January 6, 2015

“To whom will you liken Me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.” Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?” Isaiah 40:25, 26a

At Christmas, Joe and I were at our daughter Mimi’s apartment, and the three of us decided to go hiking in Shenandoah National Park.

Shenandoah is a long, narrow park, and we entered from the south, at Rockfish Gap, then proceeded up Skyline Drive, a scenic roadway that follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles. We only went in about 15 miles, to go on the Riprap Trail, a moderate 3.4 mile round trip. For part of the way, we were on the Appalachian Trail.

The weather was moderate, so we dressed in layers, alternately taking our jackets on and off as we went up and down the trail, in and out of the sun. I’m more used to hiking in the summer, when there’s an abundance of birds and other animals about, and I was surprised at how quiet and still it was. We met several people along the way, but neither saw nor heard any animals.

We got to a mound of boulders which may or may not have been Chimney Rock (the park signage needs work). The adventurous (and much younger) Mimi wanted to see what was on the other side, so she scrambled up the rocks while we oldsters chilled out. The mother in me couldn’t watch her climb, so instead I busied myself exploring our immediate surroundings.

The area was in deep shade, with nearly everything covered in lichen. If you’re like me, you know nothing about lichen, having no reason to even think about it in everyday life. If I ever did know anything about the subject from school, I have forgotten it entirely. But here I was, waiting around for Mimi, so I peeled off a couple of specimens and idly studied them.

That pale green fungus is beautiful! I wished I had a microscope to really examine my samples. To the naked eye, they looked like miniature shrubs with branches ending in fine leafy frills.

Later I looked up lichen on Wikipedia, whose lengthy entry is enough to make your eyes glaze over. Let me summarize the main points: lichen are not plants, because they don’t have roots, nor are they mosses or even parasites on the surfaces on which they grow. They produce their own food from sunlight, air, water and minerals in their own environment, which can be in a variety of elevations and climates. It’s estimated lichen covers 6% of the earth’s land surface, they have a long life span and could be one of the oldest living things. Who would have guessed there was so much to know about those little things?

But you know what my first thought was when I sat on a rock and considered the lichen? A homonym! The verse I quote at the beginning, in fact: God saying to the prophet Isaiah, “To whom will you liken Me?” (get it—lichen and liken?).

Try to wrap your mind around the power, the uniqueness, the attention to detail that went into creating such a tiny yet exquisite organism!

What’s even more mind boggling is to realize that as much work as God put into lichen, which most people ignore, He pours even more into us, created in His own image (Genesis 1:26, 27)!

He has “crowned us with glory and honor” and made us ruler over all His creation (Psalm 8:5-7), bestowed on us every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3), invited us to bring all our concerns to Him to find grace and mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15, 16; 1 Peter 5:7), given us freedom from the guilt and shame of our sins (Romans 8:1, 2; 1 John 1:9), and promised us eternal life (John 3:16, 1 John 5:11-13). No one else could do that but God (Deuteronomy 3:24; 2 Samuel 7:22; 1 Chronicles 29:11; Nehemiah 9:6; Isaiah 43:10-13, 44:6-8, 45:5-7, 46:9-11; John 1:3; Revelation 4:11).

What a wonderful thought with which to begin the new year: we are of great value to God (Matthew 6:26).

I hope your response is the same as mine was that late December day: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! I will praise You, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in You” (Psalm 8:9; 9:1, 2).

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