Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The "Book of Nature"

This is my column that appeared in the June 6, 2017 issue of "The Arab Tribune."

Displayed is my photograph of the scene at Bon Secour.

It's that time of year.

I imagine you love to get outside as much as I do, now the that the April allergies are a thing of the past. Open the door, here I come!

Even the last few days, I have enjoyed walks in the park with my wife and bicycling around the neighborhood behind us.

My family started responding to the call of the outdoors early this season, taking a week of vacation in the first of May. It's the first time both of my adult children and my daughter's serious boyfriend could join us at the beach.

We enjoyed the food, the sand, the ocean, my first experience with a family "breakout game," and just being together. We also got to take in a deep breath of nature, between parasailing and biking and trying out a Segway tour (that was a new experience for me and my wife!).

My family had to leave toward the end of the week and I had a day or two to myself. This quiet retreat was yet another layer of blessing. I must have biked 35 miles at the state park greenway.

One afternoon, I found myself beholding the most glorious sunset. It was breathtaking as I sat on the edge of the pier, gazing endlessly. I've discovered that if we would just pay attention, we would find that God is speaking.

The "book of nature" is an ancient Greek Christian and philosophical concept. The idea is to view God's creative works with an eye for deepening our understanding of the mystery of God. When it is "read" along with sacred scripture, the "book" of nature shows us God himself.

I suppose I had my own revelatory experience at one special moment during the week. I took my bike to visit Bon Secour. It's a beautiful wildlife reserve along the eastern coastline of a secluded bay which adjoins the edge of Mobile Bay.

I never will forget gazing back upon a stretch of walkable sand that I had already traveled over, a stretch of land which separated two bodies of water in close proximity to each other. Reading about what I was seeing on an informational display, I realized the profound uniqueness of what I was looking at.

On the left side of the slender strip of land was a salt water bay, and on the right side was a fresh water lake. There it was, two sides of liquid reality almost touching.

I carefully traced the contours of each shoreline with my eyes. Even the vegetation was dramatically different. Both sides were water, and both sides were teeming with life. Yet one side seemed to represent the salty side of things, and the other side the fresh experiences life brings.

On the one hand, life is full of tears. There is a certain weight to the water and a depth of soul. Being immersed in the salty side has an almost a healing quality, and though you can't see it on the surface, you know that life lays deep within.

On the other hand, life is a fresh adventure, a flowing mystery to drink in freely. There is a freshness, a clearness, and a clarity that comes from bathing in the fresh side of life.

I recalled that in the scripture, Christ spoke of "living water". He was offering a woman fresh water from a well to quench her thirst (a way of offering her himself), but I couldn't help but wonder. I was gazing at two sides of the world's water, and both were full of life. One I could drink in, the other I could float on. I love both salt and fresh water, yet a swim in each is a very different experience.

Such is the way of immersing myself in the two sides of life.

Bon Secour is French for "safe harbor," and I suppose its seclusion is part of why I enjoyed the quietness of these moments pondering what was before my eyes. In this beautiful display of glory God created, I was reminded that life has both a fresh side and a salty side. God made it that way, and seeing a visual reminder got me in touch with the stirrings of my own soul.

And for that, I am truly grateful.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog "Musings of a Musical Preacher" is found at