Yes and No

By H. Boone Porter

The way to God, as spiritual teachers of many faiths have declared, is a way of yes and of no. We learn of him both through what is, and through what is not. God declares himself in the rising sun each morning, and we receive from him the new life of a new day. Yet all the things we see and hear and do during the day fall far short of God. We find God in another way when darkness falls, when we cannot see or hear or do so many things, when life becomes quiet, and we feel the vastness of the night. Precisely in this withdrawal from the innumerable sights and sounds and activities of the day, we can turn to him who is also above and beyond all of his creatures, the Eternal One who cannot be seen by mortal eyes or touched by our fingers of clay.

As with the day so too with the year. The vitality, pleasure, and romance of Spring give us each year a new vision of the reality of creation. The blue sky, the green grass, the colors of flowers, and the songs of birds all betoken the loving power and wisdom of God. Yet the God of heaven and earth is infinitely more than can be disclosed by a field of flowers, or a returning flock of red-winged blackbirds. As we learn of God by the resurgence of natural life each Spring, so we learn of God also by the withdrawal of such life each Fall. God is also present in the bare bough, the cold sky, and the brown and wilted stalks and leaves of the roadside. 

All flesh is grass,

and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.

The grass withers, the flower fades,

when the breath of the Lord blows

upon it; surely the people is grass.

The grass withers, the flower fades;

but the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah 40:6-8.

Both in the coming and the going of natural life, both in its affirmation and its denial, both in its yes and no, we learn of the God who is above all times and seasons, the One who is eternal, holy, and true. So to the Christian there is meaning in the fact that sunset is as beautiful as sunrise, and the Fall is as beautiful as Spring. The scarlet vein in an autumn leaf is a poignant reminder that its sap is akin to our blood. Leaves also return to earth as we do, and plants drop seeds which (like many of our good deeds) will not bear fruit until another season.

In the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, there is a poem expressing similar thoughts which was widely sung as a popular song ten years ago.

For everything there is a season,

and a time for every matter under heaven: 

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill and a time to heal;

a time to break down and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance … 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

For Christians as for Jews it has always been important to observe the seven-day week with its recurring times of public worship. Catholic Christianity is also deeply sensitive to the dailiness and yearliness of our lives. This is, in part, what the church’s daily services of Morning and Evening Prayer are intended to express. It is part of the way also that the individual Christian learns to perceive the place of the threads of his or her life within the vast tapestry of which we are a part. 

The Rev. Dr. H. Boone Porter was editor of The Living Church from 1977-1990. This article was published in our October 16, 1977 issue.

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