Grace. Not the smooth, non-clumsy grace. Grace, not the prayer some pray over food. Not an adornment either. Also, not distinguished. The source of this grace is not human. This grace comes from God. It means undeserved favor to the condemned. We are the condemned. We receive grace as an everlasting present. Grace is God’s gift to all people, He gives it freely to all willing to take it.
A walk outside in a place of abundant nature can physically demonstrate what God’s grace is like. Walk with me. We’ll repeat a walk taken this morning. First, the air fresh, clean, and invigorating. It was a January morning too, but the air was mild, and pleasant. But neither of us had any impact on it; that’s “favor.” There was the ice we walked on across a wetland. It made our trek easier, the way was smooth, beautiful too. We both enjoyed the single file tracks of a coyote. You cannot make ice float on its liquid form. You know I can’t. This was ice “favor.”
We were amazed at the huge amount of excavation in a dead tree trunk. We realized it was evidence of a Pileated woodpecker in the area. We thought of the power behind each blow of this bird’s large beak. Have you even considered building a woodpecker? Impossible right? Think of the feathers, hollow bones, and muscles that even move feathers. But we can delight is witnessing evidence of this bird. In a way this is a bird “favor.”
As we walked further we came to what I consider the surprise of the day. You can have a different surprise if you want, but this is mine. After the woodpecker tree we walked closer to shore. We stood together with one foot on shore and the other on ice. As we looked around our gazes dropped to the surface of the snow beneath our feet. At first, we both thought the black specks on the snow came from the trees, little bits of bark or something. But we remembered. These specks looked like pepper on the snow. This triggered our memories. We were witnessing snow fleas (Hypogastruna nivicola) on the surface of the snow pack. We reminded each other that they really aren’t fleas. As we watched, they jumped, delighting both of us.
They are well named. They actually have an appendage on their abdomen called a furcula; they use it to jump. Releasing it from the bottom of their abdomen produces an upward spring which moves them to a new place on the snow. We could not see what they were eating, it was microscopic. But they are some of God’s best cleaners. They feed on fungi, pollen, algae, or decaying organic matter. In moist areas, like a wetland, just over two acres contain millions of springtails. We can believe that. We marveled at these insects slightly larger than 1 millimeter alive and well on the surface of the snow. When cold weather returns they will walk down the air spaces in the snow to the warmer surface of the earth below. We agreed neither of us could comprehend the concept of forming an insect like the Springtail. Seeing them was a gift, another “favor.”
Our walk had more “favors.” Choosing a path up the hill from the springtails took us past another delightful favor. On the tip of a small limb we both noticed fresh tracks. “A carnivore!” came out of my mouth. The pattern of the tracks told us a Least Weasel had recently stopped at the top of this broken limb to survey its world. Other small mammals beware, this tiny, all white predator is ferocious. We had images of this white phantom hunting in the trees to the south where the tracks led. Yes, these tracks were another small powerful “favor.”
We checked the time. Our promise was to only be out an hour. Ten minutes remained. The black-capped chickadees provided us with the final “favor” of our morning hike. We stopped at a spot where a beaver had recently cut down a small aspen tree. I whistled, “pee wee, pee wee.” Seconds later a chickadee answered. We were thrilled to be joined by 5-6 real chickadees as they searched for the stranger. I never asked you if you enjoyed seeing them. I didn’t need to, I saw your smile, yes, another “favor.”
Did we deserve the pleasure we received from our morning walk? No, but we obtained peace, contentment, joy and even lowered stress levels. We only needed to get ourselves outside in a place where is good habitat. We did not install our eyes, ears, noses, or skin. But we used our senses to greatly enjoy this morning walk. You know all of this is grace. Let’s call it grace in nature. We could see this grace. Witnessing “grace in nature” provides greater understanding of the unseen grace God gives to us all. What undeserved favor, that He would forgive us of our sins-all of them, even though we cannot see it God gives it.
“Grace gives us the faith to be utterly assured of what we cannot see. It frees us from refusing to believe in anything we cannot experience with our physical senses. But grace does more. It connects us to the invisible One in an eternal love relationship that fills us with joy we have never known before and gives us rest of heart that we would have though impossible. And that grace is still rescuing us, because we still tend to forget what is important, real, and true.” Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies