Abiding in Exile 6/16/2022

Abiding in Exile 6/16/2022

June 16, 2022


By Pastor Nan Smith

Sing to God; sing praises to the Lord;
dwell on all God’s wondrous works.
Psalm 105:2 (CEB)

The meeting ran long, very long. At the time, I was working as a naturalist for Story County Conservation and as a favor to a good friend had agreed to do a naturalist program for the children of the families she worked with. She said “I need to have a short, I mean really short meeting with the parents. I promise it won’t last more than 5 minutes.”

One should always be wary of sentences that start with “I promise.”
So, there I was with a couple of active 2-year-olds, a really exuberant 3-year-old, a couple of “talk your ear off” 6-year-olds, a reserved “I am above this childish behavior” 10-year-old, and one 5-year-old little girl, with her blonde hair pulled up in lopsided pigtails, who refused to speak with me or even make eye contact.
So, five minutes is not a lot of time to fill and with the all those different ages I opted to read a book. Always a good choice. Sitting on the floor, with my back to the picture windows in the lobby of the Conversation Center, I started reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar written by Eric Carle – a favorite book of mine.
Well, I had just started to read that the hungry little caterpillar was eating 1 pickle, when the quiet little girl with lopsided blonde pigtails (the one who hadn’t made a peep) suddenly shrieked, “Will you look at that” pointing towards the picture windows behind me.
I turned to look at what had captured her attention and there hanging off the outside bird feeder was an American Goldfinch – a male in full breeding plumage with a bright yellow body and black wings. A beautiful sight to behold, but what was even more beautiful was the rapt look of wonder that had transformed that little girl’s face. Her delight was evident!

I was a smart enough naturalist to know when to ditch the book and go with the teachable moment.

Soon I was standing at the picture window with the active 2-years-olds, who had their noses pressed up against the glass, and the exuberant 3-year-old jumping up and down pointing to everything she saw. The two 6-year-olds were pulling on my arms and telling me every story, about every animal that they had ever encountered in their lives and the 10-year-old was suddenly asking me all kinds of questions. And that 5-year-old girl, with the lopsided blonde pigtails, was shrieking with delight at every new bird she saw at the bird feeding station.

The 5-minute parent’s meeting was 45 minutes long, but it didn’t matter for we were all caught up in experiencing the wonder of God’s good creation.

And how can one not be captivated with wonder and awe? In the face of such beauty, how could the “would you look at that” shriek, not be the appropriate response to make? Creation with all its beauty, complexity, and symmetry tells us so much about the nature of God.

To watch the ruby-throated hummingbird fly backwards, to see the spreading branches of the burr oak, to observe the comical pouch of the white pelican, or the breath-taking brilliance of the yellow maple in fall against a blue sky is to see the creative work of the Divine – again and again.

Poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning described it beautifully.  She wrote: “Earth's crammed with heaven; And every common bush afire with God; But only he [or she] who sees takes off the shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” Our natural world is steeped with the Divine. To look at it is to see the very handiwork of God. 

So, I will never forget the wonder I experienced that night when the meeting ran long. I will never forget those children and the sheer excitement each had around all that they were seeing. Their joy was a powerful gift offered to me.

Sometimes in the messiness that life offers we forget that there is always wonder to be had. It is all around us, if we take the time to look. I will say, right now, my life feels incredibly messy, as I try to pack up my current existence and move into what will be. As I move towards retirement, the list of things I need to get done keeps getting longer, the grief more overwhelming, and the anxiety keeps building.

I think I am in need of seeing at least a couple American goldfinches and maybe an Eastern bluebird thrown in for good measure.

Somehow in that maturing process the ability to be awe-struck or wonder-filled seems to get buried so deep within a person. So today, I invite you to be filled with the awe and the joy of this wonder-filled creation. I invite you to experience the delight it holds.

Rachel Carson, environmentalist and author of Silent Spring, wished we all would have a fairy godmother who would give “to each child in the world…a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life…an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later year…the alienation from the sources of our strength.”[1]

This is a strength I am holding, as I move into this new chapter of life. 

[1] Rachel Caron, A Sense of Wonder, 1965.


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