By Dr. Jim Ferguson


Most of us think of a natural disaster when we encounter the word quake. Actually, the word in our English lexicon can be either a noun or an intransitive verb, as in shake or vibrate. But this week I want to challenge you with an additional definition of quake, and additional perspectives of a life well-lived.

I feel blessed to have placed a check mark beside many of the items on my “bucket list.” After the movie of the same name, you might imagine a bucket list as destinations to experience in a lifetime. However, there is more. On my bucket list are items that are never completed, and must be worked on all the days of my life. At the top of the list are a reverential relationship with God, a successful marriage and family.

Nonetheless, my wanderlust has taken me many places. Yet, I have always longed to see alpine aspens change to their lush golden color amidst the evergreens of the Rocky Mountains. Timing must be perfect to arrive in the high country just as temperatures fall, heralding the approach of winter. The sudden alpine chill kills the chlorophyll in the aspen leaves causing the molecular changes which then reflect the yellow wavelength of light. Last week I experienced God’s wondrous paintbrush in the Colorado Rockies amidst friends and quaking aspens.

The leaves of aspen trees are attached by a stem in such a way that when the wind blows they seem to vibrate in mass as if the entire tree were vibrating or shivering. Quaking is thus associated with aspens and descriptively first used in 1812. Additionally, the distinctive white bark of aspen trees makes the logs popular in decorative fireplace arrangements. You may be surprised to learn that an aspen grove is the largest living organism on earth because adjoining trees are often offshoots of the parent, all connected by an intricate root system. As a result, you may find a tree, a copse or even an entire mountain side to be one “family” unit.

I’ve always been a stargazer and have gazed upward in wonder from many places, including the bottom of the world while traveling in Australia and New Zealand. (Interestingly, Sydney Australia has a similar latitude as Knoxville, so if you point at your toes you are pointing at Sydney!) However, last week, for the first time in my life, I gazed upward and saw the Milky Way galaxy strewn majestically from horizon to horizon.

Knoxville is not a big city, but considerable “light pollution” obscures much of our night sky. This is not the case at my brother-in-law’s isolated ranch at 8000 feet in southwestern Colorado. I’ve read that you can count 3000 stars at night with the naked eye. Undoubtedly, this is an average because our group of star-gazers believed we could have counted many more (along with the occasional satellite and shooting stars) in the clear mountain air devoid of city lights.

Our galaxy has approximately 400 billion stars, and is but one of a hundred billion galaxies in the known universe. The universe is incomprehensibly vast; our Milky Way alone is 100,000 light years in diameter. However, to us the Milky Way is home and described by sages as the “backbone of night.” And old timers say the Rocky Mountains are the “backbone of the world.”

I often encourage my grandson, Oakley, to come walk with me on our farm. I tell him, “We might see something.” Have you ever noticed that when someone points something out to you, you then begin to see it everywhere? Recently, as we hiked on my brother-in-law’s Colorado ranch we noticed a small barrel shaped cactus. And then we began to see the same cactus everywhere.

I am similarly intrigued in my search for God. I identify with many who see the hand of God in the beauty and wonders of creation. It is hard to deny a Creator when surrounded by snowcapped mountains and golden quaking aspens. Poets like Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost described this more eloquently than I can. However, I have my own vision and believe the vastness and majesty of creation, which extends from quasars to quarks, and aspens and lakes filled with trout is best explained by a Creator and Creative force. A random universe is as empty as Camus’ existentialism.

On encountering the “burning bush,” Moses asked for God’s name because names defined a man or a god in antiquity. The voice from the bush identified himself as, “I Am.” This appellation has always fascinated me because it is so majestic and mysterious.

However, God is neither confined to nature or man’s understanding. Beyond nature, I see God’s handiwork in the changed nature of a man whose otherwise savage nature is curbed, and is imbued with empathy even to the point of sacrificing his own lusts. The Greeks recognize many types of love: Agape is sacrificial love, Eros is erotic love, and so on. Like empathy and reason, I believe the ability to perceive, receive and extend love is a unique aspect of humankind and are “signs” of the Creator’s handiwork.

Jesus said “those who have eyes will see,” and “the truth will set you free.” Having lived six decades I understand that truth is far more complex than extraneous facts and demands a different level of seeing.

As seekers of truth, humans may be alone in the universe or a part of a vast host who seeks Him. Some wish God were more obvious. I believe that the mysterious and majestic “I Am” is everywhere, if you know where and how to look.


If you like these stories, look for more in my book, “Well…What Did the Doctor Say?”

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