By the Rev. Susan Sparks
Recently I found myself in a place of deep spiritual disconnection. Yes, it happens to ministers, too. Sadly, I had gotten wrapped up in running my world and conveniently skipped chatting with God about how God wanted that world run.
In corporate America, if you went rogue and spent weeks planning a project without checking in with your boss, you’d probably be fired.
Thank goodness, unlike Citibank, God is merciful.
To remedy this disconnect, I decided to spend a little quiet time at our beautiful lake cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin. Remote, isolated and wild, the place is like Eden but with a lot of Scandinavian Lutherans.
The first morning on the dock was spectacular — the sun was just coming up, the mist rising off the lake. And in this pristine setting what did I do? I pulled out my iPhone. Why? Because, of course, the best way to connect with God is to find a good God app.
Within seconds, I was in the dungeon of the App Store, oblivious to anything around me. As I perused the religious wallpaper, games and virtual meditation sites, I suddenly stopped, having the distinct feeling that someone or something was watching me. A huge shadow floated over, darkening the iPhone screen. I looked up to see a bald eagle silently gliding about 7 feet above my head out across the lake.
I couldn’t help but think of the words from Psalm 46: “Be still, and know that I am God.” How ridiculous it was that I was sitting in the midst of Eden, surrounded by the very face of God, yet I was searching and searching for the holy in this tiny electronic box.
God is not in our cell phones, our iPads, our social media pages, our Instagram or Pinterest accounts. Sure, they are great tools for sharing news of inspiration or healing. But if we find our spiritual tanks empty, the best way to refill is to walk outside and look around. Nature is God’s greatest work.
Consider the work of other great artists. You get a peek into the mind of Picasso when you look at his paintings; you listen to St. Matthew’s Passion and get a glimmer of the heart of Bach; you taste a Shake Shack burger and you find out a bit about restaurateur Danny Myer. So, too, when we stop and notice the beauty of creation — God’s finest artistic work — we see a spark of the holy.
After the eagle soared overhead, I turned off the iPhone and began to look around, noticing some of the tiny, intimate things around me. Like a spider web that was gleaming in the sun. The dew had caught in its intricate pattern, revealing a most beautiful, sophisticated work of art.
The shimmer of the web made me ask myself this question: Who taught the spider to do that? No architectural school in the galaxy could impart that kind of talent. I immediately thought of the line from the book of Job when God gets annoyed at Job’s doubts, and says: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4)
Every day we must take time to acknowledge nature, the evidence of a higher power in our midst, for it is a poignant reminder that we are not in charge — not even close.
When you start feeling spiritually disconnected, lonely, even depressed, just step outside and admire the work of the greatest artist of all.
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things.
— Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things”
The Rev. Susan Sparks is senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church, New York City.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.