Friday, January 02, 2009

God is in the Details

My newsletter article this week:

The devil is in the details. It's a phrase we all know well. It means that we better read the fine print. That sub-prime mortgage might look awfully appealing, but we better know what is going to happen to our loan in 5 years, or if we are unable to make a payment.

The devil is in the details. This might very well be true in financial transactions. But more and more I have come to believe that in all other matters we find that God is in the details. First, a confession: I confess that over the years I have gotten less interested in the "big" questions: What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? What happens when we die? Why did Penn State lose to USC in the Rose Bowl? While I enjoy a good discussion about these questions, and will always do my best to provide a cogent response if asked, they don't really occupy much of my thinking time.

I am much more interested in the details of life. The gory details. The beautiful details. The amazing details. For instance, this past week I received my copy of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. It is a wonderful magazine put out by the Minnesota DNR, and I have learned much over the years about our state's flora and fauna. In the recent magazine there was an article about the return to Minnesota of the American Marten, a woodland member of the weasel family related closely to the Fisher. The Marten was once thought to be extinct due to trapping and decimation of its habitat, but it is making a comeback in northern Minnesota. Did you know that Martens, like most members of the weasel family, reproduce through delayed implantation? They breed in summer but the pre-embryonic blastocyst does not implant and begin to develop until late winter. The article doesn't explain why this happens, but one can guess that Martens evolved to give birth at the "right" time, perhaps when there was an abundance of food. Now I will have to find out if that is true.

I didn't make any New Year's resolutions; I never do. But I did make a winter resolution to spend some of my outdoor walking time learning to identify trees by their bark and buds. I like to think that I know trees. Give me a leaf and I can tell you the tree. But take away the leaves and I am lost, apart from some of the most obvious trees, like sycamore. It has been my aim to rectify this shortcoming during this winter. It is amazing to walk through the woods stopping to look at trees to study the bark. Every family (oak, maple, ash, etc.) has recognizable markers. And every tree has its own kind of beauty in winter. This winter I have been paying attention to trees.

So where is God in all of this? To say that God is in the details is to say that the more we pay attention to what is going on around us, close attention, attention attached to time, the more we are apt to see awesome, beautiful, amazing things that open our hearts and set our minds ablaze. It has been my experience that this is how and where God is found. In the depths. In the unfolding mystery of life, human life, plant and animal life, the evolving life of our planet.

This is not the whole story of where God is found, of course. God is also found among the suffering and grieving. And I find it more than a little interesting that if you open up your Bible and read the parables of Jesus and read about his life, you will find that the details of the natural world and the everyday suffering of his people were the focus of his words and deeds. Apparently, in the beautiful detail of the lilies of the field and in the midst of the gory details of lepers and outcasts Jesus, too, found God.

Where is God found? God is found in the details. I'll give the last word to Mary Oliver. At the end of her poem When Death Comes she says:
When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

1 comment:

ProgressiveChurchlady said...

Beautiful LiberalPastor! I enjoy playing in the traffic--or in the forest, as the case may be--with you!