On my way to work a beautiful thought occurred to me. Careening down an uncrowded Rt. 422 in my car, toward a sea of blue sky, flanked by the lush greenery of the roadside trees, I felt out of place.
It occurred to me for the first time that I was inhabiting a once purer creation that had been “concreted.” I was driving and living “on top” of something much more mystical than the normal flow of traffic.
My kids and I have been working through the “Chronicles of Narnia” recently. These have been some of the best bed times we’ve ever had. For the uninitiated, Narnia is a magical idyllic forest kingdom in another realm populated by fantastical creatures, talking animals, personified trees and rivers, and sometimes humans.
Nature, against the backdrop of C.S. Lewis’ masterpieces, felt different this morning. I usually just saw nature as something to escape into from the mundane, or a cute addition to the grayness of the “daily grind.”
The reality is that we already live in Narnia. God contrived a universe so brilliant and magical, science is only beginning to touch the miracles layered in the complex interrelations of the natural world. We inhabit a miracle. It is a notion not many people probably wake up with as their first thought. But we do wake up into a miracle every morning whether we remember it or not.
The earth, the cosmos, ourselves, are all deeply soaked in God. The interconnectedness of creation reflects, everywhere, the divine relationship. Recognizing his imprint is a reminder to look twice at the way we see our place in the world.
One thing that can bring people of all stripes together is that no one is looking at our world and thinking: “My! We certainly have built for ourselves the kind of world God planned for us since the beginning of time.” For me and my family, this season has been a season of discovering our life in a new way. Reading all the Narnia stories was a reminder to us of the beautiful nature of the cosmos and the relentlessness and depth with which God pursues us. A shift in perspective makes a lot of difference.
This season is a chance to turn our focus from being right, to being “in God.” If we have built up physically over the original Narnia with highways and industrial parks, and commercial pig farms, what have we covered our own hearts with? What crud of our brittle egos is blocking the roots and mycelium and capillaries and vines and leaves and streams of God’s grace stretching infinitely out to us? He is with us, and his constant reminder to us is his signature written and sung into his creation.
St. Athanasius in his work “On the Incarnation” describes this complete “steeping” of God in his creation: “The Word of God took a body … in order to give life to the body and in order that, just as he is known in creation by his works, so also he might act in a human being and show himself everywhere, leaving nothing barren of his divinity and knowledge … in order that as he fills everything everywhere by his presence so also he might fill all things with the knowledge of himself … so that the whole earth was filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters fill the sea.”
The fauns and centaurs and dancing trees in Narnia helped me remember what Athanasius is trying to teach here: “Everything is alive with God — even me … even you.”
No one can look out over the rolling green hills of Southeast Pennsylvania and not take in, by osmosis, the nature of God, communicated in that beauty. Majesty, gratuitous abundance, resurrection; this is the natural state. All our suffering and sacrifice happens inside this mystery. Maybe the soil itself is the best reminder of God, in that it gives new life to anything willing to die to itself and be embraced by it.
What if the answer in this time of difficulty is a dismantling of ourselves? What beauty might we find underneath? The love of God is inescapable. If we miss him in the forest and stars, he waits for us in our breath. In the silence necessary to hear God, we just might find him, knocking, beating, being, in our own hearts.
Patrick Walsh manages Martha’s Choice Marketplace, a choice model food pantry at Catholic Social Services’ Montgomery County Family Service Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about Martha’s Choice, a beneficiary of the Catholic Charities Appeal, can be found at www.marthaschoicemarketplace.com.
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