Saturday, September 19, 2009

Observations on the Inaccessability of Natural Revelation

Over the last 10 years the accessibility of natural revelation to my mind and heart has grown. I have spent numerous hours alone contemplating the mysteries of life and God as revealed through His creation. Some of my thoughts are archived here. Other meditations are scattered throughout my blog posts. Sometimes these illustrations of truth are discoveries from animals, others from natural wonders like the beach.

Tonight I sat in the dark outside in our smallish yard - I say smallish, because some of you are country dwellers, and our 1/4 of an acre is small to you. Some of you are city dwellers, and our 1/4 of an acre looks like a park to you. As I contemplated the fence around our property, and the house I live in I wondered why these things do not speak to me as potently as a tree, the wind, a rock, or water.

Humanity carries the seed of divinity. We are an imago dei. So it would seem that things we create must at least carry some semblance of divine value as well. If it true that those things God creates carry a value of wisdom, truth, and divine representation, then why shouldn't it also be true that the things we create would carry some inspired value of divinity as well.

My fence surrounding my yard speaks some very clear values of ownership, and protection. My house declares protection as well, and the fact that we speak of "house" and "home" as terms with significantly different values communicates a potentially deeper truth to be found in meditating upon house and home.

These values of fence and house are clear, and more accessible than that of rock and sky. Yet I do not feel the spiritual power of my fence, as feel the sometimes indefinable spiritual significance of the stars, and the ocean - whose tides rise and fall.

Looking at the parables of Jesus, and other illustrations of natural revelation throughout the Bible I see a common factor - though not perhaps a universal one. Most of the illustrations occur in stories which involve direct intimate human interaction with nature.

Jesus' parables describe the activity of planting seeds, drinking water, and harvesting crops. These describe moments when humanity and nature meet, because people involve themselves directly with an experience with natural elements. The revelatory dynamic of the natural element becomes accessible through working with it by planting, drinking, or feeling the wind rush across one's face. In some cases the interaction involves a more complex factor like bio-engineering, such as when Paul and Jesus describe the grafting of the branch onto the vine or the olive tree.

The fence speaks of protection and we know it tells that story, because we built it for that reason. The seeds growing from the ground are a less accessible illustration, because although we are involved in planting them, we are still surprised by the miracle of the growth which occurs. So we find Jesus having to define the parable for his confused disciples.

Jesus in His deep understanding of God, wisdom, and truth quickly accesses the values which nature presents, and defines their truth to us. Others in human history have discovered those values as well. Abraham experienced the prophetic voice of God while viewing the night sky. David, like most of us, appears to have accessed the truth values by working with nature. So he found illustrations of life and truth while working as a shepherd.

My house and my fence carry a value of truth which is a second generation removed from direct divine revelation. They are created by those of us who are made in the image of God, but because we become involved in the process of building and caring for it the truth values are immediately accessible. Today pastors give sermon illustrations about computers, and ipods because we are intimately familiar with those things.

The first generation of revelation often remains a little more distant from us. It is far more difficult to discover the hints of truth and life found in a tree, a stone, or the throbbing tides, but this first generation of natural revelation carries such a deep value that we often simply feel it. Something mystical and meaningful breaks upon our souls with emotion when we stand on the beach, but it does not often break into our minds with the values our with which souls are indefinably pregnant.

Perhaps it is the art of meditation, which carries us deeper, like Brother Lawrence who experienced God afresh in the wintered deciduous tree, or Saint Francis who actively contemplated and described the wonders of God in nature. Are we are in need of spending time with God in His nature before the hidden values of its glory breaks upon us with more than a inaccessible feeling, and begins to speak life changing values to our minds?

The second generation values will continue to encourage our hearts in stories from fences, houses, computers, and cell phones; but the first generation of deeper values requires from us a little more work. I think that work is worth the effort.


Sally said...

Phil this really resonates with me, like you I discern the presence of the divine through the elements, especially the oceans and the stars, but also in trees etc...

..and I ponder how our structures such as fences domesticate that presence, and through our very act of containment and domestication we snuff out that spark.

I wonder if the Spirit of God is calling us beyond our self limited horizons to experience her/ his power and glory afresh.

I wonder whether we are being called back to a first generation revelation which comes afresh in every age, only few discern it...

cern said...

The kind of thing us Pagan folk do... with a slightly different interpretation. :)



Pastor Phil said...


I think we are called back in every generation, and only a few really heed in these high tech days.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Mike,

Indeed, and yet I often find that both Pagans and Christians alike tend to be lazy about really hearing the voice of nature - we all tend to simply feel its good vibes. For those who go deeper there is something more to discover - but I guess that's preaching to the choir when talking to a Shaman isn't it?

cern said...

Funny, I was in the woods with my group and a guest last night. That topic of really listening and hearing the voice of nature came up (our guest liked to call quarters in a 'ceremonial' style rather than listening for the right words and each person sharing the words they've heard as we tend to do). It's also odd, because we came to the conclusion that the way we've been developing how we work isn't specifically shamanic (although it could be) but just how our experience is evolving. We established the group because we felt we needed to work towards a deeper connection rather than just scripting a ritual you might find in a book or on the internet. My feeling is that we still have a way to go. But then, relationships evolve and grow over time.... including our relationship with nature. :)



John Ramm said...

Fascinating stuff, Phil.
I do see some of the Godlike characteristics you were mentioning in the works of man. The thing is that they are all so familiar to us, and the world moves on so fast that we take things for granted. So, twenty years ago I didn't have my first computer, I certainly didn't have a mobile phone or an MP3 player, and I wouldn't have given much thought to the idea of exchanging thoughts and ideas almost instantly with anyone in the world with the right equipment - except when reading Arthur C Clarke! These massive achievements speak to me of the power in unity, although it's interesting that the unity is often driven by mamon. I suppose some of the gardens at the great houses here in the UK can speak of the creativity and imaginations of those great gardeners when they were released from the constraints of having to find the cash! The world is not as it should be as God says in The Shack, and creativity is often linked to money down here whereas I don't think it is with God - being creator and owner of the universe and all!

Kieran Conroy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kieran Conroy said...

Nice post, Phil... I like how you relate Jesus' parables to a deeper, older tradition, the "thinness" or "luminosity" the Celts seem so attuned to bubbling up in the natural world.

Its not hard for some of us to see the divine just bursting out of nature-- though perhaps the gift was one nurtured by the mountains and values my family raised me up in. Interesting, after reading your post, to ponder such things as a developed practice that can be shared... definitely my idea of ministry!

For me the natural world often seems a better carrier of the divine... but I'm interested how more human-made places objects seem able to "soak up" the years, generations and history around them. Just looking at pictures of Ireland, this practically jumps out at you. And I can literally feel the beauty, care and grace of an old church- its what drew me to the Episcopal tradition for the first time, though no tradition has a monopoly on this.

Pastor Phil said...

Hi John,

Thanks for popping into Square No More. You certainly captured the sense of the post, and I like your connection to the restraints of creativity in connection to money - great observation. Indeed God has proven He is not constrained by cash!

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Keiran,

Perhaps we should start a natural revelation group meditation project! I am all up for something like that.

Kieran Conroy said...

That would be amazing! I actually have a list of psople begging me for wilderness pilgrimages too. :)