It was a morning in the Fall of 1979. Sunlight, pouring in from my left, kissed the bark of giant pine trees standing by the path. They were silent that morning, as I walked from the cafeteria to my dormitory.
I had been up late the night before, working on a project for Cultural Anthropology 101: “Compare Groups of Students to Herds of Animals.” The comparison was unsettling.
“What if,” I had begun to ask, “there’s really nothing special about human beings? What if they don’t reflect a creative, purposeful God?” This walking from the cafeteria…. Was I a mere beast returning to my den after feeding?
The concrete path between the cafeteria and my dormitory was not straight. After all, the trees were here first. You don’t cut down magnificent pine trees just to make a path straight. “We were planted here by the Gardener. Respect Him!” That’s what the trees had always told me, as I walked the curving path.
But this morning, the trees were quiet, their low voices silenced by the unmoving wind. Instead, I heard unpleasant hissing. “Weeds. That’s all they are. Very tall weeds.” I did not like this voice. I did not like what it was urging. “Stop thinking of a garden. There is no Gardener. Weeds, only weeds.” I kept walking. The hissing went away, but for a terrible few minutes, I was lost on the path.
Forty years later, I occasionally hear the hissing. But usually, I hear the trees. They are not mere weeds. There is a Gardener. I walk through His garden. There, I encounter not mere animals, but would-be gardeners.
Cultural Anthropology 101 be damned.*
I discussed this little vignette with my creative writers group, and they helped me tidy up the story. At least they tried. John Barbre suggested that I make a people/animals and trees/weeds parallel stronger by using the word “herds.” Since much of this vignette was crafted, and not something that literally happened, I felt free to use his excellent suggestion.
So how much WAS real? I have a photo below that shows an artist’s rendering of the SFASU campus about the time I was a student there. It looks like my memory of the “curving” path may have been made up (or the artist just liked straight lines!). Here are the elements that were factual:
- It was about 1979
- I was taking a cultural anthropology course that I took very seriously
- I had begun wondering if Christianity was just a delusion
- I did actually experience the disturbing perception that trees were mere weeds
I’m coming to realize that I do indeed perceive the world around me as bearing a Creator’s fingerprints. It almost sounds silly to admit that, especially as I continue to be fascinated by cultural anthropology, sociology, and their evolutionary explanations of man and his behavior. I know that my perception of the world would be explained by many as an activated “God gene” working overtime.
But consider this: if we really are designed by God (my operating belief), would it not stand to reason that He would have made us with the ability to perceive Him? Next time you are awed by beauty, ask yourself, “Could it be that I am responding to this with appreciation because I sense that there is design and meaning behind it? Is there something telling me that there really is a Creator? Do I dare listen to that voice? Or is there some hissing voice that insists I am not free to consider such fantasies?” Are you free?
*I don’t actually have a problem with cultural anthropology per se. Rather, it is the reductionism that it fires up in me, the tendency to think of a partial explanation of human behavior (esp. apart from man’s response to God) as the entire explanation.
Artist’s rendering of Stephen F. Austin ca 1976 (my path is highlighted):