Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Monday Morning Proverb

“Those who find wisdom find life and receive favor from the Lord, but those who fail to find prudence harm themselves; all who hate me love death”-8:35-36

Up here in the wilderness, a book like Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a nice companion. She is a student of creation. She inspires me to open my eyes to see beyond what I expect–to see what might be otherwise missed.  And there is much I miss–a passing flight of geese, an elk grazing on the other side of the river, a beaver out for a night swim. Up in the forest, it’s very much a now-you see-it, now-you-don’t affair. Dillard watches and ponders like a scientist looking under a microscope. She engages with nature. She describes mountains as giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into the mountain and it will keep it. There is reverence behind her language as she describes the rush of the wind, the beauty of a current, or the sway of a tree. It’s not that she worships nature–creation draws her back to the Creator. I find the same pull, when on an early paddle in my kayak, I observe the beauty and am moved to sing How Great Thou Art.

But for all the wonder there is to take in, there is another side to the wilderness. There’s a reason for the first syllable. Life is not domesticated. Here’s how she describes one summer experience, staring at a frog:

“He was a very small frog with wide, dull eyes. And just as I looked at him, he slowly crumpled and began to sag. The spirit vanished from his eyes as if snuffed. His skin empted and drooped; his very skull seemed to collapse and settle like a kicked tent. He was shrinking before my eyes like a deflated football. I watched the taut, glistening skin on his shoulders ruck, and rumple, and fall. Soon, part of his skin, formless as a pricked balloon, lay in floating folds like bright scum on top of the water.” Just one bite from a giant water bug was all it took.

It’s rough out here. “Every live thing,” she writes, “is a survivor on a kind of extended bivouac.” There is grandeur, and there is mystery. There is life, and there is death.

Lately, we have been observing the deer that come by in the morning hours to feed. Two fawns have accompanied one of the moms, but today we just saw one. This is part of the narrative played out in creation’s theatre. I have watched with awe the eagles that come and go from the tree next to our property. But I have also noticed the fragments of numerous victims near the base of their tree.

There’s a certain romance to observing nature, but a wariness as well. A stray coyote walked by yesterday, as if to let me know that he too has rights to the property. He was here long before any of us. The way he walks tells me he is the hood of the forest. If he wore attire, he would have on tight, dark jeans with a white T-shirt. His sleeves would be folded up to display his tattoos, as well as serve to carry his Lucky Strikes. He would wear dark glasses and, in a less obvious way, carry his blade. Coyotes don’t prance–they slink around with searching eyes. They stalk. They remind me of the sage’s description of the adulterous–who eats and wipes her mouth and says, “I have done nothing wrong” (30:20).

Proverbs 8:35-36 is a necessary reminder that only a fool would live with rose colored glasses. There is another side, an underside out there. There are stalkers–be it the sinful men who entice others to join their gang as they prey on others (1:10-12); or the loose woman who with her many persuasions tempts the foolish to come to her–as an ox to the slaughter (7:21-22). The first nine chapters of Proverbs are a repeated warning that those who fail to pursue wisdom do so to their own peril. They may as well be doing violence to their souls. They are setting themselves up. Naiveté is a disaster in waiting.

Yesterday at dawn, I paddled on a still river, taking in the silence. By afternoon, the halcyon moment gave way to thunder and lightening and winds. It’s the nature of the wilderness–it is the nature of life. The sage would warn us that, to survive, it is important to watch for the shifts, to live with eyes wide open. It’s important to see the whole landscape.





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