There's a skin of the landscape I'm beginning to peel back, and I'm finding a map of sorts in the world around me; a landscape of prayer, creation that cannot help but praise the creator. Symbols in the landscape beckon me further up and further in. When I'm on the prairie, the barriers come down. My need to stay busy dissolves, my frustrations calm, and I am free to be still. (Cindy Crosby, in By Willoway Brook: Exploring the Landscape of Prayer)
Mostly, when I'm out walking, I'm moving. I hear the pounding of my feet on asphalt and my somewhat labored breath. I have to make a conscious effort to focus on the landscape around me, because I'm exercising. I have a plan. I have a goal. I have miles to cover.
What Cindy Crosby is describing is something else altogether, something it's difficult to get out walking for exercise. It's a meditation on the landscape -- looking, listening, smelling, and touching it. Adam knew about this. When God sent the animals to him for naming, Adam, in that pre-Fall state, would not have flippantly said the first name that came to mind. He would have looked at what manner of creature was in front of him and given it a name summoned up by its appearance or sound. To name something or someone is to know it or them. It would have been much as he named Eve "woman," as she was "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. . . [and] taken out of man. (The Hebrew word for "woman" sounds like the word for "man," but we can assume the "wo" is added because she may be like man but oh so, so different! And then, as he later knows her better, he names her "Eve," which means "living.")
It's difficult to practice this kind of knowing of our landscape, our surroundings, given the pace of life, but it's worth it. A few years ago my daughter and I made a project of naming every tree in our backyard. To do that we had to look at the profile of the tree, the shape of the leaf, and the bark. We had to get to know them a bit. It took some time. But now I feel like I know them, that is, in the only way you can know a tree, so when I walk in the backyard it's a familiar and oddly comforting community. I'm not being sentimental or making them more than they are, not being anthropocentric. They are just trees and, unlike me, they are not made in God's image. But they are made by His hand and so we share a common origin.
What I guess I'm trying to say is that I'm more at home here when I better know the other living things that live here with me. I'm glad to know the trees and the birds that live here. Certainly I've been entertained by the antics of the squirrels. My backyard is full of life.
Crosby ties this knowing of the landscape, the living community around us, to prayer. When she is in the Schulenberg Prairie near her home in the western suburbs of Chicago, she says she is "free to be still." The tallgrass prairie gives her all kinds of reasons to pray. Like the monarch butterfly, encoded with the memory of a place in Mexico to which they go each Fall, a place they have no memory of and yet the longing for which they are encoded. The butterflies homing instinct makes her wonder if we are all encoded with that longing for home, for God, and it drives her to prayer.
You know, I'll bet there are such symbols all around me. I just need to open my eyes and look well. I certainly can't look at what's here without thankfulness welling up in me. There's not an animal or plant or inanimate object here that's not pointing out, to God.
There's a lot going on in my backyard.