I like being outside. A lot. To the point where if I’m not, if I’m inside, a room can seem cheeky and false. After all, outside things are honest, there’s a respect we have to give to the bluster and twigs, the red-orange poppies and the mud clods in wide, open fields.
Sometimes I will go outside, rather systematically when I’m working, as I imagine I would if there were a water cooler down the hallway, and walk to the end of the driveway and look up to retrain my thoughts to follow what really matters. Agoraphobia can be a fear of closed spaces as much as open spaces; the term originally referred to a fear of the market place, of being around people, and these days there’s a lot more people inside than outside, at least here in north America. Think malls and The Olive Garden.
What matters when I’m at the end of our driveway looking up, is the two tall pine trees, overgrown really, that make their way into the sky on slight curves, so that eventually the two trees meet, clasping branches so to speak, in the air 50 feet or so above me. On most days it’s the closest I can get to God in a literal way—I know literal isn’t the right word to use, I guess what I mean is my literal understanding of his power, grace, love, plan, joy, patience, etc.
Do I believe these things about him? If I’m looking up at the trees, with the pine needles at my feet, I’m forced to follow through; God is God or he’s not, and if he’s not, then this craziness I’m looking at needs an explanation. I love the article Eric Metaxes recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal. He makes the point that four key forces necessary for the universe to exist were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang, which is like flipping a coin some crazy amount of times—like a number with bunches and bunches of zeros that go off the page—and come up heads each time. And this, as far as I’m concerned, having no knowledge of physics, means that the two trees at the end of my driveway seal the deal.
There are millions of other things that seal the deal for me. Water, for one. Water’s crazy. When I was maybe 4 or 5, before I started school—this is back when kids could roam—I remember sitting on a little wooden bridge looking down at a stream. There were crawdads in the water and it was so clear I just watched them, perhaps for hours. I decided right then that water was the most beautiful thing that existed and I’ve never changed my mind. The crawdads were super cool, and kept my attention, but it was the water that amazed me. How could something that you could see through be so real? Something that you could walk through, and dip into? And drink?
Later, when I learned that water was two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen, I was disappointed. It deflated my experience of sitting on the bridge and watching the crawdads. I’m not completely sure why, but I’ve thought a lot about it. It’s a paradox to me how we try so hard to explain stuff, and then once we do, we can lose sight of God. Pride, perhaps.
Maybe the reason I was disappointed to learn the molecular structure of water, is because it lost some mystery to me. As a five year old, as far as I was concerned, when I was looking at water I was looking at magic. And since I believed in God, it was his magic.
Of course it still is his magic, and even more so now, because, as Metaxes’ article points out, the more we know, the more we don't know. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research has “found” the Higgs Boson, but this only opens up more questions, more magic, because now we have to figure out this universe thing: parallel universes? String theory? Evolution doesn’t settle anything.
I have to admit, even though I don’t understand most of it, I’m drawn to physics because it brings me back to the water thing. It’s pure insanity. Physicists have found that certain particles will act differently depending on whether they are being observed. What? Are you kidding me? Just like water did when I was five, it defies what I understand to be true.
Which actually brings me back to my previous post about Heaven. A friend of mine who works for the National Forest Preserve, after reading it told me the two ways that he thinks about eternity: 1. Like me, he assumes we will be in an entirely different state, or 2. Time will exist and it’s inherently good, because it will allow us to learn more and more about God; his power, grace, love, plan, etc. And my friend should know, right? I mean, among other things, his job is to look up at pine trees.