Creation is our first language. Before even one syllable of the ancient languages of Aramaic, Tamil, Egyptian, Sumerian and others were ever uttered, God spoke first. The words he spoke drew something out of nothing. Matter that was not there, came into being. More importantly, this matter came into being in specific and pleasing arrangements, over time. Because creation was spoken into being by God, instead of thought privately to himself, we know that creation is a communication, a self-revelation. God was saying something about himself through what he created. Unlike language, however, which is culturally or environmentally influenced and uses words to convey thoughts and ideas, creation speaks in symbols and has a universal meaning. For example, at every place in the world a mountain represents a high place, raised above the ground. No one, in any culture, looks at a mountain and thinks it's a garbage dump. Creation speaks, and has a message to us about the one who made it.
In fact, the Catechism reminds us that creation is one the ways that we can come to know God. Through reflecting on the world, starting from movement, becoming, contingency, and order and beauty, “one can come to a knowledge of God as the origin and end of the universe.” (CCC 32) St. Paul adds that “Ever since the creation of the world, [God’s] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” (Rom 1:20) St. Augustine agreed, saying “Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air, distending and diffusing itself, question the beauty of the sky ,,, question all these realities. All respond: “See, we are beautiful.” Their beauty is a confession. Who made them if not the Beautiful One?” (Sermo 241, 2:PL 38, 1134)
Now that Fall is officially here, let’s look at a common symbol of this season, the sunflower, and see what it can say to us.
Sunflowers are symbols of obedience. They spend their entire day simply turning their faces towards the sun. Wherever it goes, they follow. It is such a simple and honest action. There is no hiding or subterfuge. They, with their broad, open faces, are completely transparent. So what, exactly, is obedience? Is it just blindly following orders? Is it really only for those who can’t think for themselves?
The idea of obedience is well-defined in Scripture as a key to being in right relationship with God. When God gives the Israelites the Ten Commandments, he says “See, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; a blessing for obeying the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I give you today; a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, but turn aside from the way I command you today, to go after other gods.” (Deut 11:26-28) In the New Testament, we are reminded of Jeus’ example of obedience to his Father, when he prayed “not my will, but yours be done,” (Mark 14:36) as he prepared for his arrest and crucifixion. In being obedient, Jesus willingly and deliberately puts himself under the authority of God the Father, and submits to his commands.
In Greek, the word obey translates to “listen under.” It refers to a hearing and then an understanding of what is heard which results in a specific behavior. The one who obeys does so not out of laziness, cowardice or ignorance, but from a sincere desire to fulfill the will of God.
Obedience is an outward display of an internal disposition. The heart has turned towards God to follow him, and the actions of the believer reflect what is in the heart. This is what sunflowers do. They turn towards the sun, constantly and continually. They challenge us to do the same. Do we travel through our days with our heads down, not looking to the Son? Do we seek God's presence throughout the hours of the week? Do we look for him in spite of clouds and rain?
As we journey through Fall, let the sunflowers you may see along the way remind you of the love to be found in obedience, and the Beautiful One behind it.
“Sunflowers always face the sun, They make our days so bright.
And as we face the Son of God, we travel in his light.
Then joy will fill our lives on earth, though troubles come our way
He is our refuge, safe and sure, To guide us everyday.”
- “Light and Bright”, by Elma Helgason
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