Today, two of my favorite thinkers seem to be in a weird synchronicity, so I thought I’d share.
First, Colin aka No Impact Man asks, what fills you with awe? Colin is not, as far as I know, a Christian, but he’s a very spiritual person, and often in his writing I find things that resonate with what I think and feel and believe as a person of faith. Today he has a video of whales and writes:
Once in a while, even though it’s trendy, these days, not to talk about other species when we talk about environmentalism, I like to reconnect with that about our planet that fills me with wonder. And for me, one of those things is whales….Meanwhile, what about our planet fills you with awe?
Second, Rob Bell, a pastor from Michigan whose sermons I often listen to via podcast and whose book Velvet Elvis recently changed my life, has his latest Nooma film availble for free viewing online today, until midnight. You can check it out here. This video is about the story of Job, and how God speaks to a man who is in the midst of unspeakable suffering and despair and reminds him that the story is so much bigger than he is, and that his suffering is not the final word in the middle of the grand story of our creative Creator God. Bell says
We want to know why we suffer like we do…and there are times when the only honest, healthy, human thing to do is to shout your question and shake your fist and rage against the heavens and demand an explanation. But true wisdom, the kind we find here with Job, the kind that endures…that kind of wisdom knows when to speak and when to be silent. Because your story is not over. The last word has not been spoken. And there may be way more going on here than any of us realize. So may you be released from always having to understand why things happen they way it does…May you have the wisdom to know when to say ‘I spoke once but now I will say no more.’
What is it that God says to Job that inspires him to be silent? That changes the way he feels about his suffering? It’s the thing that ties in with Colin’s question above. What God says to Job is truly awe inspiring:
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone–while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?
Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?…
Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.
What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!
Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen?
Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s belt? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up [God’s] dominion over the earth?
Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water?Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
Who gives the ibis wisdom [about the flooding of the Nile], or gives the rooster understanding [of when to crow]?
Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together?
Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?
Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months till they bear? Do you know the time they give birth? They crouch down and bring forth their young; their labor pains are ended. Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds; they leave and do not return.
Who let the wild donkey go free? Who untied its ropes? I gave it the wasteland as its home, the salt flats as its habitat. It laughs at the commotion in the town; it does not hear a driver’s shout. It ranges the hills for its pasture and searches for any green thing.
Will the wild ox consent to serve you? Will it stay by your manger at night? Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness? Will it till the valleys behind you? Will you rely on it for its great strength? Will you leave your heavy work to it? Can you trust it to haul in your grain and bring it to your threshing floor?
The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully, though they cannot compare with the wings and feathers of the stork. She lays her eggs on the ground and lets them warm in the sand, unmindful that a foot may crush them, that some wild animal may trample them. She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers; she cares not that her labor was in vain, for God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense. Yet when she spreads her feathers to run, she laughs at horse and rider.
Do you give the horse its strength or clothe its neck with a flowing mane? Do you make it leap like a locust, striking terror with its proud snorting? It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength, and charges into the fray. It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; it does not shy away from the sword. The quiver rattles against its side, along with the flashing spear and lance. In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground; it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds. At the blast of the trumpet it snorts, ‘Aha!’ It catches the scent of battle from afar, the shout of commanders and the battle cry.
Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings toward the south? Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high? It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is its stronghold. From there it looks for food; its eyes detect it from afar. Its young ones feast on blood, and where the slain are, there it is. (Job 38:4-39:30)
So I will answer Colin’s question. One thing that has always filled me with awe is the stars. Perhaps I inherited this from my father, who was always calling us outside, sometimes even after bedtime, to point out Mars and Venus in the night sky, to trace the lines of Orion or the Pleiades in their constellations (just like the part I bolded above). Who calls me from 1000 miles away, even now, to tell me to go outside and look at the moon, or Jupiter, or some other stellar thing. When I would go to camp in the summer at Mo-Ranch in Texas, my favorite thing was after vespers, when we’d all go lie on the tennis courts in the dark, their concrete still warm from a day’s baking in the sun, and stare up at the sky, so far from any city that even the Milky Way was visible. And more than any sermon ever could, this would fill me with awe and wonder and a deep awareness of the presence of God. The sight was so overwhelming and beautiful and humbling that tears would well up in my eyes and in the back of my throat.
And my love of seeing the stars is one thing that inspires me to take better care of the environment. To keep the air clean so we can even see the stars. To be mindful of light pollution and its effects on ecosystems. As Rob Bell says, “How we treat creation reveals how we feel about its Creator.” (my paraphrase)
So. I answered Colin’s question. What fills YOU with awe?
Photograph above is by Jim Richardson, via National Geographic.