The last piece I contributed was inspired by Jonathan Weiner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Beak of the Finch.” I read it in preparation for a tour of the Galapagos Islands from which I have just returned.

Along with trying to find a few adequate words to respond to family and friends who upon my return asked, “How was it?” my return involved editing the hundreds of emails that accumulated during my near two-week absence. Just as I found a few words that did capture my essential Galapagos experience, I also found a few emails that delighted me. Perhaps none more than one from Jonathan Weiner. Yes, the author of “The Beak of the Finch.” Turns out he was surfing the web in search of the latest reports of research on Galapagos finches and my Reflections column came up.

Weiner wrote, “What you wrote made me happy because I’ve always hoped that readers with religious sensibilities might enjoy the story of finches in the same way as readers with secular sensibilities. That was the drift of an editorial I wrote a while back.”

Weiner’s editorial was an op-ed piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer titled, “Kansas Anti-Evolution Vote Denies Students A Full Spiritual Journey.” You may remember that a number of years ago the Kansas State Board of Education voted to outlaw the teaching of evolution in its public schools. In his essay, Weiner wrote, “It is a pity that the center of our country will now turn out students whose view of life will be so off center. It isn’t just that evolution is the unifying principle of biology and that well educated students need to know about it by the time they reach college. …(There) are good, valid, pragmatic reasons Kansans should teach their children about evolution. But the reasons they should not miss the view are not only intellectual but also emotional and spiritual…”

I’m going to make a jump here from Weiner to the words of a just deceased American theologian, William Edward Farley. Weiner and Farley’s thoughts go together for me as I reflect on my Galapagos experience.

In an essay Farley wrote for The Christian Century magazine, he lamented that typical Protestant worship lacks “a sense of the terrible mystery of God, which sets language atremble and silences facile chattiness. What is needed is adoration, awe before Mystery and deep reverence for the Good.”

Two deeply spiritual experiences stand out for me, among many wonderful ones given to me in the Galapagos. They confirm Weiner’s understanding of spiritual sensitivities as appropriate, even necessary when contemplating the unfolding and continuation of life on Earth which science calls evolution, and Farley’s call for worship with awe before Mystery and deep reverence for “the Good” that silences “chattiness.”

One recurring experience was provided by the newness, in terms of geological time, of the islands, particularly the western islands. Here were lava fields freshly laid down by volcanoes fed from the molten core of the Earth and plant and animal life colonizing apparent barrenness. Here, life was giving its life for life that followed. Here, over spans of thousands, even millions of years, creation is continuing and the pulse, beauty and brutality of existence move, collaborate, evolve. I could hear the voice of God out of the Genesis account of creation saying, “This is good.”

The second deeply spiritual experience happened in the midst of snorkeling. I found myself a bit apart from the other snorkelers. Before me was an entrance of six or so feet into a grotto some 20 feet long and 15 or so wide, 10 feet deep. As I entered, a sea iguana swam by me on its way out. I turned to watch it pass and a sea lion, five or six feet of lithe grace and sleekness, swam by me into the grotto. It rolled in front of me. Inspired by what seemed curiosity and playfulness, it then swam with me and around me in and then with me out of the grotto. We played together for at least five minutes and then it swam off. Meeting animals in their natural setting, particularly when they, not yet afraid of us, welcome us, touches deep wells of wonder and gratitude in me. I know that you know what I am saying here.

Wasn’t it Thoreau who said, “In wildness is the preservation of the world”? The Galapagos offered my mind, heart and soul wildness and in the receiving, my spirit was inspired and nourished. I once again experienced what is bigger and at the same time more intimate than any name, but I and others call God, moving in and through the mystery and wonder of evolving life.

Bill Gregory is an author and retired UCC minister. He can be contacted at: [email protected]