There is “a great book,” Saint Augustine says, “the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Note it. Read it.”
St. Anthony (son of a wealthy family who became a hermit monk in the deserts of Africa) also knew about this book. Once a visiting philosopher asked how such a learned man got along in the desert without the benefit of books, Anthony replied, “My book is the nature of created things, and as often as I have a mind to read the words of God, they are at my hand.”
There was a time when I thought I needed to go on a retreat to spend time with God. I had it in my mind that I needed to get away from the hustle and bustle of life and “find nature” and that would help me connect with God.
But instead of having to retreat from the world, I began to wonder one day. Did the Book of Nature have to stay closed and unread? What might I read in the backyard? After all, Augustine did not say, “Go to the beach and look out onto the ocean! Go for a swim and look below you! Note what you see. Read the book of nature.”
Instead, what I discovered was that the Book of Nature was already open and before me, waiting to be read. I read the rising sun as the gift of a new day and wondered what it might offer or ask of me. (Though I admit, I’d rather watch the sunset.) I read the stars as light shining in the darkness of my night sky. I read the silence and stillness of the grass as an invitation to learn to just be (instead of a need to mow it and keep it nice and tidy). I read the mystery of growth and life in the seeds planted in my garden and the hope in the banana peppers and tomatoes that will rise from the deep.
I read the squirrels as they play outside the window of a homebound member’s room and remind myself not to take myself too seriously. I read the birds baptizing themselves in rain puddles as the assurance that “all shall be well” (Julian of Norwich). I read budding leaves and those cool spring mornings as a reminder that there is a season for everything. I read the bald eagles floating on the invisible over the Saylorville Reservoir as encouragement to trust what I cannot see. I read the wind as God breathing new life into this world. I read the colors of the setting sun as a palette of thanksgivings.
The Book of Nature is always before us, ready to read. I have found my portion of the book here in my neck of the woods to be good reading. It has been very good reading indeed.
So, what are you reading these days?
Travis Segar, Pastor for Care and Community