The plan was for Gil and me to travel to Great Britain and spend several weeks of vacation visiting as many museums and used bookstores in London as possible, followed by a tour of the countryside and concluding with a forage into northwest England in search of Greggs family records (as far as we can tell Gil’s ancestors were coal miners in Cumberland). But of course, that plan was not one we could implement this year due to the coronavirus. “So what should we do instead?,” we asked ourselves. We didn’t think travel anywhere was a good idea in the midst of a pandemic, so we decided we would turn staying home into a vacation. That decision was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Reading and praying through the Psalms during the previous year had increased my awareness of how God reveals aspects of himself in his creation. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork,” proclaims the psalmist in verse one of Psalm 19. The apostle Paul makes a similar statement in chapter one of his letter to the Romans about God being knowable through his creation. He writes, “Ever since the creation of the world God’s invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made (v. 20). But what more does God’s creation tell us about him? This was something I decided to explore during my vacation at home.
I began by observing the birds that came to my birdfeeder. I had to admit that many of my backyard visitors were not familiar to me. Nor, could I distinguish between them the unique song and call each had been given by their Creator. The thought occurred to me that if I spent time in closer study of these creatures, I might discover something about God, something I need to know at this juncture in my life.
So after receiving a pocket guide to the birds of North Carolina, which I ordered online, I began my study in earnest. To my surprise there were many species of birds coming to my birdfeeder, in addition to the few with which I was familiar. To name a few: Black-capped Chick-a-dees, who softly sing something that sounds to my ears like “Hey, Sweetie,” Eastern Towhees who call out, “Drink your tea-e-e-e-e,” and tiny House Finches who seem to be declaring with all their might that they are glad to be alive. Each species expressed itself in distinctive ways – by the colors of their plumage, by their preference for food (after some additional research I added two more bird feeders to appeal to a broader range of birds), as well as by their voice.
These characteristics spoke to me of God’s brilliant imagination. The psalmist says something similar in Psalm 104 when he declares, “O Lord, how manifold are your works; in wisdom you made them all…” (v. 24). I marveled at the mind that envisioned such creatures at the dawn of creation. And the more I observed, the more I saw in them evidence of God’s joy — a joy he was imparting to me through my observations.
In the early daylight hours I would walk around my neighborhood keeping watch for God’s winged creatures and taking note of the variety of trees. The words of Psalm 148 rang in my ears as I thought about how even the plant world is called upon to offer praise to the Lord: “Praise the Lord upon earth…mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars; beasts and all cattle, creeping things and birds of the air” (vv. 7, 9-10). During these walks I began to sense, with the eyes of faith, God’s creation declaring his glory, which led me to offer praise, fulfilling the charge in Psalm 150: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (v.6).
I also made a point to observe the sky just before dawn, taking note of the planets that could be seen with the naked eye and the position of the moon, using an app I found online. As I stood in my backyard looking up into the heavens, I had in mind the vivid exchange between God and the exiled people of Jerusalem in chapter 40 of the book of Isaiah where God says, “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” What assurance it gave me to gaze heavenward. I took comfort from the fact that the One who knows each and every planet and star in the sky, and brings them into view night after night, also looks after me with such deliberate care. These early morning celestial sightings are now a prayerful part of each day for me.
My vacation at home turned out to be one of discovery and delight; a vacation that cost me nothing, but repaid me with great riches. And this is what I discovered: there is much we can learn about God from studying what he has made, from learning how each aspect of his creation displays his glory and provides us with meaningful indications of his character. In this difficult season in which we find ourselves, I encourage you to spend time pondering God’s creation and let it speak to you of what you most need to know about him, right now.