Granddaddy was raised in a family that was not very affectionate. He did not often hear the words, “I love you,” growing up, and there wasn’t much tenderness in his family. When he married my grandmother and became a father, he had a lot to learn in that department. He often struggled to show his affection.
A product of the Great Depression in the rural south, and himself a farmer most of his life, Granddaddy never had much of physical value here on earth. He didn’t have a lot to give to those he loved. One of the ways he demonstrated love for others was by sharing the things in his life that he valued: God’s creations.
Countless times as we sat in the living room Granddaddy would jump from his chair and move closer to the window for a better view. “There’s a doe and her babies in the field,” he would say, gesturing us over so we could see them, too.
I remember walking across the farm with him as he said, “A fox has been spending time in that field this week. I hope we’ll see it.”
My grandma recalled to me how often Granddaddy would call her into the backyard to see a flock of geese flying overhead, or how he would come in from the field with a handful of wildflowers he had picked for her from the overgrown ditch bank. Granddaddy never had much, and he never wanted much. He found joy and beauty in the world that God had made and the place God had placed him, and he wanted to share that joy and beauty with those he loved.
I am pretty sure, though I have not done the research, that most people like to go outside at some point. Whether it’s going for a walk on a sunny day or relaxing in a flower garden, hiking for days on the Appalachian Trail or climbing a tall mountain, spending time kicking a ball around or throwing a Frisbee with friends, I believe most people enjoy being out in God’s Creation. I also believe God wants it that way. God made Creation a pleasant place to be. God did not have to make sunsets beautiful or mountains majestic or lakes tranquil, yet God made them so anyway.
To my way of thinking, if God made Creation enjoyable, then it is important to enjoy Creation. That is part of having dominion. Consider my backyard. I have dominion over my backyard. It is mine to rule over, to shape and craft and mold as I see fit. So I put in vegetable beds and flower beds. I plant blueberry and blackberry bushes. I place a beehive in the back corner, near my compost pile. I hang up birdfeeders. I install a swing-set and a play kitchen for my children. In short, I make room for others to grow and thrive. I make space for vegetables and flowers to grow, for birds and squirrels and bees to eat and live, for my children to play and learn and be healthy and happy. I do this for their enjoyment, and I do this because I enjoy it.
The importance of beauty and enjoyment can often be downplayed. My great-grandfather did not believe anything should be kept that did not have a purpose. Children had to earn their keep working on the farm. Animals were not pets; if they aided you somehow, like a hunting dog, or they fed you, like chickens laying eggs, then they were worth their keep, otherwise get rid of them. While I have inherited some of his pragmatism (I really do not understand why anybody would want a Chihuahua), I kick back against the notion that beauty does not have a purpose. I think there are some things that exist to be observed, wondered at, marveled over, and enjoyed for their own sake.
The book of Job contains one of my favorite sections of the Bible. Job is a righteous man whom God allows Satan to torment. In the span of just a few days, Job loses all of his wealth, his family, and his health. The majority of the book is a debate between Job and three of his friends about why these things are happening to Job. The friends insist that Job is guilty of some hidden sin, while Job argues for his innocence, and pleads for a chance to present his case before God.
Then, starting in chapter 38, God shows up.
I love this section of Job. God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind. “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” the Lord demands. “Gird up your loins like a man, and I will question you, and you shall declare to me.” (Job 38:2-3)
What follows is a series of pounding question after pounding question that effectively puts Job in his place. But what I love about it is that all of God’s questions are not philosophical, nor do they attempt to provide any insight into theodicy. No, God’s questions all point Job to God’s Creation. In his righteous brilliance, God challenges Job to consider the world that the Lord has made, from the stars in the heavens to the beasts in the forests to the monsters hidden in the deep blue sea.
At the end of God’s questioning, Job realizes that the world is not anthropocentric- that is, it does not revolve around humans. No, the world is deocentric. God is at the center of things, and we are a part of a much bigger whole in Creation. More than that, in God’s descriptions of the amazing things God has created there is a sense of joy, a sense of appreciation, even a sense of pride. God is pointing Job to view the rest of Creation as God views it: something really, really cool. God likes Creation.
In my role as a pastor I am often in and out of hospitals and nursing homes, and I have noticed that the best ones always have bird feeders all over the place. This is because there are benefits to watching the birds. Being able to sit and watch birds eat and flit about and chase one another eases the minds of the residents and patients in these places. It gives them peace and comfort. It promotes health. Enjoying Creation, something as simple as watching the birds through a window, helps us live.
If we are to exercise dominion rightly, if we are to live in right relationship with God and our fellow Creatures, we must take the time to enjoy Creation. We must look at our fellow creatures not as something to be used for our gain, but as wonderful things in and of themselves, things that God loves and adores and thinks are just really cool. We must pause to look at the sunrises and sunsets, the stars beyond our grasp, the ocean waves, the storms that pass over our heads, and acknowledge that God is God, and we are not. We must observe the things that are beyond our control, and be okay with them being beyond our control, because they are not beyond God’s control.
This is why I share with my kids the things Granddaddy shared with me. This is why my kids could identify the birds at the birdfeeder before they started preschool. This is why it excites me when they want to go into the beehive with me, or when we drive through a storm and they start looking for the rainbow. Appreciating God’s Creation is a way of appreciating God. It is a way of maintaining our overall health, and it is a way of keeping ourselves in right relationship.
When my oldest runs in from the backyard and excitedly tells me, “Dad, I just saw a red cardinal in that bush!” I know it is because she loves me and I love her, God loves her and she is learning to love God.