I have always been sensitive to the presence of God in creation. As a child I was fascinated with the natural world – insects, lizards, plants and flowers – and as a teenager took up many opportunities to walk in the ranges and around the coast of my home town at the time –Albany. In these places I sensed God as vast, awesome, inspiring, powerful, beautiful, delicate. God was dynamic in these places – strong and powerful in the wind and the waves – and yet so engaged with that Creation to have cared about the miniscule detail of a flying bee orchid, or to orchestrate the transformation of a swampland into a place of wonder by the chance encounter of a house-block sized area rampant with the flower spikes of the Albany Pitcher Plant.
As an adult some of my most memorable moments involve the natural environment and a sense of awe that I have always connected to a sense of the presence of God. I recall stopping my car along the road from Nanutarra to Paraburdoo in the Pilbara. While there were hills around with their rocky outcrops, purplish hue and skeletal trees, the road itself was dead flat, cutting a
swathe through golden spinifex and pindan-red earth and all this was covered over by a flawless blue sky of richest hue, undiminished by the dust and smog of city life that dulls the blue to pale shades. I remember just standing there, turning on the spot slowly, amazed by the beauty and feeling at one with it – I wanted to take all my clothes of so as to feel fully connected with it. This was a timeless moment. Not a sound to interrupt except the screeching calls of the brown kites that circled round on the thermals.
On another occasion I recall walking along the beach at Mullaloo on a summer Sunday morning before the crowds had built up. There was a fisher or two, and a few other walkers. There were three wet-suited boys on boogie boards squealing and whelping like pup-seals. As we walked a bit further on we noticed two dolphins cruising just beyond the wave break. They seemed to be a adult and juvenile. There was no hurry in their movement. There was no anxiety – just the most graceful and liquid movement through the water, with the adult paying careful attention to the progress of the juvenile. Another timeless moment as we were drawn into this interface between aquatic animal life and our own in the intersection of land and sea. When we got home, my wife commented that truly we had worshipped God at Mullaloo Cathedral today.
As a final example of how I experience God in the creation, I recall the occasion when I was invited to celebrate a friend’s 60th birthday by joining her and some others as her guests at the Stirling Range Caravan Park with a view to climbing Bluff Knoll together. A month before, Bluff Knoll had been seriously burnt out by a bush fire. The walking trail had been closed because handrails and steps were no long there, so we decided to climb Mt Toolbranup. Among the party, I was the youngest at 40, there was a couple in their late 70s and a 60-ish bloke had undergone a quadruple by-pass surgery 10 weeks before. We set out early and we walked slowly. I was familiar with the trail, and I don’t think I paid that much attention to it. When we reached the summit we were quite amazed. All members of the party had made this climb before and our common experience was that the wind was a persistent companion to the summit. This time, Mothers’ Day in 1993, there was nothing more than the gentlest zephyr of a breeze, the sun was warm and visibility was so good we could actually see the ocean to the south some 90 kilometres away. We settled gently into positions to eat our lunch and savour this place. We talked a bit, but mostly, we sat still and soaked it in – another timeless moment. We were on the summit for over an hour and the weather conditions didn’t change. We all felt reluctant to leave. There was a sense of holy awe for us all in that place. Later that evening I had the pleasure of leading a real thanksgiving Eucharist for us all, with words that rekindled that awe and our joy in God in the mountains.
In these places, my Spirit has been kindled with life by the God who is there and in me. I may not have had the vocabulary of Teilhard de Chardin and Matthew Fox but my spirituality has been gently and most definitely nurtured in the heart of the Creation. Herein lies, I think, my unwavering conviction that God is present with me no matter what crap life chooses to dish out for me. Troubles do not drive me away from God; rather they drive me deeper into him.
I realise now that while I may had adopted and used the language of dualism for much of my spiritual life, my experience of life has found that a dualistic interpretation of life doesn’t quite fit. I don’t think I ever got to thinking I was odd for this, but as I reflect on my 50 years of Christian life I can’t recognise a time when dualism reigned as my cosmology.
BUT it wasn’t till very recent times that I was introduced to a vocabulary that would make sense of it all, and the work of Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry and Matthew Fox are at the heart of it. I came across this work aurally, not through the written word. Thirty eight MP3 recordings of telephone conversations with a wide range of thought leaders from the worlds of science, theology and ministry from many different traditions of church, made up a series called “The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity: Conversations at the Leading Edge of Faith”. It was these that helped me formulate a vocabulary that made sense of my spirituality.