March 22, 2023

Martin pulled out his cellphone to fact-check me. As he scrolled through his phone, he mumbled, “High school biology.”

Angelina had a couple of friends up from the city for a visit. I will call them Martin and Edith. Martin is an avid reader and spends every waking hour on his computer. He is someone who Googles on his phone to fact-check everything you say: “Actually if all the ice caps melt, the sea level would rise 230 feet, not 200 feet.” After lunch, Martin and I walked in the woods around our farm. Sunlight dappled the trails. A light breeze blew off the Hudson River, teasing the sugar maples. Martin asked, “What are you working on these days?”

“I am writing personal essays and spiritual musings that I hope to turn into a book.”

“Spiritual musings? What is that?”

I knew Martin was a devout atheist, so I hesitated to say anything. I didn’t want to ruin a pleasant hike with a theological debate, so I kept walking. But Martin was insistent.

“You really believe all this God stuff?”

“Yes, I do.”

He shook his head, “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

“It shouldn’t make sense. God is a mystery,” I said. “If we understood the mystery, God would stop being God.”

“I don’t believe in God, and I don’t trust religions. “

“God and organized religion are two different things.”

“You realize more atrocities have been committed in the name of God than all the terrorist groups throughout history?”

“I can’t argue with that.”

“And praying to a magical person floating up in the clouds. Really?”

“I don’t think of God as a person.”

“Don’t you Christians pray, “Our Father who art in heaven…?”

“Yes, but the ‘Father’ is metaphorical. God is without gender. No white beard. No goddess gown with leaves in her hair. Those are images humans impose on an ineffable mystery.”

“How do you know that mystery exists?”

I stopped walking and gestured, “Look around. Look at the trees and sunlight. All the teeming life, the vibrating energy of this woods.”

Martin put his hands on his hips and studied the trees, “I appreciate nature. I do. Especially getting out of Manhattan into the fresh air. But this isn’t God.”

I had to decide: Do I engage and risk a heated debate or keep walking? I couldn’t help myself. I engaged, “Think of it this way. God is not ‘out there.’ I believe God is in here,” I said, pointing to my chest. “I am convinced the Spirit that lives inside me is the same life force inside you and these trees. And everything that exists. There are many labels for this spiritual force, but let’s call it Divine Intelligence.”

“Okay,” Martin agreed.

“Divine Intelligence speaks to our souls. It is the intelligence that guides salmons to migrate from the ocean to the same riverbed year after year to spawn or teaches gray whales to swim 12,000 miles round trip from the Arctic to give birth in the warm waters of Baja and return with their newborns to the same frigid waters for a summer of feeding.”

“That is biology,” Martin said.

“Look up in that tree. See the robin’s nest? Did you know every robin’s nest is made of twigs and grass and is the same uniform design, like a cupped hand, and the same size? Does Divine Intelligence instruct robins on how to build nests?”

“Biology,” Martin repeated.

“Over in our orchard, we have a sapling, a baby tree. What informs that tree on how to draw nutrients from the soil and absorb sunshine and rain to create an apple? I believe God is Divine Intelligence, the creative force that makes and lives within all things. It constantly communicates so life throughout the universe can continue to evolve and transform.

Martin pulled out his cellphone to fact-check me. As he scrolled through his phone, he mumbled, “High school biology.” He punched and swiped and scanned an article: “Osmosis. Fertilization. Pollination. The flower buds open, the petals fall off, and the base transforms into—"

“It does what?” I teased.

“It transforms by the cells dividing again and again and eventually becomes an apple.”

Spirit must have been working overtime that day because, as Martin studied his phone, explaining osmosis, a butterfly flew out of the bushes and landed on my right forearm. It sat there, pulsating with life. I could see the delicate antennae, the paintbrush of red powder coating the wings, and the two yellow and blue eyes painted on each wing. I raised my arm, and Martin leaned in for a closer look, his nose almost touching the butterfly. He whispered, “Beautiful.”

Then the butterfly broke the moment, caught the breeze, and fluttered away. We watched as it ascended among the branches.

“What was that?” Martin asked.

I smiled and said, “Biology.”