Sunday, May 24, 2015

God's Economy: Muchness and Delight

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
    where morning dawns, where evening fades,
    you call forth songs of joy.  Psalm 65:8 
A few weeks ago a friend and I went to visit Shenk’s FerryWildflower Preserve, a narrow cut of land that follows a steep ravine draining into the Susquehanna. In spring, it’s carpeted with native wildflowers: thousands of trillium, bluebells, trout lily, and more.

I mentioned to an older acquaintance that I would be going and how surprised and amazed I was the first time I went, and she smiled, and nodded, and said “It’s the  . . . . “ 

She looked around, as if looking for the exact right word, then smiled even more: “the muchness of it.”


I’ve been trying to find a proper word for what she meant, and in English, we don’t have one. Plenty, abundance: those refer to quantity, but don’t capture the idea of more than enough in both quantity and diversity, the rich, varied, suprising “muchness” evident at Shenk’s Ferry.

Amazing that a forgotten strip of ground, owned until recently by a local power company, barely accessible by steep, rocky, rutted roads, would explode into beauty every spring. There’s no way photos can do justice to the effect, or capture the delight of standing on the narrow path, surrounded by the fleeting loveliness of flowers rarely seen in such stunning multitudes.

For those who make the pilgrimage, there’s a sense of wonder in looking over the flowers, trying to identify the unfamiliar, marveling at the variation in shade, size, combination.

Sitting on the stones by the stream at the head of the ravine, I found myself wondering what the world was like, before so much was flattened, and plowed, and rearranged to look so much the same. I found myself reflecting that our vision of control runs contrary to God’s original design. Our monolithic, monoculture,  “my way or the highway” steam-roller approach has cost us much of the beauty and abundance initially intended. Small pockets of beauty have barely escaped; Shenk’s Ferry itself was targeted for a new pipeline, just recently rerouted to cut along existing farmland instead.

Another spring activity for me is bird-watching more than usual, in hopes of seeing the migrating birds that pass through our region on their way further north, or of spotting where returning birds build their nests. Our Thursday morning bird walks lengthen as we linger to identify unfamiliar warblers, or wait to see where the Orchard Oriole is building its intricate woven nest.

With birds, as with wildflowers, there is muchness and delight: birdsong, if you can hear it, in the middle of the night, as songbirds pass on their nocturnal flight. Birdsong before dawn, as wrens and warblers announce the coming of the dawn. Delight at the loveliness of tiny acrobats, capturing invisible insects to take back to their tiny moss-lined nests. Delight at learning to recognize the exuberant song of a warbling vireo.
my backyard House wren; photo by Leslie Peed

One of our birding group, decades older than me, sometimes announces with great satisfaction at the end of a morning walk: “Well, I learned something again.”

Yes. Muchness and delight. We will never come to the end of it, no matter how we try.

This week I attended the graduation exercise of our local community college. I’ve been to many graduations, Ivy League and small liberal arts, public and private high schools. This time I was seated where I could see the faces of the graduates just before they turned to mount the platform to receive their diplomas.

I had never seen such a varied group of students: old, young, dignified, merry, every shade and texture of hair and skin.

And I had never felt such joy in a graduation ceremony: the sense of accomplishment, of relief, of a step toward a hard-won future.

Watching the faces, it struck me, forcefully, that God sees and delights in them, the muchness of them, the vivid variety, the unique, intricate beauty, the way wildflower enthusiasts delight in the flowers of Shenk’s Ferry.

I found myself envisioning God lingering over each, as we linger over the migrating birds: look at the energy and endurance here. Look at the gentle dignity here. Look at the sweet spirit, the stunning smile. Look at the tender, teachable heart.,Look at the lovely lively laugh.

I enjoy learning the names of wildflowers. I find it a form of poetry: Trillium grandiflorum. Anemone Canadensis.

I hear that same poetry and joy in the voices of those learning to recognize new birds: Blackburnian warbler. Acadian flycatcher. Swainson’s thrush.

Far beyond that was the reading of names at Thursday’s graduation: Anna, Asher, Abdul, Abdalaziz, Amber, Andrew, Ayodeji, Amir, Afrin, Alan, Angel.

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the work of God’s spirit in breaking down walls, reuniting his people, empowering his body to live and work as one.   

The poetry of muchness and delight is part of today’s reading: 
“Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontusand Asia,  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome(both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Acts 2:7-11 
Around the globe today that reading will be heard, in Greek, Arabic, Mandarin, Urdu, Gujarati, Assamese, Maori, Zulu, and more than two thousand other languages. 

God’s poetry of Pentecost continues.

The more we learn of microclimates and living systems, of microorganisms and cell biology, the more clearly we see the reality ofinterdependence, the need for a grand diversity in people, plants, creatures.

Yet there’s something in God’s economy that goes past need, past utility, that passes over into art, beauty, exuberant delight. How many variations of common violet do we need? 

For utility, maybe one. 

For delight? Apparently many: more than five hundred, in a wild array of colors, shapes, and patterns.

Left to ourselves, we want what looks like us, what’s most familiar, easiest to understand.

God’s economy lifts us beyond that, into a rich world of muchness and delight, more varied, more beautiful, more vibrantly healthy, more endlessly joyful, than we can yet imagine.   

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.  Psalm 36

This post is part of a series on God's Economy. Other posts:

Fruit that Will Last April 19, 2015