I played in the woods as a boy and had to be forced down from tall trees when the day was over. Back then, the woods were my friend and I memorized every leaf. I spent hours alone and there learned the good company of books and a boy’s imagination. I see the woods differently now. These days I spend time looking at them from a comfortable swing rather than high in their branches. They are still my friends, but we are old men who silently nod as they teach me about things I still don’t understand. I hear their voices, but I can never quite understand what they are saying. It reminds me of a line written by Nathaniel Hawthorn,
There seems to be things I can almost get hold of, and think about; but when I am just on the point of seizing them, they start away, like slippery things.
I think about what all those old trees have seen – the people they’ve known and the secrets they keep. I appreciate Ralph Waldo Emerson, who saw little distinction between the natural and the supernatural. Rather than compartmentalize science and theology, he wrapped one in the binding of the other. Echoing Augustine in The City of God he wrote
The difference between the actual and the ideal force of man is happily figured by the schoolmen, in saying, that the knowledge of man is an evening knowledge, vespertina cognitio, but that of God is a morning knowledge, matutina cognitio.
Today there seems to be an unnatural division between science and religion. Emerson will have none of that. Truth is truth and it is not less so simply because we don’t fully grasp the details. The evidence of God’s existence and continual presence is hidebound in every atom, every gene. As he wrote
No man ever prayed heartily, without learning something. But when a faithful thinker, resolute to detach every object from personal relations, and see it in the light of thought, shall, at the same time, kindle science with the fire of the holiest affections, then will God go forth anew affections, then will God go forth anew into the creation.
I treasure my grandchildren’s laughter as they play in the shade of these old trees. Like me as a boy, they appropriately take it all for granted, not yet understanding the value of the gift, but also like me, their spring days under the forest’s watchful eye are creating and shaping a safe place in their soul they will retreat to when they are older, where they will remember first hearing the still small voice of God.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
Knowledge in a wide and general sense, without distinguishing the different faculties by which it is attained, or the product from the process. It is the ability, found in all living beings of receiving the form of things other than self without losing self-identity, because they possess formally or eminently a sensitive soul. Found on different levels, it may be sense knowledge or sense perception; rational knowledge, i.e., intellectual knowledge which is discursive; angelic knowledge, i.e., intellectual knowledge without discursus or reasoning but intuitive; and divine knowledge. Thus it includes sensation, all the operations of the senses, internal and external, and their products; apprehension, judgement and reasoning, intuition, all the operations of an intellect, human, angelic or divine, and the habits of wisdom, science, understanding, art, and prudence.
Roy J. Deferrari, Inviolata M. Barry, and Ignatius McGuiness, A Lexicon of Saint Thomas Aquinas Based on the Summa Theologica and Selected Passages of His Other Works (Baltimore, MD: Catholic University of America Press, 1948), 164.
By reading these books of the Platonists I had been prompted to look for truth as something incorporeal, and I caught sight of your invisible nature, as it is known through your creatures. Though I was thwarted of my wish to know more, I was conscious of what it was that my mind was too clouded to see. I was certain both that you are and that you are infinite, though without extent in terms of space either limited or unlimited. I was sure that it is you who truly are, since you are always the same, varying in neither part nor motion. I knew too that all other things derive their being from you, and the one indisputable proof of this is the fact that they exist at all. I was quite certain of these truths, but I was too weak to enjoy you. I used to talk glibly as though I knew the meaning of it all, but unless I had looked for the way which leads to you in Christ our Saviour, instead of finding knowledge I should have found my end. For I had now begun to wish to be thought wise. I was full of self-esteem, which was a punishment of my own making. I ought to have deplored my state, but instead my knowledge only bred self-conceit. For was I not without charity, which builds its edifice on the firm foundation of humility, that is, on Jesus Christ? But how could I expect that the Platonist books would ever teach me charity? I believe that it was by your will that I came across those books before I studied the Scriptures, because you wished me always to remember the impression they had made on me, so that later on, when I had been chastened by your Holy Writ and my wounds had been touched by your healing hand, I should be able to see and understand the difference between presumption and confession, between those who see the goal that they must reach, but cannot see the road by which they are to reach it, and those who see the road to that blessed country which is meant to be no mere vision but our home. For if I had not come across these books until after I had been formed in the mould of your Holy Scriptures and had learnt to love you through familiarity with them, the Platonist teaching might have swept me from my foothold on the solid ground of piety, and even if I had held firm to the spirit in which the Scriptures had imbued me for my salvation, I might have thought it possible for a man who read nothing but the Platonist books to derive the same spirit from them alone.
Saint Augustine, The Confessions; The City of God; On Christian Doctrine, ed. Mortimer J. Adler and Philip W. Goetz, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin, J. F. Shaw, and Marcus Dods, Second Edition., vol. 16, Great Books of the Western World (Chicago; Auckland; Geneva; London; Madrid; Manila; Paris; Rome; Seoul; Sydney; Tokyo; Toronto: Robert P. Gwinn; Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1990), 65.