Seeing the World with God: Introduction to "Imagining Wholeness"
After hearing the Creation story from Genesis 1, even our youngest children can quickly pick out the rhythmic refrain, “and God saw that it was good.” From days one through six, God speaks a part of the world into being, then that part appears, and then God sees that it is good: Light out of darkness—God sees that it is good. The protecting dome of the sky—God sees that it is good. Distinct areas of land and sea—God sees that they are good. A blooming array of plants—God sees that they are good. The sun to light the day and the moon and stars to light the night—God sees that they are good. Abundant fish, birds, and land animals, flying, creeping, swimming, and galloping—God sees that they are good. Wise and capable men and women to care for the world, and the whole picture of all the parts together—God sees that they are very good.
But do we?
All too often, when I look at my backyard, I see the grass that needs mowing and the weeds that are invading the flower bed, rather than God’s goodness. Or when I’m stuck in traffic, I tend to hide behind sunglasses and worry about being late for work, instead of admiring the patterns of clouds in the sky. It’s rare that I watch the fireflies sparkle on a hot summer night and praise the goodness of their dance. I’m more likely to complain about the heat and duck inside to watch TV.
Just as God is constantly creating the world and holding it in being, God constantly sees God’s creation, holding it in goodness. The patterns, the parts, the miraculous web of life all gain their value in the loving eyes of the Creator. Even the holes, the rips and tears, the dirt, the heat, the dangerous creatures both large and small—God sees into the depths of them all, and into their essential goodness and value.
What if we could see into the depths, as well? What if we could train ourselves to see the goodness of the natural world around us? Fourth-century theologian Basil the Great knows what would happen. He prays: “O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things … May we realize that they live not for us alone but for themselves and for thee, and that they love the sweetness of life.” If we could learn to see the world as God sees it, we might see its true value, the inestimable value that it holds in God’s eyes. We might see that the world is not all about us.
What does it take to contemplate the goodness of the world along with God? It takes time, and it takes imagination. Our young children can be our teachers, if we let them. They know the delight to be found in a mud puddle. They know the awesome mystery of roly-poly bugs and lizards’ tails. They know what it is to wonder and to marvel at the world. My friend Patricia Tull tells the story of a young girl who sees a maple tree in the fall, resplendent in red and orange leaves. She looks up and gazes in awe at the tree. “It’s a miracle,” she pronounces solemnly. Tull writes, “I had to turn around and see the tree again, through her eyes. And indeed it was—a miracle.”1
This year, I propose that we all take the time to “go marveling” with our children. Each month, I will write about the way in which God sees a part of our world, according to scripture. After reading, you and your family will have a chance to create together! Each month, let your children help you make an image of what God sees. Following the prompt, each month you may take a photo of what you see and post it on Instagram with the hashtag #imaginingwholeness. (If you don’t use Instagram, just email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.) I will collect the images submitted each month and publish them together on this website. If enough people respond, we will have a composite image that will, I hope, help us all to see our world in a new way, and, perhaps, find new ways of relating with the creation
and the Creator!
This Month’s Challenge:
Make a plan to return regularly with your children to one small spot of ground in your yard or at a nearby park. You can do this exercise every day for a week, or once a week for a month. On the way, tell your children the creation story and its important refrain, “and God saw that it was good.” Sit down on the ground and lay aside your cares and worries for just a few minutes. Open your soul and marvel at the plants, rocks, soil, and insects in that small spot of ground. What do you see? Smell? Hear? Feel? What changes from day to day, or week to week? What goodness does God see when God looks at this spot? Dr. David Haskell, a biologist at The University of the South, spent a whole year doing this exercise, returning to the same square meter of forest every day and marveling at what he saw. He wrote a prize-winning and life-changing book about it, The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature. I’m not asking you to write a book, but I invite you to tell the story of that spot in a photo, a drawing, or a short video. Let your children take or draw the picture or video, or let them decide what to include. Post it to Instagram with the hashtag #imaginingwholeness. If your child wants to think of a second hashtag for the image, feel free to include that, as well. To start us off, my photo is included below. I call it #Watchingfromtheshadows. It’s from the little herb garden at my condo.
1 Patricia K. Tull, Inhabiting Eden: Christians, the Bible, and the Ecological Crisis (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 162.