Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Nine Billion Names of God

"The Nine Billion Names of God" is the title of a science fiction story I read years ago, the details of which are not relevant to this message, except that it described a religion in Tibet which believed that God had a specific number of names (about nine billion names), and that the purpose of mankind was to write out all of those names.

I thought about that story after driving with a friend, because I pointed out a red-tailed hawk that was sitting on a fence-post at the edge of the road and I was surprised that my friend didn't really seem interested. I can understand someone not wanting to spend time learning about birds, or spend time looking for them, but it puzzled me that someone wouldn't want to admire and learn about a magnificent, beautiful bird that was sitting in plain sight by the side of the road.

In thinking about my own attitudes, I realized that I felt a certain obligation to learn about the animals and plants around me. I can't know God directly, and I can't understand all of creation, but the least I can do is learn the names of the living pieces of God that are around me.

It started with birds, and I've always been pretty good with trees. Lately I've started trying to identify wildflowers, so I'm now learning about Spreading Dogbane, Cow Vetch, Yellow Spearwort, and Pickerel Weed, among others.

I'm thinking that next I'll try to identify different kinds of mosses, lichens, and fungus.

And I'm hoping that the total will be fewer that nine billion.

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