Wednesday, March 26, 2008

God's Grandeur

Last August, I spent about a week on a solo spiritual retreat in the Rockies. One particular day was dreary and overcast, so after my morning latte at Bongo Billy's in Buena Vista, I set out with no specific destination, just searching for blue skies and sunshine to lift my spirits.

When I reached Poncha Springs, I turned west on US 50 toward Monarch Pass. A few miles out of town, I was "greeted" by the scene you see pictured here. I was so struck by it, I had to pull off on the shoulder and take a picture.

Now I am certainly practical enough to know that regular people live and work in the Rockies, and those regular people need electricity for their homes and businesses--just as you and I do. But knowing this intellectually and being confronted with the harsh, ugly reality that is a consequence of this knowing are quite different experiences. So much for lifting my spirits. I drove on in dreary silence.

Near the top, I saw a sign for "Old Monarch Pass," so I veered off onto what was little more than a wide rocky trail. It took me to this beautiful, absolutely pristine view:

The several hours I spent up here were the high point of my trip (I'll elaborate in future postings). But one of the most powerful memories I brought down off that mountain with me was the echo of one of my favorite poems, Gerard Manley Hopkins' "God's Grandeur."
THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Standing on top of a mountain in the middle of the Rockies, it isn't hard to understand that the world is a pretty big place, and you and I are pretty small. And yes, we are certainly able to sear, blear, and smear God's wonderful creation, with our careless and ceaseless consumption, leaving behind our smudges and smells. But, do what we may, "nature is never spent," because God's Spirit "broods" over the world.

Hopkins' delightful double entendre here offers a valuable insight into God's nature. God the nurturing mother hen provides the warmth and protection without which we and our world would be no more than dead, lifeless shells. But this Divine Protector also watches with constant worrying care, anxious to see if we will use wisely this precious gift of inexhaustible renewal.

That's definitely something Jesus would GARA about!


Monday, March 24, 2008

First Salvo

A few years back, near the end of the "WWJD" craze, I started thinking about similar ways to phrase a clarifying, faith-oriented, litmus-style question, but ways that would be not only more widely applicable but also not linked in most people's minds to a narrow and predefined theological perspective. What I came up with was "Would Jesus Give a Rat's Ass About This?" (abbreviated "WJGARAAT").

My original plan was to design and market a line of bracelets, t-shirts, and caps emblazoned with this bold motto and make enough money to retire . . . but I never got around to it.

In retrospect, this blog is probably a more appropriate use. I don't really want to retire yet, but more importantly, one of my most enduring convictions is that much of what passes as non-negotiable in many Christians circles are issues about which Jesus could not care less.

So, fond as I am of colorful colloquialisms, there was something irresistible about WJGARAAT as the name of a venue for airing some of my mind's more aromatic mulch. I hope it will also serve as the starting point for meaningful dialogue.