A few years back, a read a story about a teenage boy, who, like so many teens today, participated in virtual schooling. He lived in a run-down mobile home community on the edge of Oklahoma City. Wade lived in that small trailer with his aunt. To be honest, they were living in a slum. The community experienced difficult challenges rooted in systemic poverty, poor health care and it was exacerbated by pollution and environmental degradation.
Along the way, Wade discovered an abandoned van on the outskirts of his town that became his own, cozy hideaway. He attended virtual school from the van, and it gave him the chance to see other kids, connect with teachers, and absorb new ideas. The online experience was immersive, delivering him to other planets, landscapes, and horizons. He could visit art museums, travel in space, go to the beach, or talk with anyone in the world. The internet was his escape from the mundane struggles of his life, and he loved it.
This could have been a news story about how one teen was coping amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But it was instead, the beginning of a science fiction novel published ten years ago called ‘Ready Player One’ in which spending time in virtual worlds became the current strategy to cope with the suffering and of the real world.
While the virtual worlds in the book were perhaps more immersive than ours, the basic premise felt all too familiar, particularly in the context of our current virtual lives. With activities limited by COVID restrictions, with challenging news all around, it is a normal, human response to look for a way out, an escape, another world on which to set one’s sights. *
It reminds me of another child who was looking for adventure far from home, in fact, you might say, somewhere over the rainbow. Dorothy was bored with her life and wanted an adventure, so she ran away from home. But after some good advice she returned.
You know the story, a tornado came along and swept her up to the magical world of Oz. But in the end, she was so homesick, all she wanted was to get back home. One of her final remarks was this, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with…”.
When God created this wonderful world for us, he provided everything we needed. Genesis 1 reveals that it was God who created light, land, water, the sky, and the first day. He added vegetation, trees, and plants bearing seeds. He sprinkled the sky with stars, planets, the cosmos, and the sun.
God created with love, every living creature, from the beasts on the land to the birds in the air. He filled the seas with fish, whales, coral, and dolphins. Then God created mankind in his own image. He made us vegetarians, giving us every green plant, seeds, and berries to sustain us. Then God looked at everything he created; the heavens, the earth, and all of the creatures and humans and said that it was very good.
Genesis 2:15 reveals that man’s first job was to work and care for the Garden of Eden. Many today call that stewardship of the planet. Look out your back window or travel to a national park. The beauty is all around, the majestic mountains, gorgeous waterfalls, gouges, rivers, fields of flowers, giant sequoias, hot springs, and the most amazing wildlife you have ever seen.
We are supposed to take all of God’s creation in and admire it and look on in wonder. Job 12:7-10 reads, “Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has created this? In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”
Have you ever been to the ocean? Have you heard the crash of the waves? Have you ever searched the beach for shells and listened to the sound of the ocean in one of them? It is not hard to imagine how early man thought the seas were endless and that God creation stretched out before them forever.
Even before we realized the earth might have limited resources, animals could go extinct, and the planet could suffer from overpopulation, God had a plan. In Exodus 23:10-11 god proclaimed, “For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.”
Remember how John 3:16 begins, “For God so loved the World…”
Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to redeem it. That includes all of creation. The final redemption comes when Jesus returns for the 2nd coming. Revelation says God will re-create and restore what has been lost and damaged. John records the future in his vision in Revelation 21, he says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.”
Did you catch that? The fall of mankind even effected heaven! Not only did our sin upset the balance on earth, it threw off God’s perfect plan completely. Who would have guessed our actions have eternal consequences? No wonder we need an Unblemished Savior to redeem us and restore us.
Do you remember the places you played and ran in as a child? I remember going to the woods and building a tree house, high up off the ground. I remember listening to the wind, as it whipped through the leaves. I remember smelling the scents of spring, the must of fall and being amazed at the tapestry of color in the fall leaves.
I remember playing and walking in the creeks in Ft. Wayne. The water was cold, clear, and refreshing. We tied ropes up on high branches and swung out from the edge of the banks and dropped into the nearly clear blue water of the river.
Sometimes I would lie on my back in the backyard and stare up at the stars in the sky. I tried to find all the constellations but could usually only find the big dipper. Have you seen the Milky Way? Have you witnesses meteor showers, falling stars, or eclipses?
There is nothing like running through a corn field, collecting eggs from the chickens, feeding the ducks, and playing with your dog in an open field. Have you ever jumped into a pile of hay in a barn? Run barefoot through the grass and stopped to smell the daises?
When I was young, I was only in the house long enough to eat, sleep and get ready for school. You could often find me in a tree eating red tart cherries, playing in the park, or riding my bike down the tallest hill I could find. Today, I find great joy in watching the red cardinals, blue jays, and yellow gold finch eating at our feeders outside the window.
Do you have a love story with nature? You don’t have to be a tree hugger to appreciate God’s beauty, and you often don’t have to travel to far. Although that may be different if you live in a big city. I have seen kids from cities find new life and joy on the farm. What seems everyday ordinary, something we take for granted, can be a new adventure to someone else.
Listen to Psalm 65:5-13. “You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, – the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations.
“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy. You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it.
“You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.”
Most people, when life gets difficult, seek some kind of escape. Some find it in books, others in movies, and some on the internet. Still others find it in drugs and alcohol. Some immerse themselves in work or dream of some far-off paradise. Few stop and look around.
Episcopal priest, chef and author Robert Farrar Capon once wrote, “There is a habit that plagues many so-called spiritual minds: they imagine that matter and spirit are somehow at odds with each other and that the right course for human life is to escape from the world of matter into some finer and purer (and undoubtedly duller) realm…
“In fact, it was God who invented dirt, onions, and turnip greens… God who, at the end of each day of creation, pronounced a resounding “Good!” at the end of his concoctions. And it is God’s unrelenting love of ‘all the stuff of this world’ that keeps it in being at every moment. So, if we are fascinated, even intoxicated, by matter, it is no surprise…” (The Supper of the Lamb, 2002)
Lest we forget, we have something in common with the earth. Mankind was formed from the dust and mud of the earth. (Genesis 2:7) And we will return to the earth, at the end of this life. (Genesis 3:19) Yet, we are filled with the breath and life of God and that Spirit is eternal.
Psalm 103:13-14 reads, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear (or stand in awe of) him; for he knows how we are formed, and he remembers that we are dust.”
If you wonder how precious the world is to the Lord, look how often the use and gift of the Land is mentioned in the Bible. There are over 1462 references to it in the NIV Bible.
From the towering mountains where Moses talked to God, to the rich valleys of David and Solomon, and the lands that were promised to God’s People, lands of milk and honey.
Over and over again, the Bible gives honor to God through all of creation, including the animals.
Psalm 104:24-25 was the inspiration for the author and veterinarian James Herriot.
He wrote, ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’, ‘Every Living Thing’, and ‘The Lord God Made Then All’.
Psalm 104:24-25 reads, “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both great and small.”
Rev. Wendell Berry wrote, “If we desecrate the land, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness.” So, the question we should ponder is, “How can we best care for the planet’s millions of human and natural resources?” And finally, what are we leaving for future generations?
I want to end with this poem by the Trappist Monk and author Thomas Merton. It is about the sound of the rain.
“What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone, in the forest, at night, cherished by this wonderful, unintelligible, perfectly innocent speech, – the most comforting speech in the world, the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges, and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows!
“Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it.
It will talk as long as it wants, this rain.
As long as it talks, I am going to listen.”
Your assignment is…to spend some time this week, in and admiring God’s creation. Take a walk in the woods – but take a new path to explore. Plant a tree or flowers. Spend some time in the garden or sit be a stream. Stop in the late evening and look up at the moon or stars. Or take your dog for a walk – but don’t forget to look around.
If you are still at home and cannot get out, even to your backyard, watch ‘Nature’, Wednesdays on PBS. Read a Nature book or take some time to explore what the Bible says about God’s Creation. There is a world outside just waiting to be discovered, and God created it all for you and me.
May it be so,
“And all God’s People said, Amen”
* Special Thanks and inspiration to Rev. Jenny Phillips for her Global Earth Day reflections titled, “Something Better Than Here”.