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My family and I just spent our annual first full weekend at a small cottage we have about an hour north of Grand Rapids. It’s nothing fancy but gets us out of our usual environment and more overtly out into God’s environment than typically happens when we are home. We simply pay more attention to creation when we are up there than when we are at home, and I wish that were not so and keep trying to connect up the attention I pay to birds on the deck of my cottage to what I can see from my office window or from windows at home, too.
True, the variety near the small lake where our cottage is situated is much better than closer to the city. My wife and I remarked on the fact that prior to getting that cottage a dozen years ago (at which time we lived in a parsonage and so owned no property) we had never before seen the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak who now frequents our feeders constantly. This weekend, as was true over the past several years, we had a brief visit by a pair of migrating Orchard Orioles, who appear to have a nest near the bedroom window. The Sandhill Cranes were making that gloriously startling chortle they generate (and that can be heard for over 2 miles). Not long after seeing their long, sleek bodies fly over, we found 3 of the huge birds standing in a newly plowed field. I could go on and list the other birds we saw–quite a few varieties–but will stop for now lest the eyes of all non-birding readers glaze over more than they already have.
But there is something refreshing about immersing oneself into the intricate splendors and many-dappled varieties of God’s good creation. There is so much to delight in, so much to soak in, so much to learn if we simply have what Juergen Moltmann once called “Geistesgegenwart” or the ability to have your spirit be fully alive in the present moment (leave it to the Germans to coin a single word that takes a whole English sentence to explain!). Or it’s what Sallie McFague termed “attention epistemology,” or that which you can learn about God, creation, and their relation just by paying attention to the goings-on in your own backyard.
In the United States we just observed the Memorial Day weekend, which as everyone in these parts knows is the unofficial kick-off to summer (a too-short three month season that will unofficially shut down on the corresponding Labor Day weekend in September). So it’s summer around here and it’s time for all of us who believe with Colossians 1 that the whole created order of things was created by our Savior and now hangs together and makes sense only in that Savior–it’s time for folks who believe these things to get our spirits engaged in the moment, to pay attention, to see what’s out there in that shrub, what’s fluttering in that tree, what’s crawling away on the ground or swooshing through the skies overhead.
You can do it at any time, of course, but in this part of the world the summer season provides its own peculiar way to praise the God, from whom all blessings and splendors and patches of beauty flow.