How beautiful are all his works even to the spark and fleeting vision! The universe lives and abides forever; to meet each need, each creature is preserved. All of them differ, one from another, yet none of them has he made in vain. For each in turn, as it comes, is good; can one ever see enough of their splendor?
Sirach 42: 22-25
Last evening as I was preparing for bed, I heard a brief segment of a radio interview with David Suzuki, the Canadian environmentalist. At the moment I attended to the conversation, Suzuki was speaking of what he considered one of the greatest moral and spiritual issues of our age, namely that we refuse to appreciate and attend to the fact that “nature takes its time.” Nature unfolds and reveals its secrets to us slowly. We cannot abide being in time in that way and so we attempt to make nature itself move at our fast and hurried pace. This is an act of great violence on the very earth itself, and we are reaping the results of that violence.
The distinguishing mark of the human person as spirit is our capacity for awe. Awe, of its very nature, is a response to a beauty that is perceived in a universe in which we have been gifted to participate. It cannot be a response to our own limited abilities or production, lest it become, in the words of Adrian van Kaam, “inverted awe.” Today’s reading from Sirach describes the “awesomeness” of creation: its beauty, infinity, the complementarity, uniqueness, and necessity of each of its elements, and finally its goodness. This is the milieu in which we have been given our lives. Yet, most of the time, we are not living in awe. Could Suzuki be right? Is it possible that one of the principal reasons we fail to live more in awe is that we are living in time in contradiction to the truth of things? Perhaps to be, we must be-in-time in accord with the reality of being.
Monday was the Memorial Day holiday in the United States. Following a busy weekend up to that point, I found myself with an open day, one without any set project of my own to follow. So, much of the day had space and silence, to read, to journal, to pray, to think the thoughts that were given me to think. As evening drew on and I sat , as I usually do, on my couch facing the windows and the dining area of my small living space, I noticed the rays of the setting sun were falling directly on my blossoming clivia plant. And so, with my iPad at hand, I snapped a photo of what I was observing to send to a friend. In his response, he commented on the serenity it expressed. At that moment I realized that the serenity of the scene, one which I daily observe or more often fail to observe, entered into my awareness that evening because the way I had spent my time that day had made me able to receive it.
Our technology, from the electric light to our most current devices, has afforded us many benefits, mostly at the functional level of life, but they have also dissociated us from the greater rhythms of the universe, from the life-in-time of creation and the Creator. Appreciation, awe, and love all take time, time that we mistakenly believe we don’t have. Without the sense of beauty, order, love and awe of the universe that lies at the heart of our distinctively human spiritual potency, we are increasingly apt to violate the nature and the beauty of life in its human and cosmic manifestations. May we take some time each day to detach from our compulsive and functional sense of time, and so begin to receive the deeper life and serenity that life in all its beautiful and varied forms radiates.
Love all that has been created by God, both the whole and every grain of sand. Love every leaf and every ray of light. Love the beasts and the birds, love the plants, love every separate fragment. If you love each separate fragment, you will understand the mystery of the whole resting in God. When you perceive this, your understanding of this mystery will grow from day to day until you come to love the whole world with a love that includes everything and excludes nothing.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, chapter 41