Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Wonder of the Created World

Living on God's Roller Coaster

The Psalms celebrate the glories of the creation and, therefore, of the Creator. We, however, in our materialistic and naturalistic world often regard the whole thing as deja vu and somewhat boring. It is hard in our non-imaginative world to empathise with the exuberant explosions of wonder and praise from the soul of ancient Hebrew prophets. They, after all, lived in a pre-scientific age: we, for our part, are have matured beyond such childish squeals of joy.

Not so fast. The challenge Christians face is to deal with their own jaded souls. If we do not see the wonder and exult in the glory of the creation, how will the Unbelieving world ever see the error of its utilitarian, mechanical ways?
We recently read N. D. Wilson's Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009). It is a remarkably original work. It helps us to see once again the wondrous glories of the world God has created and sustains, and leads us to delight and exuberant laughter, to wonder, love, tears, and praise.

Wilson uses the motif of a carnival whirly-gig ride as a metaphor of our planet. Visiting the carnival over the course of four seasons, he overwhelms us with stream-of-consciousness images, concepts, truths, facts, data, and colours that makes the reader feel, once again, as a child dancing with joy before the greatness of our God. But this is not so much a natural science monologue as a clashing, colliding kaleidoscope of people made alive in Christ interacting daily with the manifold complexity of God's world. It is a breathtaking ride.

Here are a few notes from the carnival ride. Firstly, the opening lines:
What excuses can I possibly make for this book?

Alcohol was not directly involved. I do not (to my knowledge) have brain disease. I've never used drugs. But that's not entirely true. Spring is a drug to me. So is Christmas. Love, poetry, wind, smells, lightning, children, ants, very small beetles--all drugs in their own way.

It's not my fault. Those things made me write this book. Those things and a few others, both sweet and sour. (p.ix)
On the sheer abundance and pluriformity of the world:
Winter--the spinning begins. Snow is so overused. One sentimental, overly structured ice flake might have some value. But God never seems capable of moderation or of understanding the basic concepts behind supply and demand. He constantly devalues His own products. Give me one flake, a cool room, and a magnifying glass and I will admire its artistry. But right now, I'm sitting by my window on a Christmas night, staring out at winter wastefulness in the extreme. Miles of clouds, clouds larger than states, have turned into crystal stars that now streak silently past my window to their deaths. . . .

Try counting the flakes. Really count them. I'll step outside for a quick estimate. Let's be conservative. Assuming that we're in the middle of this storm and it only stretches ten miles in each direction (Ha, says the weatherman), and assuming that the storm is a tiny one hundred feet tall . . . then we are looking at about . . . 11,151,360,000,000 flakes in the air above a small patch in Idaho at one particular moment on Christmas night at the end of the year 2007. Just this storm, this tiny little slice of winter could divvy out seventeen hundred flakes to every person on this planet. . . .

But how can we possibly value these things when their maker slings them around like so much trash. Actually, I've never seen anyone sling this much trash. Doesn't He realize that people will curse this tomorrow? That they'll shovel it and salt it and SUV it into gray slop? Doesn't He know that my daughters are going to roll in it, melting thousands of flakes with their flushed cheeks and tens of thousand with their tongues?

Dogs are going to pee on this stuff in the morning. They're probably getting down to it right now.

So begins a new year, a new solar lap. (pp.9-11)

But this is far more than a BBC wonder's-of-nature programme. Wilson refuses to treat man as an intruder in an otherwise perfect created order. The career of man in the carnival is intrinsic to its wonder and glory. He skilfully weaves eschatology into creation's complexity as part of the awe-inspiring symphony in which we all play instruments.
Running my hands over the smooth faces of Cape Cod gravestones, I am once again gazing at the inconceivable night sky, watching numberless water molecules rushing past me in a stream, staring out my window trying to count snowflakes.

I am small. I couldn't begin to remember them all, and yet I yearn to. Each of these stones marks the final page of a novel, a page with nothing but FINIS, centered and lonely. Only a good novel can make me enjoy the final page. With the best of them, especially with the best of them, that last page is bittersweet.

I want to meet every one of these dead fellow cast members of mine I want to feel their grips and watch the lines around their eyes when they smile. How many died peacefully, happy with their end, always knowing that it would come at sea? Or maybe they were surprised that it hadn't, amused that those remaining behind would actually have a body to plant.

Spring sun and spring rain mixed us our weather while my wife and I spent those days wandering on the cape. I watched the tomb-sea, thinking about the coldness of that death, wanting to be given a number, wanting to know how many dead it held, how many continents held more. . . .

The Greeks were right. Live in fear of a grinding end and a dank hereafter.

Unless you know a bigger God, or better yet, are related to Him by blood. . . .

Through the long cold, I wait for Spring. I watch for it, but I never see the moment of its arrival.

The sun warms me, reminds me.

Be grateful, it says. I have broken the Winter.

On the south side of my house, the crocuses are up in bunches. They are the most greedy for spring, the first to notice and explode.

Daffodils will follow soon.

After them will come the sailors. (p. 66,67,88.89)

Wilson interacts with Unbelief's desperate attempts to avoid the Creator. Here is his memorable pen portrait of Nietzsche.
Nietzsche published The Anti-Christ in 1888. Along with many other things, he had this to say about pity: "Pity thwarts the whole law of evolution, which is the law of natural selection. It preserves whatever is ripe for destruction; it fights on the side of those disinherited and condemned by life; by maintaining life is so many of the botched of all kinds, it gives life itself a gloomy and dubious aspect."

One year later, Nietzsche entered into madness. True or false, the story is that he was overcome by the sight of a horse being whipped. Unhinged by pity. He wouldn't die until 1900. For a decade he was kept alive and maintained through his insanity, strokes and incapacitating illness. At the age of fifty-five, partially paralyzed, unable to speak or walk, he discovered what life waited for him beyond the grave.
And finally, his advice on how we should live our years in this awe-inspiring, kaleidoscopic, whirling journey.
Do not resent your place in the story. Do not imagine yourself elsewhere. Do not close your eyes and picture a world without thorns, without shadows, without hawks. Change this world. Use your body like a tool meant to be used up, discarded, and replaced. Better every life that you touch. We will reach the final chapter. When we have eyes that can stare into the sun, eyes that only squint for the Shekinah, then we will see laughing children pulling cobras by their tails, and hawks and rabbits playing tag.

But we cannot hope to reach the final chapter by dreaming, by holding our collective breath and staring at unshaded acrylic escape paintings. The only road to that final chapter began at the garden and led into the wilderness. It runs through these chapters. Live now. Relish the tensions, the challenges, and laugh at the petty pains. (pp. 154,5)
Get the book. You will find yourself reading it over and over, again and yet again. And maybe you will discover that you, too, have a soul like that of ancient Hebrew poets.

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