A big problem today is that of widespread boredom. With all the diversions available to us, one would think we would be one of the least bored generations in history. There are various forms of entertainment available to us quite literally at our fingertips: television, streaming video, radio, the Internet, video games, and more.
Yet still it seems that we are often bored. The reason for this, I think, is that we are overstimulated.
The frantic pace of even our recreational activities leaves most of us incapable of appreciating the subtler, gentler, and more hidden things of life.
Dale Ahlquist, the great commentator on G.K. Chesterton, writes,
There is no excuse for being bored. … And yet the modern world is bored. … Our entertainment grows louder, flashier, and more bizarre in ever more desperate attempts just to keep our attention.
As G.K. Chesterton proclaims (Tremendous Trifles, p.7): “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” There are no dreary sites, he declares, only dreary sightseers (Common Sense 101, p. 27).
Boredom is a problem on the inside; happiness, too, is an “inside job.” We should all seek the great gifts of wonder and awe. We should strive to appreciate God’s glories and wonders, which are on display at every moment: in everything we see and in everyone we encounter.
The gift of wonder also depends on other gifts: humility and gratitude.
The key to happiness and the key to wonder is humility. … Humility means being small enough to see the greatness of something and to feel unworthy of it, and privileged to be able to enjoy it (Common Sense 101, p. 33).
Consider well the meaning of this wonderful yet simple reflection and the relationship between humility, wonder, and gratitude. Yes, to be humble is to feel unworthy of the glories that are always before us, to wonder at them and to feel privileged just to be permitted to enjoy them.
Indeed, even the word “consider” invites us to a kind of awestruck and grateful mysticism. The word comes from the Latin cum (with) and sidera (stars), so that its literal roots convey “with the stars.” In other words, to consider something is to think upon it, regard it, and gaze upon it with the wonder with which one would look at the night sky filled with stars.
So, “consider” well the glories that are on display for us every moment and behold them with humility, wonder, and gratitude.
There are many reasons for the unbelief rampant in our times. Among them is the claim by some that because they do not see or hear evidence of God or an afterlife, our belief in these is just wishful thinking on our part so as to avoid the conclusion that everything ends with our death, that this world is all there is.
A parable currently circulating on the Internet addresses this sort of unbelief. A Facebook friend (Vicki) called it to my attention. I have adapted a bit and will present it to you here. Some sites indicate that the original author is Útmutató a Léleknek, while other sites are silent as to the source. I am only adapting it here because I have seen various forms of it and am not sure of the original. Nevertheless it is an effective parable in its essence.
Prior to having you read it please recall the nature of an analogy or a parable. An analogy presents a thing or a scenario that is “like” another one, but not exactly the same. The word parable comes from the Greek word para (alongside) + bole (to throw). Thus a parable is something that is expressed in terms of something else. It is “thrown alongside” in the sense that it is not exactly the same, but similar to what is described. The comparison discloses both the strengths and weakness of what is compared.
Many today misunderstand this and so when an analogy or parable is presented, dismiss it since it is not an exact fit. But as we’ve seen, an analogy or parable is not intended to be a perfect fit; it is intended to compare things that are merely similar. In the story that follows, we who live in the world are compared to two babies in the womb of their mother. The babies debate whether there really is anything or anyone outside the womb.
Now it is true that this world is “like” a womb, but not identical to it. Further, God is not a mother gestating us in her womb. He is Father and Creator, raising His children. But the story you are about to read is not about the nature of God per se, but about the argument that God and life after death do not exist merely because we cannot see them or because no one has verifiably claimed to have returned from Heaven to tell us all about it. So the analogy is about the argument over the existence of God and the afterlife, not about the nature of God.
So please consider this before commenting (in the comment box) that God is Father, not mother. Whether the original author meant this or not, I do not mean it in presenting the story.
With all that in mind, I present the story. The paragraphs are numbered for reference.
In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other, “Do you believe in life after delivery?”
The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. It seems we are obviously here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later and that we have capacities that are meant for something greater than here.”
“Nonsense!” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What makes you think there is?”
The second said, “Well, I am going to suppose that since we have eyes and legs and mouths that there is a world outside that has more light than here so that we can see, and where will walk about with our legs, and eat with our mouths. I mean, why would we have legs if we weren’t ever going to walk, or eyes if we weren’t ever going to have light and see? Maybe there will be many other things that we can’t understand now.”
The first replied, “That is absurd. Your are just engaging in wishful thinking and hoping that things will get better. This is all there is. Who needs to walk? And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. And since the umbilical cord is so short, life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”
The second insisted, “Well I think there is something more than this, outside and beyond this womb. Some sort of longing is in my heart to see and walk freely and to eat and enjoy things. I mean, why would we have these legs and eyes and mouth and hands? And where did we get the longing to use them if we weren’t meant for something more? Indeed, maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”
The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”
“No,” said the second, “Surely we will meet our mother and she will take care of us.”
The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in a mother? That’s laughable. If a mother exists then where is she now?”
The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are from her and it is in her that we now live. Without her this world we are in now would not exist.”
Said the first, “Well I don’t see her, so it is only logical that she doesn’t exist.”
To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when I am in silence and I focus and really listen, I can perceive her presence, and hear her loving voice, calling down from above.”
Not a bad analogy in parable form (remember, no analogy is perfect)! Here are a few thoughts on how to apply it more specifically to our situation.
In sentence #2 the believing infant says, It seems we are obviously here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later and that we have capacities that are meant for something greater than here. This translates to the fact that, as Scripture says, God has put the timeless in our heart (Eccles 3:10). In other words, we can universally imagine concepts outside of the physical word and our experience, such as the timeless, and the concept of perfection is an indication that we are called to know, see, experience, and “walk” in these one day. The infants in the womb have eyes that are made for the light, but they cannot see while in the womb. But their eyes point to the purpose for which eyes are made. Their legs are made to walk, and thought they cannot walk now, their legs point to the reality for which they are made. That our desire is infinite points to the fact that there is some One who exists to fill that desire. This logic of a capacity pointing to a fulfilment of its object is taken up in sentences #4 and #6 as well.
Sentence #5 addresses the “wishful thinking” charge. The fact is that so-called “wishful thinking” imposes demands that move beyond merely trying to please myself with wishful thoughts. Thus, if I have legs and can one day walk, I must develop that skill and then take the risk of walking. If I can see, then I must accept the responsibility of one who sees and make changes in my life based upon it. Thus the Christian vision of eternal life and a higher call are not just wishful thoughts; they are demanding thoughts. They impose on us a requirement to prepare for and strive for higher things.
Sentences #9 and #11 take up the argument that if I can’t see something with my physical eyes or weigh it on a scale then it doesn’t exist. But of course many things exist that cannot be seen. I cannot see my thoughts per se. Neither can I see justice with my eyes. I can see their effects, but I cannot see them. It is like this with God. His effects are everywhere evident in what He has made, as is the intelligence and reason with which He made them. That things work predictably and in an orderly way is the basis of the scientific method. Some intelligence ordered all this with logic and suffused it with an intelligence that is intelligible. So I do not see God, but I see His effects, just as I do not see my intelligence or thoughts but do see their effects.
Sentence #10 reminds us of the fundamental question that most materialists and atheists refuse to answer: Why is there anything at all? We argue that things exist as coming from the One who is Existence Itself. But how does an atheist argue the effect of existence? Whence its cause?
Sentence #12 reminds every believer that he must be able to render an account for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15). Indeed, I will testify that when I still my soul, I do hear God’s heartbeat. I see Him in what He has made. And when I pray, I am heard. He is changing my life and I cannot account for the new man I am except that God lives and is changing me, molding and fashioning me into the man He has made me to be. I have tested His word and found it to be true. He lives and so I live!
Feeling a little Rushed Lately? – If you feel a little rushed lately you might be surprised at how fast you’re actually moving, even when you’re “Standing still.”
The earth at this latitude of Washington DC is spinning at about 750 Miles an hour.
But the spinning earth is also rotating around the Sun at approximately 67,000 miles an hour.
And, the sun around which we move so fast is also rotating around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy at 558,000 miles per hour.
And the whole universe is also spinning and moving outward at 1,339,200 miles per hour.
It’s dizzying to consider our speed and motion: A spinning earth rotating around a sun which is rotating around a galaxy which is rotating around a universe at millions of miles an hour. So if you think you’re standing still, think again. We are actually hurtling through space at dizzying speeds.
Look! The Lord advances like the clouds, his chariots come like a whirlwind, his horses are swifter than eagles. (Jer 4:13)
I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands O Lord. (Psalm 119:60 Heth)
I know, I made the word up: “minificence.” I’ll define in a moment. But I want to ponder with you for a moment the awesome mystery of size and numbers as we look out and as we look in.
Outer Space: As we look out on to God’s Universe we cannot even fathom how huge, how magnificent, is the size of the universe. We cannot comprehend such size.
Inner Space: But what is equally amazing is how vast a universe exists, hid from our unaided eyes, in what we might call “inner space,” that tiny, almost invisible world of microbiology. In just a drop of pond water may exist hundreds of thousands of bacteria and microorganisms, a veritable universe unto itself. Indeed, in every human body exists trillions of microorganisms in a kind of microbial fauna. Eighty different types of microorganisms live in the mouth alone. Every square centimeter of human bowel contains as many as ten billion organisms. Every square centimeter of skin contains 10 million individual bacteria. Even on our eyelashes are colonies of helpful bacteria and microorganisms that help keep harmful bacteria away. These massively numbered civilizations, universes really, of microorganisms, are only known recently with the invention of powerful microscopes. And to the micro-world of microorganisms, our bodies must seem as massive as the universe of outer space seems to us. If a microorganism could think, it would look upon our mere tiny bodies as a vast universe to large to really comprehend. Instead of trillions of stars, there are trillions of microorganisms. And to a microbe on eyelash, a bacteria on the toe exists millions of light years away.
Minificence and Magnificence! If outer space is magnificent (from the Latin magnus meaning large or great) then inner space is (according to me) minificent (from the Latin minimus meaning small or tiny). The abundance of life in these “small” worlds is unimaginable. To the microorganisms which accompany me I am a universe too vast to comprehend. But I am but one man and there are over six billion human beings on this planet. And I, even we collectively, am not large at all. I am an infinitesimally small speck, on a slightly larger but still tiny speck of dust rotating around a fiery spark called the sun in a galaxy of over 200 billion other fiery sparks (or stars). And this is just one galaxy and there are over 125 billion other galaxies in the known universe so large that it would take over 100 million light years to cross it.
Time for wonder and awe! We’ve moved from inner space to outer space in a matter of moments but we really cannot comprehend numbers like these. It’s time for wonder and awe. God does all this with a simple word, and it is so. He knows the depths of our souls, the tiniest forms of life that cling to us. Every hair of our head is numbered and known to him. He knows the farthest fringes of the universe. He made the stars and calls them by name. Ah the Lord: He who dismisses the light, and it departs, calls it, and it obeys him trembling; Before whom the stars at their posts shine and rejoice; When he calls them, they answer, “Here we are!” shining with joy for their Maker. (Baruch 3:33-35). One of the great hymns says: O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder; Consider all the works Thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee; How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Do not forget to meditate on God’s wonders. It is a great antidote to pride. God has done unspeakable and marvelous things. And more is unseen than seen. The book of Sirach says: Beyond these, many things lie hid; only a few of his works have we seen. (Sirach 43:34)
Allow me to begin with a parable. Every now and then I take a perfectly good paper clip and I untwist and reconfigure it for some purpose. Once I used untwisted paperclips to hang Christmas ornaments on the tree. Another time I untwisted and fashioned a paperclip into a hook to keep my file drawer from rolling open. Now if paperclips could see and think and talk they might be horrified and saddened to see a fellow paperclip so deformed. And perhaps I could try and explain that these “deformed” paperclips were actually not a disaster, they were quite useful to me in their “deformed” condition. But alas, the paperclips cannot understand this, they just look with sadness and horror on the deformed paperclips. After all how can you expect a paperclip to understand something other than clipping paper? They are just paperclips after all and can’t understand deeper things beyond the world they know, which is clipping paper.
I have often wondered if this isn’t something of the truth about us in our understanding of things such as disability, birth defects, and personal challenges of some of our fellow human family members. As we look upon the disabled, the handicapped, those who struggle with deformity, mental illnes, profound and/or mild mental disability we are often moved to sadness and even horror. And we easily ask, “Why does God allow this?!” We quickly conclude that such people’s lives are unhappy or that they will never reach full potential.
And yet I wonder if we really know what we are talking about. Who of us can really say what our own purpose in God’s plan is let alone anyone else’s? We are like paperclips in a drawer who know only one thing. Our minds are too small for us to ever understand the very special and significant role that even the most “impaired” in our world play. Perhaps in heaven we will realize what an indispensable and central role role they had in God’s plan and victory. Of all the paperclips in the drawer some of the most useful to me are the ones I twist and refashion.
A knowledge too high – I pray you will accept my humble example of a paperclip. I mean no disrespect to the human person in comparing us to paperclips. We are surely more precious and complicated and God does not glibly use us like paperclips. But my example must be humble to illustrate what is for us a knowledge too high for us to grasp: the knowledge of the dignity and essential purpose of every human being to God and his plan. Our judgments in this matter cannot be much better than a paperclip in a drawer compared to God’s omniscient wisdom. If it is absurd for us to think a paperclip could understand our ways is it really much less absurd to think we can understand all God’s ways? And if we cannot understand his ways, why do we make judgments as to another person’s role, usefulness, beatitude or status? We look down on the poor but scripture says we should look up to them and that God is especially close to the poor, the suffering, the brokenhearted and the humble. Scripture says he uses the lowly to humble the proud. And yet still we so easily look with pity on those we consider disadvantaged.
A Story – Over twenty years ago I worked for a year with the profoundly mentally disabled. They lay in beds and wheelchairs often with little muscle control. None of them could talk and only a few could engage in rudimentary communication. There was one man in his forties who had never emerged from the fetal position. He lay in a large crib his tiny yet clearly adult body curled up like a newborn babe. And on his face the most angelic smile that almost never diminished. He had been baptized as an infant and to my knowledge could not have sinned. I looked with marvel each visit upon innocence and a beatific countenance. What an astonishing gift he was. And who knows but God why he was this way? But God DOES know and had very important reasons. There was something central and indispensable in this man’s existence. Some role only he could fill. Apparently I was not able to fill that role. He was not disabled, he was differently abled, uniquely abled for something different than the ordinary. Looking upon him I had little doubt that he was directly in touch with God in a way that I never had been for his radiant face infallibly conveyed that. With our human eyes we can be saddened even appalled. But we’ll understand it better by an by. One day in the great by and by we may well be surprised to learn that the most central and critical people in God’s plan were the most humble and often the most broken and that we would never have made it without them.
This video depicts the paradox of disability that sometimes shines through to teach us that we do not see the whole picture. A child was born with significant defects but suddenly as he grew remarkable gifts showed forth. Just a little reminder from God, a glimpse of what God sees, that the disabled are to him differently and wonderfully abled. Meet Patrick Henry Hughes.
It’s snowing in Washington. Not every one likes snow but is it an amazing work of God. He takes a barren winter landscape and creates it anew. I can almost hear the Lord saying, “Behold, I make all things new!”
In the modern world we often walk past the glory of God and hardly notice the gifts that God daily provides. I am mindful of the movie, “The Color Purple” when the main character “Ceilie” admits she is angry with God. Her friend “Shug” says, “I think God gets mad at us when we walk through a field and miss the color purple.”
Tonight and tomorrow I don’t want to miss God’s gift. It is true, it comes at the price of cancellations, and other weather related hardships. But MAYBE just maybe, God can get a few of us here on the East Coast to stop, for just a minute and rest a while and behold his glory. Getting snowed in is a wonderful chance to become reacquainted with our family and even our very selves. And just looking out the window and marvelling at the snow as it falls with a hypnotic and calming steadiness can be a prayer if we think of God who sends it. Where ever you are on this planet, don’t walk through life and miss the glory of God!
In the Book of Sirach there is a beautiful and poetic description of God and the majestic work he creates even in the “dead” of Winter. Enjoy this excerpt from Sirach and spiritually reflect on the glory of God in winter.
God in Winter:
A word from God drives on the north wind.
He scatters frost like so much salt;
It shines like blossoms on the thornbush.
Cold northern blasts he sends that turn the ponds to lumps of ice.
He freezes over every body of water,
And clothes each pool with a coat of mail.
He sprinkles the snow like fluttering birds.
Its shining whiteness blinds the eyes,
The mind is baffled by its steady fall.
Sirach 43, selected verses
Enjoy this video that recalls for us the joy and wonder of a snowfall that many of experienced when we were young: