“Let the heavens rejoice,
Let the earth be glad;
Let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
They will sing before the Lord, for he comes,
He comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.”
Our world is made up of wondrous, incredible things each bearing the creative fingerprints of God. Having taught grammar school students for a number of years I always loved taking them out into the wider world to look at and touch the objects of our study, the leaves, tree bark, the planets and stars, and playing with the air, as in raising a hot air balloon. We enjoyed turning over rocks, straining the waters for aquatic macroinvertebrates (otherwise known as fish food), all with the benefit of experiencing the handiwork of our Lord.
During my own childhood, unless school was in session, I would spend entire days, sunup to sundown until called to come home, running about outside playing, building, hiding, hunting, working, watching, and imagining. God blessed me with a deep love for the outdoors and for the natural world and with a family and a living place that encouraged these sorts of things.
It was then with no small measure of disappointment that when I became a teacher, I found students who were actually disinterested, distracted, or seemingly unwilling to commit themselves to the exploration of and observation of the objects of our study. How could it be that a growing child was not enthralled with the beauty of a living bird in both color and song, or with the differences between spruce and fir needles, or with the richness of pond mud? What a bummer! What a discouragement!
Since the early days of my teaching, I’ve come to understand that children are indeed various. They come packaged with personalities and interests of their own. And, like myself, they bow to idols and confirm their worship of them through habits and liturgies, some of which are hurtful. Distractions get in the way of their learning and ransack their God-given potential for growth and the good. Teaching them sometimes seemed a hopeless task, like trying to teach a stump. Yet our school mission statement lays down the gauntlet for teachers, saying in part that we are to “awaken love and wonder in our students by teaching them to observe with humility.”
So, we use John Milton Gregory’s Seven Laws of Teaching to guide us in accomplishing this very thing, inviting them to a love for learning and an appetite for close observation. This is my responsibility, so I continually seek to hone my teaching craft. Making instructional improvements and winning more and more students over to new loves for learning is truly one of the joys of teaching. Yet, a realistic view of all this is that in this broken, sinful world, I will never get my students to see all there is to observe. The apostle Paul writes of this in I Corinthians, chapter 13:12
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror;
then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully,
even as I am fully known.
While regarding these limitations, let us not forget the hope for the future that we all possess as followers of Christ. In the opening verses that I read, King David writes of the coming of our Lord to judge the earth. It is not by accident here that he links the natural/physical world with the return of our Lord to judge the earth. He speaks of the “heavens rejoicing”, a resounding sea and jubilant fields. He writes that the “trees of the forest will sing for joy.” Do real trees possess the capability to sing? Here he is using figurative language/personification to communicate something significant.
For a classical teacher, these verses are ripe with meaning. On the day of God’s arrival, we will finally see the real truth of all things. With that truth at hand, as we sit to observe the leaf of a tree, the cloud of doubts, distractions, and idols will all be gone. That simple leaf in a fallen world that before merely reminded us of the fingerprints of God will finally trumpet the characteristics of God in both design and purpose, as if in a beautiful song of praise. In that song will be a message of joy in the culmination of things.
At that time each of us will truly experience what it means to observe with humility in a complete and thorough way. I know that for the boyish, inquisitive parts that are still working within me I am looking forward to experiencing the physical world in this vivid, truthful manner.