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Jan 10 2007

The Wow of Worship

Many of you will recognize the name John Muir. Just a few miles west of my home in Berkeley we have the Muir Woods, and in Yosemite, to our east, we have the “John Muir Trail.” Californians esteem John Muir as the foremost preservationist, the quintessential environmentalist. He founded “The Sierra Club,” and was directly responsible for getting the Yosemite Valley and its outlying areas recognized as a National Park. What many Californians do not recognize about John Muir is that his love for nature was under girded, was pinned to, a love and reverence that he held towards God. In August of 1897, Muir wrote in his journal:

“The forests of America, however slighted by man, must have been a great delight to God; they were the best he ever planted…To prepare the ground, it was rolled and sifted in seas with infinite loving deliberation and forethought, lifted into the light, submerged and warmed over and over again, pressed and crumpled into folds and ridges, mountains and hills, sub-soiled with heaving volcanic fires, ploughed and ground and sculptured into scenery and soil with glaciers—every feature growing and changing from beauty to beauty, higher and higher. And in the fullness of time it was planted in groves, and belts, and broad, exuberant, mantling forests, with the largest, most varied, most fruitful, and most beautiful trees in the world.”

This past summer, our family spent three days in Yosemite—the vistas were breathtaking, the waterfalls were captivating, and the giant sequoias seemed otherworldly. Around every bend, under every waterfall, and beneath every Sequoia, our oldest daughter, Caroline (5), would exclaim, “WOW!” Our trip became a three-day ballad, replete with the one word, “Wow!” On the last day, as we prayed before bedtime, Caroline said, “Can you believe that God created all of that? Wow!” Now, the skeptic could argue that her response was culturally conditioned, fashioned by the indoctrination of her father and mother, but I believe it points to the gravitas of the spiritual reality. The breathtaking vistas in their relief, the captivating waterfalls in their cascading, and the otherworldly Sequoias in their measure, do not have the capacity to plumb the height, the depth, and the breadth of “Wow!”

Caroline noticed what John Muir noticed. The good, the true, and the beautiful that we experience as the delights of nature are not enough to hold the “Wow of Worship.” To set our affections on them is to never ultimately satisfy. Creation cannot hold the weight of "wow," but it is only the God of Creation that will captivate and ultimately satiate the affections of our hearts.

To be sure, C.S. Lewis seems wise and right when he penned, “Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways.” He acknowledged that there was a lot in nature that he, backe when he was an Atheist, found alarming and disconcerting. Yet, Lewis went on to write: “[What] nature [did] was it gave the word glory a meaning for me. I still do not know where else I could have found one.” In other words, for Lewis, the “wow of worship” (the glory or renown of God) was mostly revealed in the splendor, magnitude, and grandeur of nature. While it did not prove God’s existence, it revealed God’s magnificence!

This understanding is what draws us and compels us towards the worship of this God. Listen to David’s “Wow of Worship,” from Psalm 98:

4 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;

5 make music to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,

6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
shout for joy before the LORD, the King.

7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.

8 Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;

9 let them sing before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.

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