Sunday, September 18, 2016

Bible Road Trips: Pathways in Creation

Paul Gauguin, "Pere Jean's Path" (1885)
The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on these scriptures. 

Read Genesis 1:1-2:4

There is a famous Jethro Tull song, "Locomotive Breath," about a man facing imminent death, who picks up a Bible and turns to the first page. If you were a person in a desperate situation, and if you reach for a Bible, where would you start?

We all know what that first page contains: the story of God’s creation of all things. It is soon followed by the stories of Adam and Eve in the garden.

The cadence of the writer of Genesis 1:1-2:4 (called “the priestly writer” by biblical scholars) is familiar but it never gets old. God says… and it was so… and it was good…. evening and morning… If you’re like me, the words take you out of the indoor setting where you’re reading the Bible and sets you in the natural world, perhaps a favorite location where you feel close to God. Perhaps you begin to imagine the greater natural processes: the formation of the planet reflected in great geological formations, the shifting of tectonic plates, and beyond our own world, the planets, stars, constellations.

A wonderful thing about Bible study is that, as you delve into that long text over a period of time, you begin to see connections. For instance, you read Genesis 1, but you remember some of the psalms praise God while extolling the wonders of creation: for instance,e Psalm 8, 19, and 104. So did the prophets (Second Isaiah being a notable example) who saw the strength of God in international relations connected to God’s might in the natural world. When we get to the New Testament, we learn that not only is Jesus our savior but the meaning of creation:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:15-17).

Of course, we don’t hear about highways and roads in Genesis 1---and these devotions have been about Bible roads. But I grew up wandering my grandmother's farm, which had paths worn by the cows who grazed her pastures, and so when I read Genesis 1, in my imagination I see the pathways worn by the larger animals of God’s creation. The animals roam, migrate.

The lions roar for their prey
    and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away;
    they return and lie down in their dens (Ps. 104:21-22).

And where they roam, they wear down the earth.
Through our history as a species, humans have used animal trails, for we too have migrated and wandered, seeking the things we need. I remember a historic marker along US 150 in Indiana, commemorating the buffalo trail that had one crossed that area from the river to the hills, and early settlers of that area used the trail. But, of course, humans introduce technology as we claim our dominion over creation, and our trails and paths become wide and hard enough to use repeatedly by our vehicles.

What beauty simply to follow a trail, though, unspoiled by human technology. To follow the animals in their way brings peace of mind; how wonderful are my childhood memories of following those paths on Grandma's farm.

But whether you take the pathways of nature or technology, think about page 1 of Genesis as a call for you to keeping journeying and exploring God’s beautiful world. It can be the natural world, or beautiful human-made places. A Facebook friend noted the anniversary of a friend’s suicide and sadly commented, “She never saw California, she never saw Paris!” If you’re struggling with something in your life, make a goal to journey to some new location—even if it’s a local place. Walk the grass and enjoy the trees. Know that God cares for you and guides you and has made all things good.

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