Hearing the Wordless Word
(The following post was submitted for our Thriving Rural Communities Devotional Listserv by one of our Rural Ministry Fellows from the North Carolina Annual Conference, Jane Almon. Thanks, Jane!)
1The heavens are telling the glory of God;
And the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night declares knowledge.
3There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard;
4yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.
The opening verses of Psalm 19 reminded me of a story I read several years ago. The details are fuzzy after all these years, but the story goes something like this. A very experienced botanist went to study the medicinal plants and healing practices of a “primitive” tribe in the Amazon rain forest. On a foraging trip into the forest, the curandero of the tribe led the botanist into a clearing and stood silent for a moment. Then he placed his hand on a vine and said, “This one is for headaches.” He placed his hand on another vine and said, “This one is for stomachaches.” To the highly-trained botanist, the vines looked identical. The bark, the leaf, the growth habit, the buds, everything looked identical. They smelled the same and tasted the same. He collected samples of each and took them back to his camp to examine them more closely. He used a microscope to check for differences in the stomata, the leaf hairs, the petiole scars, the cross-sectional pattern of the vascular bundles, and still his trained eye could detect no differences. All the while, the curandero watches the botanist’s efforts with bemusement. Upon returning to the research laboratory at his university, the botanist ran some biochemical tests on the two vines. At the molecular level, the tests showed that the vines did indeed have different active compounds. According to the modern pharmacopoeia, one compound was for headaches, one was for stomachaches.
In that clearing in the rainforest, there was no speech, nor words, no voice was heard, yet somehow the curandero heard the voice of the created order proclaiming God’s handiwork. God made this one for headaches, and this one for stomachaches. Even more amazing, God also made his creatures with the ability to hear the wordless voice of the created order if only we would. If only we would.
I have often pondered that curandero’s ability to hear and wondered why and how the vast majority of us have lost that level of sensitivity. What would it take to recover it? What if our attunement was consistently as intense as the curandero’s? What greater glory would we perceive from the heavens? What deeper knowledge would we learn from the night? Would we hear better ways to cooperate with God in fulfilling his purposes for creatures and creation? Perhaps we would hear something like “This one is for violence, and this one is for poverty. This one is for pollution, and this one is for exploitation.”
What wordless Word would we hear?