"To change the world we must first change the way we see it; we must see it from a different perspective. A cultivated mind can see the universe in a falling leaf, an orchard in a seed, an ocean in a drop of water, eternity in a grain of sand."
(Joshua Choonmin Kang, in Scripture By Heart)
When my children were young, we would go for strolls and then walks through the neighborhood, parks, and woods, stopping to touch and handle and talk about everything. A twig or leaf would be a reason to talk about a tree, a rock about the earth, the water in a stream about lakes and rivers and faraway places. We would move from the particular to the whole, effortlessly it seemed, as natural as any conversation. We were like amateur ecologists, seeing connections in everything, a web of life.
Back in the house, we'd turn on a spigot and talk about where water came from, the pipes that wound under the city and into the house, and to where the water swirling down the bathtub drain disappeared. Turning a light switch on and off and on and off we would marvel at the power we had, and a power outage would give us new things to talk about, new connections to explore. The curiosity of young children made us consider things we took for granted, marvel at the wonder of life right outside our door, the complicated and wondrous workings of a home, a city, and a world. Nothing was to be taken for granted. Nothing stood alone.
Perhaps it was all that talking, that wondering about connections and origins, or maybe it is the schooling in ecology or planning that I received in urban design school, or then again maybe it is innate, a God-implanted DNA that drives me (and all of us) to move from particular to universal, from a grain of sand to eternity. Or maybe it is all of that. But what I know is that I can't stop thinking about those connections, about how the leaf crunched up in my young son's hand is connected to a twig, a branch, a limb, a trunk, a tree --- to soil, water, and sun, to a Creator who breathes life into and upholds and sustains all things by the power of His word, by His very life.
What Joshua Kang is saying in Scripture By Heart is that meditating on scripture enlarges our perceptivity of reality. We begin to see connections within scripture, great themes of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, and then looking out at the world we see how it resonates with those very same themes. Peering into the landscape of Creation we reflect back on God's words and appreciate anew what once we may have taken for granted. We weep over tragic loss of life to tsunami and we better appreciate that shortest of scripture verses, "Jesus wept." We hold a leaf and marvel at the power of the sun in photosynthesis and better appreciate the phrase "In Him was life, and that life was the light of man." We begin to see things whole, looking out at a world through the prism of His breath, His word.
I am not the first reader to remark on the amazing propinquities that often occur when reading more than one thing at a time. At the same time that I was working through Kang's mediations on memorizing scripture, I was nearing completion of Roy Peter Clark's "meditations" on grammar, The Glamour of Grammar, an infectious (and instructive) guide to language by a man obviously in love with words, at play in in a life of language. Near the end of the book Clark hints at a divine mystery behind language:
Language is a gift, a treasure of evolution but also a spark of the divine. The ancient Hebrew word dabar describes the power of a personal God to speak directly to men and women. In the Gospel of Saint John, Jesus is Logos, the Greek form of Word. The word spirit comes from the word meaning "to breathe," and breath gives us life and something more, the ability to turn air into language.
Clark goes on to contrast the babble of confusion in language after Babel to the clarity of language at Pentecost, concluding that "[i]t is the power of the written and spoken word within us, a power so great it can feel --- when used for a good purpose --- like magic." It reminds me the too rare feeling I have when I write or say something that seems too good to originate with me, too perceptive, and I sense a grace at work, a Babel-wrecking Spirit that fills me with language, speaking and writing through me. It's quite unbidden. It's grace.
Like a smooth pebble in my young son's hand, a crumpled leaf clasped by my little girl, I am holding onto a few scriptures, rolling them over and over in my mind. And sometimes I see connections, perceive that behind the rooms of the words are larger rooms of meaning, deeper connections to other words, grander themes of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. I pull the thread of one verse and find it reaches back into a tapestry of words, of life itself, back to a God who holds all things in His hand, pull until taut I realize Who has hold of the other end and is pulling me in. Just as I can't imagine not pausing with my young son to watch the water in a stream flow, to wonder from where it comes and to where it rushes, I can't brush by scripture and not ponder its meaning, its connection to the whole, to the Writer who set it down. At least I better not.
A universe in a grain of sand? You bet. It's all there, full of magic and mystery. You just have to stop, take hold of it, and listen.