Did you notice that Pope Francis in his Epiphany homily referred to guide books?
If you have ever travelled in a foreign country you will know just how helpful a good guide-book can be. It will save you time and money, giving travel tips for food and accommodation, directions and sights to see.
But the pope was not speaking about foreign travel. Instead he spoke of the “two great ‘books'” which guide the pilgrim through the journey of life.
“Like the Magi, every person has two great “books” which provide the signs to guide this pilgrimage: the book of creation and the book of sacred Scripture.”
That the pope suggests the Bible as a guide is no surprise. But what about the “book” of creation? How is creation a text that can be read as a guide for our pilgrimage?
It seems to me that most people are pretty good at reading the first chapters of God’s book of creation. This morning as I drove alongside the ocean at Gore Bay, ten minutes drive from Cheviot, I was moved by the beauty of the ocean, cliff formation and native bush. The beauty of this creation had the effect of raising my mind and heart to God, since how is it possible to savour a beautiful work of art without a curiosity about and admiration for the artist. The fact that I was moved by the land and seascapes of Gore Bay is a sign that I am able to read these natural scenes as a language about God.
Forty five minutes up the road from my home tourists flock to Kaikoura to see the whales. Like a sea or mountain landscape, the creatures of the animal kingdom are also a chapter in God’s creative mission.
All of the aspects of the created world are preparation for the ultimate divine creative activity, that is when God creates male and female “in his own image” (Genesis 1:26-27). But this is the part of God’s guide-book that we often struggle with. I never look at a mountain and think I could improve on the design, perhaps carve a bit of here and round off a few peaks there. Neither do I look at a whale and judge it to be “ugly” or suggest that it needs to lose a bit of weight or brush-up on its swimming stroke. I simply accept the reality of these creations, appreciate the beauty, and relax in awe of the creator.
However when I look at a crowd of people, I come to the encounter loaded with prejudices and judgements. My vision is blurred. My hearing is dulled, My senses are numbed by my own fears and superficial likes and dislikes. Put simply, when it comes to reading the divine communication that human beings are about God, I have forgotten the language and fumble about like an illiterate in a library.
Pope Francis continues his homily reminding us that “what is important is that we be attentive, alert, and listen to God who speaks to us, who always speaks to us.” This highlights the problem that we have if we cannot hear the voice of God, especially in every human person who is, after all, the ultimate work of God’s creation. If God is speaking, I want to hear. I NEED to hear the voice of God. I cannot live without this, like the lover who lives longing to hear the voice of the beloved.
I’ll take this reflection a step further tomorrow suggesting a simple and practical remedy for our illiteracy when it comes to the reading the language of God in the created world, and especially in the people who surround us.
above, beach at Gore Bay. below, Cathedral Cliffs, Gore Bay