For more than 20 years, I have lived in the same house. Sometimes, I think about what the place would have been like as wilderness, many years ago. It would have been a hillside. Even today, heavy rains will form a creek on the downhill edge of my property.
The ground is clay. Whatever sunlight reaches the soil is filtered by tall trees. It is a place where ferns and blackberries thrive. Most other plants find the ground too unyielding and the sun too far away. Years ago, I planted strawberries. I routinely found the ripe berries scattered across the driveway, already half-eaten beneath the shelter of their green leaves. Now, where ruined berries were left to decompose, oddly diminutive strawberry plants appear each spring. My original strawberry patch is much diminished, but I have gained a ground cover in unexpected places.
One night, I heard something scratching at the ground outside my window. When I went to investigate, I found the pink eyes of an opossum looking back at me. For several years in a row, a mother raccoon would troop her babies across the yard. Squirrels chase each other through the tangled branches of the plum trees overhead, gorging themselves on sour fruit. On my little patch of ground, I’ve seen deer, and a coyote, and a pair of newts with bright orange bellies. All this is within earshot of Interstate 5, between a retirement home and a Comfort Suites hotel.
For over 20 years, I have taken a proprietary interest in this plot of earth, but I am not the only creature to call it Home. The birds nesting overhead can claim an ancestral tie to this land that takes precedent over mine. The squirrels have nothing but contempt for the concept of property. From time to time, they even come inside the house (through a basement window or down the chimney). Dragonflies, trillium bulbs and garter snakes grow and reproduce, according to their natures. They offer no fealty to the humans who might claim dominion over them.
In many ways, my property is unremarkable. There are places in this world that take my breath away. I have stood in the mist of waterfalls. I have walked alongside alpine lakes. I have seen slender towers of rock in the desert. Routinely, I feel a sense of gratitude and wonder for the beauty of creation. That gratitude within me flows to God, like water running downhill. It is easy for me to find a sense of God’s presence in the majesty of creation.
Perhaps more surprisingly, I find a sense of God’s presence in the mundanity of creation. In my unremarkable plot of earth, I find myself in the Community of Created Beings. I am one creature among many. There is life all around me. In humility, I am learning to share the land where I live. In this process, I have a sense of God’s presence.