Sometimes there can be something very powerful right above you, and you’re not even aware of it.
I’ve found this out a few times while on a walk in a nature area.
I’ll think I’m totally alone: I don’t see or hear any other creature.
But then suddenly a large shadow will zoom across the path in front of my feet.
I look up to see what the shadow belongs to, and spot a majestic red-tailed hawk. He’d probably been circling above me the whole time, but he was so silent that I didn’t know he was there.
Recently, I came across two large, striped feathers on the ground. Their tell-tale markings told me they belonged to a bird of prey. Looking up into a nearby tree, I was surprised to see a hawk perched by its nest. I’d walked underneath the same tree many times before without realizing the nest was even there.
In each case, the bird had been right there with me, but I initially hadn’t been aware of its presence.
Similarly, sometimes we feel that God isn’t near us.
We can’t see or hear Him. We can’t seem to feel His presence in our lives. It feels like we’re alone in our struggles.
But there is something (or rather, Someone) powerful right above us, who promises to never leave us or forsake us. God’s children are never truly alone.
They say elephants never forget; I think the same may be true of cats.
A friend of mine recently downsized by moving into the lower level of her own home and renting out the upstairs.
She’s perfectly happy with the arrangement. One of her cats, however, is not.
This cat remembers that he once had the run of the entire house. He still recalls that there was a wonderful place called Upstairs.
Despite having lots of room to roam downstairs, including access to a big backyard, this cat keeps trying to break into the upper level of the house. I’m told he meows plaintively at the connecting door between the two units, and tries to pry it open with his paw.
This cat knows that there’s something missing in his life. Even though Downstairs is perfectly nice, he still feels the ache to be Upstairs once again.
I think many of us know the feeling.
We have an innate sense that this world is not as it should be.
It’s broken in some way: there’s something missing.
Humans seem to have a mysterious longing for a world set right. We ache for it, even though we haven’t experienced it.
Whenever I did something wrong as a little girl, I thought I had a surefire way of escaping my parents.
I would hide behind a large potted plant we had and close my eyes.
Somehow, I thought that my parents wouldn’t be able to see me if I did this. Unfortunately for me, their eyesight was a bit better than I’d bargained on.
If you look at the natural world, you’ll find that I’m not the only one who often thinks they can’t be seen.
Take the blue tang fish, made famous by its cartoon equivalent in the Pixar movies “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.”
Like a few other reef fish, this aquatic animal is blue and yellow. To other fish and to its predators, the blue tang is perfectly camouflaged. To them, its yellow markings seem to disappear against similarly coloured corals, and its blue body blends in with the shade of the water.
There’s only one problem:
To snorkelling humans, the blue tang sticks out like a sore thumb. Far from being camouflaged, this fish’s dramatic colours are incredibly conspicuous to our eyes. Why is that?
It’s because our eyesight is very different from that of undersea creatures. The particular trio of cones in human vision is especially good at discriminating blues and yellows.
So what is hidden to other fish is glaringly obvious to us.
I think God’s “eyesight” works in a similar fashion.
Welcome to Spring!
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, today marks the vernal equinox, the first day of astronomical spring. (For those Down Under, this day heralds the arrival of autumn.)
The return of spring signals longer days with more sunlight and warmer temperatures. Even though it may take a while to see blooming flowers (especially in Canada!), the spring equinox is a reminder that brighter days are ahead.
But what exactly is an equinox?
We have two of them each year, in spring and fall. Each one marks the day when the sun is directly above the Earth’s equator (from our perspective), and night and day are of equal length.
The sun’s path then crosses the celestial equator (an imaginary line or circle in the sky directly above the Earth’s equator), and heads north or south, depending on the time of year.
At the spring equinox, the sun is rising into the Northern Hemisphere: it’s our turn for renewal.
But no matter where you live on the planet or what time of year it is, you can experience a new season of rebirth in your life.
Your new beginning comes when the Son rises in your life.
What do you see when you look at a tree?
Probably the same things I do: its pleasing shape, the attractiveness of the leaves, its height, or the welcoming shade it casts. The presence of flowers, fruit, or nuts on its branches would also catch my attention.
But someone who wants to use the tree will look at it quite differently.
A woodworker will assess a tree’s trunk and branches and have a sense of the quality of wood it will bear. He or she will know which areas will produce the truest grain, and whether the core of the tree is likely to be “conky,” or decayed inside.
My grandfather could judge a tree in this way.
He could discern how the way the tree had grown and the stresses it had been exposed to would combine to make the strongest grain. He could point to the best part of the tree out of which to make an axe handle, for instance.
My grandfather and I could look at the same tree but see entirely different things. I would consider the outside, but he would look much deeper.
I think God’s vision works in the latter way.
Can storms be beautiful?
Yes, if you’re far enough away from them!
The most distinctive feature of the planet Jupiter, its Great Red Spot, is actually a massive storm.
Astronomers have been observing this maelstrom continuously since 1878, but it’s likely that it had been raging for centuries before that. The size of this storm is so vast that it could swallow the entire earth.
From a safe distance away here on earth, the Great Red Spot’s colourful swirls are beautiful, like marbled ice cream or the end papers of antique books. Jupiter’s storms appear to us like abstract art; indeed, images of them have appeared on everything from posters and ties to bedsheets and yoga mats.
But up close, they’re violent tempests, howling hurricanes of ammonia and water. Because Jupiter is a gaseous planet, there is no solid ground to dissipate the energy of these swirling vortexes, as would happen on earth when a hurricane makes landfall. At its edges, the Red Spots’s wind speeds can reach 270-425 mph (430-680 km/h), over twice the speed of even the most monstrous hurricane here on earth.
Do you feel like you’re in a storm like that right now?
Perhaps you’ve been enduring heartache, unemployment, illness, or loneliness.
Maybe it seems like the tempest has been raging in your life for years. Nothing seems to slow it down. From a distance, people can’t see how destructive it is to you.
The good news is that God offers hope to those in the midst of the storms of life.
Have you seen the Milky Way recently?
If you have, you can count yourself among the fortunate.
Astronomers say that light pollution from artificial lights is strong enough in many places to blot out the stars. They’ve calculated that over a third of humanity, and almost 80 percent of North Americans, can no longer see the Milky Way. Indeed, here in Toronto we’re lucky if we can even see the Big Dipper.
Few of us seem to recognize how sad this really is.
Vision scientist Sonke Johnsen does. He wrote:
“The thought of light traveling billions of years from distant galaxies only to be washed out in the last billionth of a second by the glow from the nearest strip mall depresses me no end.”
We seem to devalue the incredible gift of the night skies. We don’t pay it much mind when it’s there. And if we can’t see it any longer, the loss is of little importance to us.
Why is it that losing our connection to the wonder of our galaxy doesn’t seem to bother us? Is it our self-sufficiency? Are we so caught up with our shiny, man-made baubles that we’re blind to our need for something real?
I think this detachment from the cosmos speaks to a spiritual apathy, too.
How is it that we’re indifferent to the awesome gift of the Son of God?
What’s your favourite flower?
Even though I certainly love roses, the tulip holds a special place in my heart. It’s not as showy or fragrant as a rose, but it brings such joy in spring after a long winter.
Among the many types of tulips, I especially like the variegated ones (with multicoloured petals).
But did you know that the dramatic colour combinations of variegated tulips are caused by a virus?
Gardeners had long noticed that tulip petals occasionally “broke” into unusual patterns. But it wasn’t until the late 1500s that botanists realized that the beautiful mixed colouring arising spontaneously in some tulips was actually the result of a disease.
While the tulip-breaking virus causes lovely variegated colouring, it also weakens the tulip bulb, eventually leading to the death of its genetic line.
So how is it that we can still enjoy variegated tulips today? Why haven’t they all died out?
Fortunately, botanists centuries ago learned to graft healthy tulip bulbs onto the diseased or “broken” ones, preserving their lineage. Today, we can enjoy countless cultivars in a dizzying array of colours and patterns.
Doesn’t this remind you of what God does for us?
Why don’t trees freeze to death in winter?
After all, if you or I stood outside naked for several months in sub-zero temperatures, we’d soon be turned into frosty statues.
Trees can’t burrow into the ground and hibernate like bears, and they can’t fly south like migratory birds. They’re fixed in place, at the mercy of the elements.
And yet they somehow survive through the cold depths of winter. Why don’t they turn to ice, since, like other living things, they’re made mostly of water?
Their trick is something called “hardening.”
In autumn, trees in cold climates undergo a change whereby water flows out of their cells. The concentrated sugars, proteins, and acids left behind act as a potent antifreeze. The water now in the spaces between the cells is so pure that ice crystals can’t form. This ultra-pure water can be cooled to -40 degrees F and still remain an ice-free liquid.
Pretty cool, isn’t it?
But what is it that triggers the hardening?
Ah, this is where we can learn a lesson from the trees.
As gardeners know, some plants need their best buddies nearby in order to flourish.
It’s been known for centuries that planting certain combinations of plants together can help the garden prosper. This practice is known as “companion planting.”
For instance, planting alliums such as garlic underneath roses can protect the latter against blackspot and aphids. When lilies and roses are planted together, the scent of each improves.
Yarrow and foxglove have a tonic effect on the plants in their vicinity. Yarrow helps fight off pests, attracts beneficial insects, and improves the soil. Likewise, foxglove stimulates the growth of nearby plants and helps them build up resistance to disease. Planting foxglove under fruit trees improves the storage qualities of the fruit.
Perhaps the ultimate companion plant is marigold. It has traditionally been grown with tomatoes to keep them healthy and produce a better crop. Marigold’s pungent odour disguises the scent of vegetables from pests, preventing them from homing in, and its root secretions kill nematodes that attack plant roots.
Who wouldn’t want such stalwart companions in their corner?
God wants us to have buddies like these on our team, too.