Looking Out and Not Ahead

In the first chapter of Genesis, God creates the heavens and the earth and fills the earth with life.  It is an extraordinary account of how the ancient Israelites understood the nature of God: our God is the God who creates and orders life, and we know this from all of creation.  The people who first told this story of creation not only knew God through their experiences with nature, but their understanding of God came from nature.   

A few weeks ago, I stood out looking up at the stars with my six-year-old son.  We were on retreat at our camp and conference center which is far enough away from any metropolitan area to really appreciate the vast expanse of interstellar space.  We sat looking up and marveling in wonder.  “Dad, what star is that?”  I told him it was the planet Venus before learning it was actually the planet Mars.  His response was a simple and yet profound, “Wow!”  I couldn’t agree more. 

Picture of Stars


We were away from the city, away from lights, cellphones, and schedules, and for a few moments, Jack was away from over-functioning parents.  And we just marveled at the beauty, depth, and immeasurable cosmic reign that profoundly reminded me of my own insignificance and how impossible it is to truly understand our created order.

It has been sometime since I have looked up.  Even as a priest, much of my work is behind a desk or a computer screen.  I suspect like many others, I live a daily scramble to answer emails, write articles and strategies, and do the work required of me in my vocation.  I live my life looking ahead, but not looking out and catching a much broader perspective of the world we live in.  It has been almost 20 years since I spent my summers working in the woods at a Boy Scout Camp in Arkansas and feeling deeply connected to the beauty that surrounds us. 

And I have to wonder, if the beauty and order of creation was the foundation for God’s people understanding the nature of God, then what I am (or what are we) losing when we become disconnected to creation?  Does our technology driven, over scheduled, over committed lives, where we are forced to only look ahead, impact our understanding of God? Are our spiritual lives corrupted from spending too much time inside and without a relationship with the ordered cosmos?  In the words of Ellen Davis, “The way we see the world is how we value it.”[1]

The way we see the world is how we value it.
— Ellen Davis

I am most interested in how this conversation has been moving through our faith community and other communities. At Saint Stephen’s a group has been exploring our own connection, especially the church’s connection to creation.  As a church community, we have identified that we might be able to dig deeper by having the following conversations:

  • how to locally source food for our Wednesday night suppers

  • how to educate the congregation on native plants, remove invasive species from our physical plant, and introduce new native species

  • exploring our property and how to use our property to help the congregation deepen their connection to the outdoors

  • organizing holy hikes and float trips

  • learning about how our building and life in community can be more sustainable

  • helping the preschool with building gardens and enhancing their science and engineering curriculum. 

As a Christian, when we begin to have these conversations, we most often hear about Stewardship of Creation. I am sure it is right and necessary to be good stewards of the earth, but what if it is more?  What if we cannot truly understand the nature of God if we are not connected to God’s creation?  What if we cannot truly know God if we are always looking ahead and not up and out and taking in the vast beauty of all that God has done. 

- John Burruss+

[1] From “The Poetry of Creations: Ellen Davis and Wendell Berry” in the Podcast On Being by Krista Tippet, November 24, 2011.