Carefully pasted into the pages of my pre-social media scrapbooks I have photos and bits of memorabilia that date back to my years in the Northern Territory. They were good years, even though at the time I was ignorant of the damage the sun was doing to my unprotected skin. Weatherwise there were just two seasons – the wet and the dry. In the wet I got prickly heat and in the dry there was a lot of dust and I occasionally wore a cardigan. As you might guess, I was young.
One of the things I appreciated on my return to Melbourne was autumn when for a few weeks pockets of the southern states of Australia look like Northern hemisphere tourist brochures. Now I live in Warrandyte where there are no European trees shouting Gloria in vivid shades of red, orange and gold, just young gums displaying tentative new growth and wattles thinking about the golden days ahead.
The autumn landscape here is cold mornings, mist drifting through the green of the eucalypts and evenings that close-in before 6 o’clock. That landscape calls me to recognise God in a seasonal manifestation of the Creator’s complexity. It’s God’s face, turned to me, inviting me in.
That morning mist is how I sometimes catch a glimpse of who God is, of the relationship between God and me. I see, but I don’t see. Just when I begin to think that I might understand the mystery of who or what is God, it’s gone. The trees might be firmly rooted in the ground but I experience them as shadowy, and that’s a bit like how I see God’s presence in my life.
In the early evening it’s sometimes cool enough to light the fire. It doesn’t greatly increase the house temperature but it looks wonderful. Something about it slows me down, sets me dreaming. It’s just a couple of months since the smell of smoke in the air would set me panicking. That’s the thing about fire – it can comfort and it can consume. Like God.
Our home is flat roofed and the sloping ceilings are timber lined which means that we can enjoy the sound of rain – even if while heavy rain drowns out the TV. But it’s not so much the sound that gives me a God sense, but gratitude for a security that I have done nothing to deserve. The prophet Isaiah must have experienced this too because in chapter 4, verse 6, he says God “will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.”
The nights can be dark, thick layers of cloud blocking out the starlight with not even a streetlight to send fingers into the deep shadow. And that’s so like God. People call it the dark night of the soul and it can mean many different things. John of the Cross, a Carmelite who lived in the 1600s said that this experience we call a dark night is caused by the presence of God that is so bright that it results in darkness.
When I read things like this I recognise that I am out of my depth. But doesn’t any God talk take us out of our depth?