So far in my summer reading, I have been reminded twice that part of loving God is desiring to look deeply into the world He has made. Who would think that Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher in first century Athens, and Mary Oliver, a poet in 21st century America, would have enough in common to make that same point? I know this as a Christian liberal arts educator—but in the midst of the busyness of each day, I too often forget to dwell attentively in the natural world around me. I forget to listen to the orchestra of birdsong that surrounds me each morning as I come to work. I walk too quickly by the flowers that wait patiently by the sidewalk to be noticed.
This week I saw two examples of Houghton faculty who have cultivated the practice of looking deeply into the world as part of their teaching and learning. I had been asked to provide an evening of enjoyable programming for a group of visiting college presidents, and I invited two professors, one in art and one in communication, to share their work.
The art professor invited the presidents to gather round as he painted a water color of irises right in front of our eyes. As he painted, he talked about what he was seeing and how he was translating this vision onto the paper through the medium of water color. As we watched, we too saw more in the iris than we had ever seen before.
Then the communication professor showed us an electronic slideshow of photographs and video of wildlife, mostly within about 600 feet of where we were sitting. We looked with awe and wonder as he displayed close-ups of newly born deer, a few insects, but mostly brilliant and varied salamanders. Who would have guessed that we at Houghton live in one of the richest environments in the world for these colorful amphibians? It was not just the beauty of the creatures. It was the joy and the enthusiasm that the professor exhibited as he told us of his expeditions to catch a glimpse of the remaining species in the area that he had not yet photographed. It was the sense of responsibility he felt as a believer to care for these amphibious creatures that are rapidly disappearing from our world.
Everyone stayed around—longer than we had intended. Our two faculty members had done for us what they do for their students every day in Houghton classrooms. They had made us yearn for more. We left wanting to live more attentively to the large and wondrous worlds that surround us in the midst of each day. We left wanting to appreciate more fully the endlessly creative powers of our Heavenly Father who delights to do us good—sometimes in surprising ways—all the days of our lives.
May you be open to living in a larger world today than yesterday. I paused for a few extra moments on the way to the office this morning to hear the birdsong orchestra. My work did not seem to mind waiting...
Grace and Peace to you today.
Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976