December 3, 2018

The Place Where I Worship

“You cannot make creationists indoors.”

Bill Knott

It’s a hard place to be an unbeliever.

At the end of a dirt road high above the Berkshire town of Zoar, there’s a metal gate requiring all journeys to this sanctuary be made on foot. The dirt bikes and four-wheelers may not pass, for they are asked, albeit silently, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?” A short climb over what remains of someone’s road leads to the grandest view—and the greatest blueberry patch—I’ve ever known.

I’ve spent so many hours there, lost in the holy wandering and wondering familiar to anyone who has found the berry patch of the ages. At every turn on any July day, the low-bush berries hang like gems on stems too slender to support their weight.

And then there is the view—a vista grand enough to seize the heart of a 12-year-old and make him whisper to no one in particular but to all of listening heaven—“Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise Him all creatures here below.” Ten miles of lovely, folding green hills crowd down around the Deerfield, winding like one of the rivers of Eden through a landscape on which no human mark is visible.

What part of all this moment—sun and sky and lush green hills, berries eaten and uneaten, signs of bears who also love this place—what part of this is owing to mere chance? A dozen textbooks on geology will tell me of the uplift many million years ago that formed this ancient mountain chain. What little I remember from astronomy will plot the sun—by accident, of course—at 93 million miles away, conveniently at just the distance necessary to sustain life—my life—on this small planet. The witness of Darwinians will urge me that the black bears waiting my departure from the blueberry patch are but the ever-slow result of untold years of mindless mutation.

And then there are the blueberries themselves—exploding on the taste buds (whence came these?) of a child able to experience just one of those fruits bearing seed the Father planted in this garden.

For all our wise and thoughtful work to show the science undergirding the Genesis account of how this world began, we come—at last—upon a fundamental truth. You cannot make creationists indoors, beneath the ghastly glow of long fluorescent tubes, the bunkered basement labs and classrooms where we teach and urge what, in the end, must still be known and sensed and felt and tasted.

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?” (Ps. 8:3, 4, NRSV1).

The witness of our senses, made by God to apprehend His handiwork and stir us to a hymn of praise, is no less valid than the testimony of our logic. Our arguments from design; our 50 proofs of irreducible complexity, may—at their best—prepare the ground for what must yet become an outdoor faith. The eyes that sweep the nighttime sky; the heart that warms with inexpressible delight at ocean surf and early morning birdsongs—these are the witnesses that make our trust in Genesis more solid than the ablest deductions.

It’s no mystery that as our culture has retreated from direct contact with summer heat and winter cold, as we have moved indoors to keep our distance from bears, blueberries, and bougainvillea, we have become, ergo, the greatest things we know, dull worshippers of self and what small things a self can make. When you, and what you do and think, are the largest things you know, creationism will seem a dull and counterfactual employment.

So here’s to Sabbaths spent at least in part where we can be what we were formed to be—mere humans in the garden of the Lord. In these deep sanctuaries of grace, we find our true significance, and sing our finest hymns.

1 Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.