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September 27, 2017

Beyond the Visible

Winters, in the north-eastern part of India, especially Shillong where I live, can be bitingly cold, and more so when it rains. One year, the winter was particularly wet, and for weeks on end there seemed no respite from the cold. One gloomy day followed another with nothing to lighten the dismal scene of overcast skies and thick blankets of cloud stretched like a shroud from one end of the horizon to the other. Suffocated by the cheerless gloom that had pervaded my very heart and soul, small woes and anxieties that had seemed miniscule before, now seems threateningly gigantic. Funny how the weather can affect one’s mood! And just as I was beginning to feel that sunny days are but a distant memory, suddenly, the sun rose up one morning, bright and strong, shining in a blue cloudless sky. I was immediately reminded of a song in the Bible likening the sun to a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, rejoicing like a strong man to run its race.(1)

As I was reflecting on the sight, I noticed my neighbor’s door opened. Faithfully, as he had probably been doing every single day of his life, he turned his face to the sun and paid obeisance to it. With hands folded and eyes devoutly closed, he continued in this salutation of worship for a few minutes. As I sat there in the sun, enjoying the delicious warmth soaking into my body, I can understand exactly why people would want to worship it. There is something very nurturing, healing and life-giving about the sun’s warmth. No wonder that civilizations right from the Mayans and the ancient Egyptians to the Hindus of today, revered and worshipped it.

tea plantation

Sun shining on a tea plantation in Munnar, India.

But does it have to end there, I thought? Should not our contemplation of the wonder of creation lead us to contemplate on the greater wonder of the One who is the cause of all existence? In his song offerings, the Gitanjali, the great seer and bard, Rabindranath Tagore captures the very essence of this truth when he sings: “The morning light has flooded my eyes—this is thy message to my heart. Thy face is bent from above, thy eyes look down on my eyes, and my heart has touched thy feet.”(2) Clearly, for Tagore, every part of creation is but the whisperings of the Almighty to the human heart.

Somehow, this thought takes me back to my young book-reading days. In my eagerness to come to the story at once, I would just glance briefly at the title and sometimes, bypass the name of the author altogether. The author was not important for me then; the story was! But through the years, I have come to appreciate a text more by also knowing something about its writer. His/Her experiences, thoughts and impressions that colour and give shape to the work. This, I find, enriches my reading experience and adds context to the text.

As I continued to enjoy the sunshine that winter morning, basking in its light and warmth, I directed my thoughts to the ultimate author who commanded the whole story into being and who continues to sustain that story from one sunrise to the other. “How wonderful this sun!” I exclaimed. “How wonderful is the One who created this sun!” an answering voice in my heart echoed.
Psalm 19, I believe, is a jubilant declaration of this truth as it points us beyond the visible to the One who is invisible and yet, whose presence and touch can be felt, can be seen, can be experienced:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.

Ravi Zacharias recounts this story in his book The Shattered Visage: On Christmas Day, 1968, three American astronauts made the first journey that humanity will ever make around the ‘dark’ side of the moon, away from the earth. Having fired their rockets, they were homebound on Apollo 8, and beheld our planet in a way that human eyes had never witnessed before. They saw earth rise over the horizon of the moon, draped in the beauteous mixture of white and blue, bordered by the glistening light of the sun against the black void of space. In the throes of this awe-inspiring experience their first response is to open the Bible and read from the book of Genesis for the world to hear: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…

Let me conclude by quoting authors Thomas Howard and J.I. Packer:

“The truth is that our supreme fulfillment, as moral beings made in God’s image, is found and expressed in actively worshipping our holy Creator. When the object of homage is noble, the rendering of homage is ennobling; but when the objects of homage are not noble, the rendering of it is degrading… [But] it is impossible to worship nothing: we humans are worshipping creatures, and if we do not worship the God who made us, we shall inevitably worship someone or something else.”(3)

Tejdor Tiewsoh is a member of the speaking team with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Shillong, India.

(1) Psalm 19.
(2) Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali, Song no. 59.
(3) Thomas Howard and J.I. Packer, Christianity: The True Humanism (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1984), 146.
The article was originally posted on A Slice of Infinity column on August 31,2017

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