Saturday, October 31, 2015

Why is the sky beautiful?

Have you ever wondered why the sky is beautiful? It wouldn't have to be. It could just be functional, useful. (Actually it could be both dysfunctional and ugly, but then we might not be here to see it...).

For instance, the SUN, the eye of the sky, that yellow star at the center of the solar system, fulfills several functions necessary for life on earth. It is the source of the gravity field that keeps our planet in a yearly orbit, exposing different parts of the earth to differing levels of light and heat throughout the seasons. This promotes an astonishing diversity of living beings. Heat from the sun keeps the planet from freezing over and killing out all living things. Light from the sun powers plant life, which in turn powers animal life. The sun does all this and does it beautifully.

The ATMOSPHERE, the lens of the sky, that thin layer of gas and particles enshrouding the earth, also fulfills crucial life-sustaining functions. For one thing, it acts as a barrier that absorbs dangerous debris from outer space. It also filters out harmful radiation from the sun and other sources. And perhaps most importantly, it contains all the gases that life needs to survive. The atmosphere does all this and does it beautifully.

WATER, the tears of the sky, that chemically simple yet indispensable substance, is the lubrication of all life. Fish live in it, plants soak it up, animals drink it. Our bodies are made mostly of it. We take it in, fill our cells with it, and excrete it. Water occurs as gas (mist, fog, steam), as solid (ice, snow, hail), and liquid. It rains down, flows over, and swirls all about us. It is lovely in all its forms, and all forms are found in the sky. Water fills our world and does so beautifully.

Put these three together in the sky above us--sun, air, water--and the result is not only the thriving of God's creation but also gratuitous, unending beauty. On our ridge in Ikland, with a nearly 360 degree horizon as our vista, we have a privileged position to watch God paint atmospheric masterpieces.

What follows here is twenty pictures taken of the firmament over Timu during the last six months. I trust these photos will testify to you of a God who makes things both useful and beautiful. The sky would never have to be this just is, day after day, year after year:

In our marriage, Amber is naturally more interested in functionality, I in aesthetics. These natural tendencies show themselves in our choices and opinions. But we both agree that the best situation is where functionality and beauty are both involved, where functional things are beautiful and beautiful things are functional. That would seem to point to a deeper truth about the universe we live in and the God who made it: what God makes serves a purpose but does so in the sheer delight of beauty and loveliness. So why is the sky beautiful? I guess because God likes it that way.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Eating the days

This summer we were gone from home in Timu for over two months. For much of that time, we felt ambivalent about going back. I mean, life is difficult here in many ways, so when we're not here, sometimes we're not sure about coming back. Thankfully, just before it was time to return, we quickly grew dissatisfied with our lives in the cities (Kampala, Nairobi)...the traffic, the noise, the busy pace of life. 

A few weeks ago when we finally got back to our lonely mountain villa, we felt a huge sense of contentment, peace, and rightness for being here. That could only have been a grace of God, reaffirming to us that this is where we are supposed to be for this season of hard as it can be.

Another grace God has lavished on us is the simple enjoyment of eating things made available to us on a day-to-day basis. One day Janet and Lemu's aunt gave us fresh collard greens, and we made Thai peanut-butter-and-greens noodles. The next day, Janet and Lemu's uncle brought us a gift of fresh milk taken from Dodoth cows grazing these days in Ikland; with that we made an awesome chowder for lunch. Yesterday, our friend and employee Lotengan Emmanuel brought us the thigh of a freshly trapped reedbuck. So we marinated that and had a scrumptious lunch of meaty stew over rice. All week people have been bringing us pumpkins---the standard Ik hospitality gift. Some of the pumpkins were sold to us, others given in exchange for something, and others given 'freely' (with hidden or not-so-hidden strings attached). With the surplus of freshly harvested pumpkins, today Amber made an awesome, hearty lentil-and-pumpkin stew for lunch, and we topped off the day with pumpkin pancakes dusted with powdered sugar and slathered with maple syrup. Let me not forget the local eggs and wonderful bananas we've been downing!

For us, life in Timu is mostly mundane, ever-so-daily, often with little to look forward to (and occasionally punctuated with crises major and minor). In this context, God is teaching us--rather relentlessly, I might add--how to be content in our circumstances. Only He knows all that He is doing. We have to learn--and hopefully have to some degree--to trust in the underlying movements of the Spirit of Life, even when the hour-by-hour circumstances of our outer life seem rather dull and oppressive. 

After two months away, I can see that we have changed. Part of that change is a new appreciation and even affection for our 'Ik-sistence'. My suspicion is that just about the time we become fully content with living here, God will move us on...because then, and only then, will our exile in the wilderness have done its soul-shaping work.