Columnist Carl Kline: There’s beauty and mystery in creation

Posted 9/18/23

When I left the building last Monday evening after teaching my class in Watertown, the parking lot was wet and there was a dark storm cloud moving off toward the east. I had no idea it had rained, or perhaps even thundered, encased as I was in all that timber and concrete. I’m sure my classroom must have extra insulation to keep sounds out and other sounds in, as with the door closed, we can’t even hear the noise makers passing in the hall.

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Columnist Carl Kline: There’s beauty and mystery in creation

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When I left the building last Monday evening after teaching my class in Watertown, the parking lot was wet and there was a dark storm cloud moving off toward the east. I had no idea it had rained, or perhaps even thundered, encased as I was in all that timber and concrete. I’m sure my classroom must have extra insulation to keep sounds out and other sounds in, as with the door closed, we can’t even hear the noise makers passing in the hall.

I was even more surprised when I left, got on an open road without tree cover, and saw a rainbow over half the sky. I wanted to pull over and savor the sight; wonder about the colors. For instance, why are there seven and no black; and can I see and distinguish them all: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet?

But of course, the traffic was heavy; everyone was going somewhere. I was anxious to get home. The colors faded from my view as I entered the inter-state and put the car on cruise.

It did remind me of other rainbows. There was the double I saw on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, that went all the way from East to West. It was not surprising to me that the Creator would place such a glorious sight there, where people might be more in tune with the natural world; where they might actually be outside, look, and see it. I pulled over that time, since I wasn’t stuck in traffic. The road was deserted.

I was reading a commentary on a passage in Exodus the other day. It’s about Moses and the burning bush. God speaks to Moses through that bush. Since the bush wasn’t being consumed, it had to seem ethereal, like a rainbow. It’s not like such events can be grasped by the human hand or mind. Oh, I know. Science could probably give me an explanation for both. Even so, there’s a beauty and mystery in all of creation that our rational minds don’t encompass; if only we listen, look and see.

For me, I hear that mystery in the sound of the owl. They have become a “burning bush” for me. The first time I realized this was in India. My wife and I were about to return home. In the morning we would board a plane for the return flight. We were remembering the flight over was troubled by a plane shot down over the Middle East. There was some worry and anxiety in the air.

As I walked out on the roof of our lodging to collect our clothes drying on the line, there was an owl, hooting into the night; hooting at me. I stood transfixed till it flew off. In all my previous travels to India, I had never seen nor heard an owl. I certainly never expected to see one in the middle of Delhi on our roof. It was eerie and calming. It made me feel certain all would be well.

Since that first time, owls have often been my burning bush and consolation. Once it was an upcoming trip to Nicaragua, where I would be in harm’s way with a Witness for Peace group; and where we missed a mine planted by the contras by 15 minutes. The inhabitants of the pick-up truck were not so fortunate.

When I hear owls, I look and listen.

We have spirea on two sides of our home. They are old bushes, They have bloomed in the spring every one of the 40 plus years we have lived here. It’s a wall of white for a while and then the small white flowers disappear. Imagine my surprise as I walked by them recently and noticed one small flower, tucked into a corner of a bush, in September! With surprise, bordering on astonishment, I mentioned it to my wife. Gardener that she is, she smiled and said: “It’s a late bloomer.”

It’s good to know creation surprises us with late bloomers. Perhaps it’s a message for all of us; for the dream deferred; the task left undone; the kindness never offered; the promise unfulfilled.

I don’t know much about flowers. I depend on my wife to supply me with names and particulars. I know we have one where the flowers bloom for only one day.

That seems such a waste to me. Or perhaps, it’s a good reminder to keep our eyes open and be observant of the world around us. Blooms come and go, like rainbows and owls. Sometimes, while we’re encased in timber and concrete or looking at our phones as we walk outside, a bush breaks into fire or a sea parts or the mountains sing or the blind see.

As my commentator writes: “I once had a burning bush encounter while watching a yellowjacket drink from a water droplet on a marigold leaf. … What burning bushes … do we miss because we move through life too fast to see, let alone savor, such wonders. Maybe burning bushes happen all the time for those willing to turn aside long enough to truly see what matters to God.”