Whit’s End: Pine Trees, Crows, & The Presence of God

While in seminary, I stumbled across an amazing blogger named Michael Spencer.  He became well-known in religious editorial and opinion columns, writing about the current state of Christianity and the problems we’re seeing between current trends and the Church.  He was named ‘the internet monk,’ or ‘iMonk.’  Michael died last year and is sorely missed as the Church moves forward to talk about his favorite topic???a Jesus-shaped spirituality.  But, fortunately, we have his ‘manifesto’, his book written just before he passed, “Mere Churchianity.”

In that book, Michael wrote the following:

Through friends, experiences, insights, questions, losses, surprises, nature, and our search for meaning, God graciously gives us experiences of himself. Spirituality happens as life happens. It isn???t restricted to hanging out in church or spending years in a cave. Spirituality grows out of life. ???Michael Spencer, “Mere Churchianity”, Chapter 5

Michael’s point is crucial to the Church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  If we are going to help open people up to the goodness of God, then we must do everything we can through the power of God’s grace to help them see God in all places???not just in the church, its programs or its buildings.  Here’s what I mean.

I grew up hunting with my dad and my granddad on a family farm in South Carolina.  My favorite part of our trips was sitting in a deer stand late in the day, just as dusk was teasing the sky with the setting sun.  The warm glowing ball would fall JUST below the tree line, sending a silent but visible breeze that made its way around my field of view, moving ever closer to where I was sitting.  Then, I would hear the faintest whisper of the pines’ needles as the breeze came close.  The sound of it’s movement and the coolness of it’s breath would bring a chill and a smile.  While staring at the brilliant colors of the skylight, from behind me the forrest would push forward the sounds of a crow’s last call.  Then it would hit me???I’m at peace.  

*This picture was taken by me a little over a year ago from the deer stand I described above.

I became addicted to those moments, going there in my mind and in my head when the “…waters closed in over me…[and] the deep surrounded me…” and I needed solace from the world’s woes (Jonah 2.5).  Even as a child, when I looked in the mirror, I saw the image of God; the face of the Creator looking back at me.  But God made more than me and his presence is all around me.  When I sat below the pines at dusk, I saw the finger prints of God.

Well, today, as I waited on my wife to pick me up in front of our house to visit our new nephew, I was transported to one of those moments.  The sun was hanging above the tree line; there was breeze moving through the pines beside me; a crow cah-ed from atop a power pole, and I was right back in that field in South Carolina.  Amidst the hustle and bustle of life-as-I-know-it, there I was, taking a deep breath and being reminded by pine trees and crows that God is near.

As Christians, we must do all we can to experience God everywhere.  The world must become our sanctuary???a sacred place where God is revealed in all our movements.  Life needs to be worshipful, not just Sundays (or whatever day you find yourself involved or engaged with God).  Our spirituality exists beyond our programs and services.  God is here, right here, waiting to inject his presence into all of life.  Spirituality is everywhere. 

Rev. Whit R. Martin
Pastor, New Liberty United Methodist Church

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