One of my earliest memories is being at the family farm, at my grandparents’ house, and Dad taking me into the front yard to show me the Big Dipper. I was maybe five years old. He pointed it out to me and explained the constellations as pictures the stars shape out, and how we can use the stars to find north, and how they move through the seasons.
That was the beginning of my fascination with the nighttime sky. Not too long after that, Dad took me and my brother to see a meteor shower. A few years later, I would plan my own backyard campouts around meteor showers. I also snuck out of my house late one night when I was about ten in order to see a lunar eclipse.
I’m still fascinated by the sky at night. We used to live at the top of a hill, with no neighbors and no lights nearby. Every evening I’d take the dog out, and if the sky was clear I’d stand out there for five, ten, fifteen minutes, just looking up. Now we’re living in a neighborhood, with houses and streetlights all around us. The stars aren’t nearly as clear and easy to see anymore.
Still, my kids have picked up on my fascination, and are themselves captivated by the celestial show. Back in March, as we began this long experiment in social distancing and virtual schooling, it became our evening routine to go for a walk just before sunset. We’d finish by sitting at the bottom of our driveway and watching the bats that were setting out on their nightly hunts, the first stars of the evening coming out. It was a great way to end the day.
Those evenings watching the bats and the stars were more important than any of us realized.
Do you remember what this past March felt like? We had all alike been plunged into a time of uncertainty and upheaval. Our day-to-day norms and routines had been completely interrupted, and we were on edge. Some of us still feel that way.
In sitting in our driveway and watching the world transition from day to night, my family was unknowingly, perhaps instinctively, taking care of ourselves.
Scientists have confirmed that one of the best things you can do for your health, particularly your mental health, is to observe nature. The more stressful life becomes, the more important it is to go outside, to witness creation and drink deeply from its well of peace.
This is why so many nursing homes and long term care facilities put up bird feeders and encourage residents to sit on the porch or by the window. Being able to be a part of the natural world- getting away from our screens, from the noise of humanity, the hustle-and-bustle of our workaday world- heals us of our woes.
Paying attention to our Creator’s work guides us into being re-created.
Scripture repeatedly points us to God’s work in creation. The very first thing we learn about God is that God is the Creator, and we, along with all that surrounds us, are the works of God’s hands. By spending time in creation, by intentionally bending our minds in that direction and not letting ourselves get swept away by the currents of this world, we cultivate wonder and peace, awe and respect and the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. In enjoying God’s creation, we learn to enjoy God.
In Psalm 19, the psalmist famously sings, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork… There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
Looking up to the sky, seeing the orderly fashion of the sun, moon and stars, declares God’s glory to us. It teaches us about God.
In watching the skies, we learn that our creator is mighty, stretching the heavens into place and hanging the stars in the night. We learn that our creator is orderly, establishing the sun for the rotation of the days, the stars for the rotation of the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon to pull the tides and number our months. We also learn that our creator is an artist, making beauty for enjoyment every single day, if we’ll just take the time to look.
Psalm 19 is hardly the only scripture that points us to Creation. Consider the end of the book of Job, when God shows up and speaks to Job out of a whirlwind. God points Job to creation; the heavens, the mountains and the ocean; and the wild, dangerous, secretive animals that live therein.
In these passages we realize that God is un-tamable, that God owes us neither answer nor explanation. We learn that the world does not revolve around us, but around God, and that while we are given a privileged place amongst God’s creatures, humankind is not the only part of creation that God cares for.
Jesus also points us to Creation. “Consider the birds of the air,” Jesus tells his followers, “Consider the lilies of the field.” These small, seemingly insignificant things outside of our windows and away from our self-importance, look at these things, Jesus says, and realize how God provides for them. Don’t you see? If your Creator cares enough to provide for these things which live for only a short season, how much more is he willing to provide for you?
September has been designated the Season of Creation, a month-long focus on creation care. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, one that I’m passionate about. I consider it a great privilege and honor to chair the NC Conference’s creation care committee, and I’m excited to bring to light the good work we can do as trusted stewards of God’s creation.
There is plenty to say about taking care of God’s creation, plenty of things that we should be doing better. But I want to start here, with the enjoyment of creation. I want us to do as God did way back at the beginning, to pause in our busyness, to look at what the Lord has made, and to say with God, “It is good.”
Do that this week. Make the time to observe what God has made- a tree, a flower, a bird or squirrel at your feeder- and recognize that it is good. Go for a hike, go fishing or hunting, watch the sun rise and set, listen to the birds, watch your dog or cat sleeping, follow a trail of ants on the ground, study a feather with a child.
Whether in something big or small, take time every day this week to pay attention to God’s creation.
Cultivate wonder, awe and peace by observing God’s handiwork. When you do, you will realize, as the psalmist did, that without audible words the works of God declare God’s glory. Then, you’ll find yourself joining the song, too.