Friday, June 25, 2010

Seeking perfection…

Forgive me, please. I’m about to regale y’all with another summer camp story (that makes three in one week- 1 sermon, 2 letters). But I think you’ll find this interesting, and besides, those who’ve been to summer camp know that it sticks with you after you leave; if you had a good time at camp, at least, it’s hard to get off the mind. Which is another reason we do camp.

Anyway, on Wednesday of last week, the camp I was directing explored the question, “How do I see God in nature?” We did this throughout the day in many ways, but my favorite was that evening’s nature walk. Our instructions were simple- Walk together through the woods and fields surrounding camp, and search for things that help you see God in Nature. We, then, collected those items, and thanks to the artistic talents of a few campers, created a quite beautiful collage.

To be honest, I’m not sure the campers had nearly as much fun on this as I did! Not that they didn’t enjoy themselves, but nature walks combined with theological thinking plays quite naturally to my strengths and interests (fyi, I didn’t plan the really, I promise). So while it was neat and relaxing to these young women and man, to me it was beyond wonderful. And since my counselor led most of this event, I just floated in back of the group, looking at rocks and trees, dreaming up as much about God-in-nature as possible. Serene.

At one point, we wandered near some rocks. I bent over, looking more closely, and noticed a small, fragile green bud of some sort. It struck me as something God would endorse- Vulnerability in the midst of power. Remember 2 Corinthians 12:10? St. Paul claims of Christ’s presence in his life, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Another discovery was a yellow flower, also tiny and delicate, seemingly destined for immediate destruction. But the subtlety of its stem and elegance of its minute petals helped me remember God. It reminded me that God locates beauty not only in the grandness and grace of rolling thunderclouds, the dynamic brilliance of lightning flashes, or the majestic strength of mountain ranges. God also pays close attention to the details of life, the simplest places- a glance of support when you see another struggling with packages at the store, the simple kindness of holding open a door, the unseen love of picking up a piece of trash left behind by someone else. Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “Whatsoever you did this to the greatest among you…” Jesus said, “Whatsoever you did unto my children, even the least, you did so unto me.”

My favorite insight on this nature walk, though, happened near the beginning. Nearly ten minutes in, and I hadn’t yet collected anything for our collage. I wasn’t yet willing, you see, to choose one leaf or flower over another, because I wanted to find the perfect leaf. Not any-ol’ leaf, with caterpillar bites leaving strange-shaped holes, or stunted growth due to high winds. Most of the leaves were that way, so I walked on, waiting. “After all,” I told myself, “I’m looking for God in nature, so I can’t choose any of these imperfect options.”

Until it struck me- Since when is God in nature, or anywhere else, about perfection?! Yes, in Matthew 5:48, Jesus says, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” But no one, not even Jesus, thought that was more than an ideal- worth striving for, but impossible to achieve. Otherwise, why would forgiveness matter? Instead, God has always excelled at putting imperfect people in the perfect situation (Moses, Esther, Abraham, Deborah, Paul, Mary Magdalene, Peter); helping God’s children turn their limitations into limitless magnificence and love. Why look for God in nature by searching for the perfect leaf, when that’s not how God searches for us? So I picked a broken leaf, with caterpillar holes and a stunted stem. And I thanked God for always being present in my imperfect life. God’s design in nature, indeed!

What about you? Where do you see God in nature?

Grace and Peace,


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