Time with fellow creatures  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , ,

Somehow summer doesn’t seem like summer if we haven’t had the chance to get outside the city for a while. Created from the stuff of the earth, there is something in our humanity that responds naturally, viscerally to the created world. Though on the side of personhood we share something that sets us aside from the rest of creation in bearing God’s image, we are also creatures and thus fit in creation with our fellow creatures. It is a relationship both important and deep, and something to be both cherished and nourished.

Last month Dave and Paula Kauffman once again loaned us their cabin outside Minocqua, WI—such astounding generosity. The week there, besides being a time to be with family, gave us the grace of time outside the city.

Between the cabin and the dock is a massive white pine, one of the largest and oldest trees on the lake. A red squirrel prowls its branches, occasionally coming down the trunk to run frantically across the ground to another tree. Lichens and other parasites colonize the branches and trunks with abstract designs of color and texture. Along the water is a small stand of hemlocks, their delicate cones and two-toned needles (white on the underside) so different from the bulk of the white pine.

Rain has been regular this summer, so the ground is saturated. Mushrooms sprout, some so tiny that they are hard to spot while others break up through the leaf and needle litter in the woods like some mysterious white growth bursting into view. Some were stout and flared, others neatly topped like a table, and a few tall, delicate and slender. In several places I found the fabled fairy ring, brownish tinted white mushrooms growing together to form a circle in the grass. Mushrooms in a ring are connected by a lacey network of threadlike mycelia spreading out underground, and as I walked around them I wondered what was lurking unseen beneath my feet.

Branching off from the lake is a small river or creek that meanders into a marsh populated with herons, little flocks of ducks, and turtles sunning on logs. As we approached in the canoe they sat motionless and then slipped with a quiet plop into the water and disappeared. Ducks watched nervously and then noisily flew away, as if protesting our interruption. We canoed through masses of lily pads, the white blossoms floating on the surface. The water of the lake is the color of iced tea, much darker than previous years. I had always thought that the color came from the iron that is found in the soil. When I asked about it, I was told the color was from the tannin of tamarack pine trees, a species that grows prolifically in the swamps and marshes through which the creeks pass that flow into the lake.

I sat and looked at a submerged log near the edge of the lake, a clump of grass sprouting from one end. I wondered how many species were clinging to life there and how they would fare as autumn turned to winter.

At night loons cried in the darkness, their eerie calls echoing over the water. Bald eagles floated effortlessly in the sky, one swooping down to skim just above the surface to pluck a fish from the water. A kingfisher sat on a branch of a tree near the lake over a body of reeds, occasionally splashing down to catch dinner. One evening we were surprised when a badger waddled across the grass. When we walked over to look it went under the cabin’s front steps and froze, almost like it was daring us to come closer. Instead we looked, and backed away, leaving it to whatever business it was on.

How is it that these things so refresh my soul? Why is it that stopping to look, and watch, and listen, and be still nurtures our humanity in ways that nothing else does? And how can I keep the memory of it, of the glimpses of glory that nature reveals alive in my memory and heart now that I have returned to my life in the city?

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You stated, "Created from the stuff of the earth, there is something in our humanity that responds naturally, viscerally to the created world." You briefly mentioned that we're set apart from the rest of creation because we're created in the image of God, but I wonder; is it possible that we respond to creation because we're made in the image of the Creator (not even as much because we're made from dirt)? I have no scripture to back me up; I'm just wondering.

September 13, 2010 at 12:31 AM

Yes, it is possible. On the other hand, we aren't told.

One of the intriguing things about the notion of being created in God's image is that the Scripture never goes into detail defining it. All sorts of various definitions have been suggested, various things that set humanity apart from the rest of creation: language, culture making, ability to worship, reason. In reality we don't know. Calvin suggested the image is related to our calling to care for and work in God's world, since both are together in the text.

In the end we don't know, and I think that is good. We are made in God's image, and though we must assert that belief, we must be humble in knowing what it means.

I wrote as I did to try to call attention that we are not only God's image bearers, but also fellow creatures with the rest of what God has called into existence. This is a real, meaningful relationship that is often demeaned in Christian circles but shouldn't be. It is essential to our existence and identity.

I suspect you point to a truth--all this is mixed into one mysterious reality that all comes together in the reality of life. Because we are creatures made in God's image we identify with fellow creatures who are not but which share our creatureliness.

September 13, 2010 at 11:41 AM

Ok, good points. Thanks again for making me look at everything in a new light. I'm tempted to wade through the myriad of potential "if/then" statements that could be applied to the conversation. On the other hand, maybe I'll just take a drive through the woods and soak in the deep restfulness that we easily find there.

September 13, 2010 at 6:39 PM

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