tearing those mountains down. I find it comforting to be reminded that life doesn't revolve around me, and that the work I do, if it is at all successful, is not because of me, but because of the all-powerful Creator who chooses to work through me if I ask, and if I acknowledge Him as the one at work.
In the silence I hear the Lord calling me to set my burdens down and to simply rest in him. That invitation is so hard to hear in the roar of car engines on the road outside the room where I'm writing this, or in the brightly lit Safeway store with its Muzak-inspired siren song to "buy, buy, buy." The warm sunshine on my back and shoulders reminds me of the ever-present gift of grace that he's offering me. Laying back in the grass and looking up at the clouds as they morphed from one fantastic shape to another brought me back to the simpler days of my childhood, when being was more important than doing.
So many people I know say they find God in nature. I certainly won't deny that, since the Artist is present in some way in His art. Some will say, "yes, but nature doesn't make any demands upon us, the way God does in Scripture, or in liturgy, or in doctrine."
But I cannot agree with that statement completely. Jesus invites us to look at the birds in the sky and the flowers of the field. He points out, "they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?" (Mt 6:26-30)
The urge to be busy and productive, to achieve (and, more importantly, be known as an achiever) can be a sign of my lack of faith. This is especially true when my busy-ness is precisely that: MY business, rather than the Lord's. Getting out into the wild, untamed natural world, even if it's the mini-jungle of your backyard or the local park, and paying attention to the uncountable blades of grass, the tenacity of the weed popping through the cracked sidewalk, or the songbird giving voice to its ancient melody, challenges my sense of importance. The spent dandelion, with it's proud, bald head, reminds me of my mortality, and that my call from God is to be fruitful for His kingdom in the way he has established for me.
Perhaps we don't spend more time enjoying nature precisely because it challenges our self-importance and permanence. Yet if we remember the words of Jesus, "will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?" we may discover reminders that in spite of our insignificance compared to the whole of creation, we are still more than cared for, and more than precious in the eyes of our loving Creator.