Observing and Contemplating Nature

Wasps will to tend to gravitate towards an open pot of jam even though it may be only one small object among many others in the room. But since the wasps are interested in the jam, that is what they notice.

A similar principle governs the way many of us tend to perceive the surrounding world much of the time. We notice the things that have some meaning and relevance within our personal orbit of interest and understanding. Yet all kinds of other facets of the surrounding environment may escape our attention completely.

To experience the presence of God in nature (and indeed anywhere), one must be willing to detach oneself from the pull of worldly ego-interest so as to become open to higher levels of awareness.

When a person physically leaves the man-made world of buildings, highways, technology and culture and gets out into natural surroundings -- wide, open meadows, mountains, forests, lakes, seas, deserts -- the first reactions may be joy and relief ("It's so beautiful, so tranquil..."). Then, as one relaxes and puts aside thoughts of the everyday world, one begins to notice that a whole complex universe of plants, insects, animals and birds is in a state of busy activity all around....

Careful observation and thoughtful contemplation of nature soon teaches us how little we know and understand about life and the world. This in itself engenders the humility that is necessary in order to begin to experience the divine.

This quality of humility is really the summit of the Mountain that Abraham was traveling towards all his life. "Who shall go up the mountain of HaVaYaH and who will stand in the place of His holiness? The person with clean hands and a pure heart...." (Psalms 24:3-4)

At the climax of the Book of Job, one of the most eloquent passages in the whole Bible teaches us how detailed observation and contemplation of the natural world has the power to instill in us a profound sense of our own smallness and our ignorance about the amazing world in which God has placed us. The Book of Job describes how the righteous, pious Job is suddenly struck with terrible personal tragedy and painful diseases. Job cannot accept that there is any justice in his suffering, despite lengthy speeches delivered by friends who have come to visit him attempting to persuade him that there must be justice in it since suffering is sent by God, and God is just.

After all the arguments and counter-arguments, God Himself answers Job "out of the whirlwind" (Job ch's 38ff.). God's "answer" is a series of challenges to Job as to whether he understands the meaning of all kinds of phenomena in the natural world. If Job's understanding of the surrounding world is so limited, why should he expect to be able to comprehend the deep mysteries involved in why people go through pain and suffering?

Then HaVaYaH answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you questions, and you tell Me!

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have the understanding. Who determined its measurements -- if you know -- or who stretched out the measuring line over it? On what were its foundations fixed? Who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

Or who shut up the sea with doors when it broke forth and came from the womb? When I made it a garment of cloud and wrapped it in thick darkness and imposed My decree on it and set bars and doors and said, "This far you may come but no further, and here your proud waves must stop."

Have you commanded the morning since your days began or told the dawn its place, that it might take hold of the ends of the earth and the wicked will be shaken out of it?...

Have you entered into the wellsprings of the sea, or have you walked in the recesses of the deep?

Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you surveyed the very breadths of the earth? Declare, if you know it all.

What is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you should follow it to its bounds and know the paths to its house?

You know it, for you were born then and the number of your days if great!

Have you entered the treasures of the snow, or have you seen the treasuries of the hail that I have saved for a time of trouble, the day of battle and war?

By which way is the light parted or the east wind scattered on the earth? Who has broken a channel for the waterflood or a way for lightning and thunder, to make it rain on a land where there is no man, on the wilderness where there is no man, in order to satisfy the desolate and waste ground and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth? Does the rain have a father? Who has given birth to the drops of dew. From whose womb came the ice? Who gave birth to the hoar-frost of heaven? The waters are congealed like stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.

Can you bind the chains of the stars of the Pleiades or loosen the bands of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazarot in their season? Or can you guide the Bear with her sons? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish its rule over the earth?

Can you lift up your voice to the clouds so that abundant waters will cover you? Can you send forth lightning flashes so that they will go forth and say to you "Here we are"?

Who has put wisdom in the inward parts? Or who has given understanding to the mind? Who can number the clouds by wisdom and lay down the expanses of the heavens when the dust runs into a mass and the clods stick together?

Will you hunt for prey for the lioness or satisfy the appetite of the young cubs when they couch in their dens and lie in wait in the hidden places? Who provides the raven his prey when his young ones cry to God and wander for lack of food?

Do you know the time when the wild goats of the rock give birth or can you mark when the hinds calve? Can you count how many months they are pregnant? Do you know the time when they give birth? They bow themselves, they bring forth their young, they cast out their fruit. Their young ones grow strong and grow up in the open field. They go forth and do not come back again.

Who has sent the wild ass out free? Who has loosed the straps of the wild ass? His house is in the wilderness and his dwelling-place is in the salt-land. He scorns the tumult of the city and does not listen to the shouting of the driver. The range of the mountains is his pasture and he searches for everything green.

Will the wild-ox be willing to serve you or wait for you by the stall? Can you bind the wild-ox with straps in the furrow? Will he plough the valleys after you? Will you trust him because of his great strength, or will you leave your work to him? Will you rely on him to bring your produce home and gather the corn of your threshing-floor?

The wing of the ostrich beats joyously, but are her wings and feathers those of the kindly stork? For she leaves her eggs on the ground and warms them in the dust, and forgets that the foot may crush them or the wild beast may trample them. She is hardened against her young ones, as if they were not hers. Though her labor is in vain, she is without fear. Because God has deprived her of wisdom, neither has He given her a portion of understanding. When the time comes, she raises her wings on high and scorns the horse and his rider.

Have you given the horse his strength? Have you clothed his neck with power? Have you made him spring like a locust? The glory of his snorting is terrible. He gallops in the valley and rejoices in his strength. He goes out to met the clash off arms. He mocks at fear and is not afraid. He does not turn back from the sword. The quiver rattles on him, the glittering spear and the javelin. He swallows the ground with storm and rage and does not believe that it is the voice of the horn. Whenever he hears the horn he says "Ha! Ha!" and he smells the battle far off, the thunder of the captains and the shouting.

Does the hawk soar by your wisdom and stretch her wings towards the south? Does the vulture mount up at your command and make her nest on high? She dwells and stays on the rock, on the crag of the rock and the stronghold. From there she spies out the prey. Her eyes see it from far off. Her young ones also suck up the blood, and where the slain are, there she is....

Job chapters 38-39

In the end Job answered HaVaYaH and said:

I know that You can do everything, and no purpose can be withheld from You. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I spoke that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.... I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor my words and repent, seeing as I am dust and ashes.

ibid. 42, 1-6




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