Three nights ago, I watched a geology show on TV with my kids. It was about the geological history of Ontario.
Did you know that 4.5 billion years ago, the highest mountains in the world (higher than the Himalayas) covered a stretch from east of Toronto up to Georgian Bay? And that an immense salt-water sea covered south-eastern Ontario south into the US and west past Detroit? And that a mere 6000 years ago, as the glaciers were retreating, a break in the receding glacier caused a massive flood that filled the Great Lakes and created islands out of dry land? (And that the Ashinabe Indians who live in that area have legends about the flood that created the islands, showing that their oral history goes back to the Ice Age!)
Well, I was impressed. All those weird striped rock-islands in Georgian Bay are actually the base of the old mountain range, twisted by the collision of two continents and heated under the pressure of miles of rock.
And the limestone under the shoreline where I live, littered with sea fossils like an ocean garbage dump, is an old sea bottom. The deep underground salt mines in Goderich (ON) and Detroit (MI) still show ripples of sea waves in the salt deposits.
I was suddenly aware of the immensity of time. Those mountains and seas were several "earths" ago, long before dinosaurs, long before life forms.
And yet, here am I. Here are we.
I thought of this two days ago as I was driving to the next town to pick up some fruit. The trees along the 401 are now lightly tinged with orange and red, just a hint of the splendour of fall on its way. I took note of the low, flat-topped hills and gentle valleys, perhaps eroded by glaciers, or perhaps flooded by sea water or glacial floods. I saw rises and falls, and soil that came from somewhere else, and limestone rock-cuts pressed up out of the ground by drifting continents.
What I saw was time, rather than physical space--chapters of the earth's story jutting up, buried here, fading there, covering itself with a new story that simply extends the old one in one long line of 5 billions years.
Praying is in some ways about seeing. In ordinary life, we close ourselves off to too much input so that we can focus on a single task. To pray is to brush that aside and open, look, listen, see, smell, hear, taste.
Of all the bibles, talmuds, korans, and books of mormon that the Creator has allegedly written, there is only one that we can be certain he/she/it wrote-- and that is creation itself. The earth and universe are the first bible. It's the one we really must read if we don't read any others. It's the one we can all agree on. And there is so much written there, such a long story, with such detail, down to molecules and atoms and string theories.
The Old Testament bible covers only 5000 years; the Creator's bible covers 5 billion. How lucky scientists are to be reading such a book. How thankful I am that they share their findings with us so that we too may read the chapter they have found.
I go on early morning walks every day for a half hour before breakfast. It's cooler now, so I have to wear a sweater. As I walk, instead of thinking, I try to open up to this kind of prayer.
Some days, I walk to feel gravity. I focus on feeling the force of the planet, which is large, overpowering me, who am small, pulling me in. I feel the force I need to exert to pull my foot away from the planet. I experience its goodness and rightness. I let its pull embrace me, keeping me safe.
Some days, I walk to see and read. I look at details, feel sensations, inhale slowly to taste the air. What does it all say? Not just the natural surroundings, but the human-made surroundings too, which are made of created matter, molecules, textures, stones. What is being said to me, now, here? If I treat everything as the messenger, will I get the message?
Some days, I walk to be part of Creation. I see everything as the work of an artist's hand, the colours, the textures, the sculptures. I feel the Creator within and beyond it, for his/her/its 5 billion years of shaping and revising. I experience myself as part of the art, one piece split off from the rest, like a piece of clay pulled out of the main block, rolled and shaped, and set into motion. I am art, I walk through art. Through art, with art, and in art, in the unity of creation.
There must be more ways to walk prayer.