Heaven & Earth in Jest?

On one of those deliciously dreary spring days with a crisp cool breeze that slips through the window and whispers “Wander” I obeyed. Slipping on a plaid shirt, skinny jeans, and some hiking boots I headed out the door (okay, first I went out in cute grey flats that I need to break my feet into but I had to switch to boots once I got blisters on my heels). With my nano on shuffle, I wandered through the woods surrounding our apartment complex listening to a soothing mix of alternative rock and indie music.

I had no plan as I walked out the door, I just felt drawn to the woods. Walking along the edge I noticed a path and followed it in. Ducking under downed tree limbs, slipping through gaps in foliage and sidestepping holes I wandered for over an hour. Finding a creek running through the woods I felt a little but like Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Though I also thought how different I must be from her, singing to birds, dancing little jigs and occasionally taking photographs instead of just solemnly observing.

When I left the woods I curled up with a cup of Vanilla Rooibos tea and revisited Dillard’s words. As usual, I didn’t get much farther than the first chapter. Getting caught most on these thoughts:

“In the Koran, Allah asks, ‘The heavens and the earth and all in between, thinkest thou I made them in jest?’ It’s a good question. What do we think of the created universe, spanning an unthinkable void with an unthinkable profusion of forms? Or what do we think of nothingness, those sickening reaches of time in either direction? If the giant water bug [that dissolves its victim’s muscles, bones and organs to then drink them dry] was not made in jest, was it then made in earnest? Pascal uses a nice term to describe the notion of the creator’s once having called for the universe, turning his back to it: Deus Absconditus. Is this what we think happened? …

Cruelty is a mystery, and the waste of pain. But if we describe a world to compass these things, a world that is a long brute game, then we bump against another mystery: the inrush of power and light, the canary that sings on the skull. Unless all ages and races of men have been deluded by the same mass hypnotist (who?), there seems to be such a thing as beauty, a grace wholly gratuitous…

After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down eons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor.”

Beavers handiwork I believe


I love these questions, this juxtaposition of cruelty and beauty, her exposition of mystery, the concept of creation as extravagance. As I said last week, the question of God is wrapped up with our questions about the world so I love how she weaves them together. I am drawn back to that question from the Koran over and over again, “The heavens and the earth and all in between, thinkest thou I made them in jest?”

Creation does not seem like a joke to me.

This Christmas my older sister asked me how I could still be a Christian. How as a sharp, intellectual woman who doesn’t like cheap answers I could still believe in Christianity. It’s such a hard question to answer on the spot because the answer is multifaceted. It is also a poor question. Christianity is not an easy answer, or an illogical story as long as one understands that it is more like a myth than a textbook. Like a myth, it isn’t meant to convey technical information, it is told so that we might understand who we are, the world we are in, and why we are here. I love the Christian narrative because it accounts for a world of cruelty and beauty. It explains the extravagance of creation and our own extravagances. God is both mysterious and knowable, much like nature, much as we are to each other.

I do not feel that God has absconded with the world, nor that God is simply spread out over creation as an impersonal spirit. There seems to be a personality behind creation and not just in it. When I think about how most people talk about God it reminds me of that old philosophical conundrum of the tree in the woods. The answer must be I think, that God exists and interacts with creation whether or not we will or sense God. The least we can do is try to have eyes that see and ears that hear.

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