Once in a while, if you’re lucky—and careful, and discerning—you can find something really inspiring on social media. For me this week it was a mesmerizing video of soap bubbles freezing in real time in St. Paul, Minnesota. Now before you start thinking I must have too much time on my hands, which I don’t, I should add that the clip itself is only 45 seconds long, which is short enough to watch over and over again. And believe me, you’ll want to do that, because what you’ll see is both gorgeous—almost poetic, really–and fascinating. As you watch, ice crystals develop and spread at a measured pace across the top, bottom, and sides of the bubbles.
There are several things about this short video clip that astounded me. First is the sheer beauty of it. As the ice crystals begins to form, they appear as delicate and intricate fractal patterns; there is a beautiful symmetry to them that is both familiar somehow and awe-inspiring. This is evidence of God at work, I thought. The patterns had elegance, artistry, and order. It seemed to me that I was looking at a building block of creation made visible. And with a little research, I discovered that that idea might not be far off base. Fractals are defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as “a complicated pattern in mathematics built from simple repeated shapes that are reduced in size every time they are repeated.” This patterning of simple shapes at different sizes occurs in surprising and varied forms of life and matter through the natural world.
For example, not only do ice crystals come into being as fractal patterns, but fractals are also part of algae, blood vessels and pulmonary vessels, clouds, coastlines, craters, DNA, earthquakes, fault lines, heart rates, heart sounds, seashells, lightning bolts, mountain goat horns, mountain ranges, ocean waves, pineapple, hurricanes, proteins, the rings of Saturn, river networks, broccoli, snowflakes, slime mold, and trees. Doesn’t that just blow your mind? We are living in a world that just shines with the fingerprints of God. I think it’s possible that when we watch that 45-second video of ice crystals forming on soap bubbles in Minnesota, we really are witnessing the pattern of creation, the energy of life flowing into matter, replicating itself as God designed and named Good, over and over and over again. Just let that soak in a minute.
Another thing I found amazing about the video was that the photographer had filmed the bubbles freezing in real time. The way the ice crystals grow, you might think the clip is shown in time lapse—you know, that special effect when the frames of a video are sped up to show a seed sprouting from the ground, or the sun and moon cycling over the earth. But no, the freezing of the bubbles happens gradually but quickly in the span of just a few seconds as you watch. There is so much creation—this says to me–going on all the time, inside us and all around us. Ice crystals forming. Wounds healing. Tree roots drinking. Sunlight shining. Hearts beating. So many miraculous and often unseen systems, doing what they do, supporting our lives and all life on this planet. What a force of love that is, to provide for our care in such an infinitely supportive and replicating way. It’s almost too big to comprehend. As though the very principle of life itself is Love.
That powerful idea of the intricacy of God’s creation—beauty at such a minute level—stayed with me all week. There is so much going on in every moment. Layers and layers of blessing, from the tiniest one-celled organism scaled all the way up to the universe of universes. Someone told me once that you can see God through a microscope or a telescope, and it made me wonder: How many blessings do we overlook every day simply because we’re focused on day-in-and-day-outness of things or rushing from one task to the next? How many miracles might we see if we could just leave space for the mystery of God to show up in our lives?
In our Old Testament reading today, we heard the psalmist envisioning a world where we live with hearts open and attuned to God. “Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,” he writes, “and grant us your salvation…Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.”
What an amazing picture that paints. Righteousness and peace. Faithfulness rising up from the ground, like a good and bountiful crop, and righteousness looking down from the sky, perhaps shining as the warming rays of the sun or falling as nourishing rain. In all these examples of God’s blessing, the psalmist urges us to notice what’s already around us, what’s already provided in the natural world. Soap bubbles freezing. Wind blowing. Leaves swirling. If we have the eyes to see it, we’ll see tiny miracles of God everywhere.
In a commentary on this passage, Richard Foster writes, “With this promise of renewal comes a stirring vision of what happens when God’s ‘glory’ dwells in the land. It is the realm of the “peaceable kingdom” governed by steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace. These characterize God, certainly, but are also what God requires of all of us who would live faithfully. God delights in these virtues.”
This took me toward the idea of the patterns that occur within us, in our thoughts and perceptions, our expectations about life and God. Tiny miracles also occur in those moments when we’re going along a well-worn path in our thinking, perhaps remembering past hurts or worrying about the future, and the light intervenes and we feel an inward peaceful shift—toward love, toward hope, toward faith. That’s what I think was going on in our New Testament reading from the book of John. A government official—which is significant, because Jesus wasn’t part of the accepted order: he wasn’t a rabbi or anyone with decision-making power, not even considered a legitimate teacher at the time. And yet this government official, concerned for his very sick son, comes to Jesus and begs him to travel to his home to heal the boy.
Jesus’s initial answer was a form of no. He says, “Unless you see signs and wonders you won’t believe.” Perhaps he’s dismissing the father’s request as just another ploy to catch him in a trap. But the man persists, saying, “Sir, please come before my little boy dies.” I can imagine Jesus pausing and looking deeply into the man’s eyes, assessing his heart and the intention behind his words. “Go,” Jesus says then. “Your son will live.”
If we stopped the story at this point, we would come to the conclusion that Jesus performed yet another amazing healing and leave it at that. It would be all Jesus. But we would miss the tiny but major miracle that follows in the next sentence: “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.”
He believed it. His heart simply knew. Something changed inside him, turning his fear for his son into a realization that Jesus’s word was creative and true and his son would live. He accepted Jesus’ pattern as his own. The rest of the story tells us that the official returned home and was met by members of his household. It turns out that the boy’s fever broke at the very time Jesus spoke the word that he would live. Miracle confirmed.
The tiny inner change that happened in the father’s heart is just as remarkable as the outward one that Jesus performed. The creative and healing power must have its response. The pattern of health and wholeness—of that of God within us—is there, but without a heart to receive it, the eyes to see it, the miracle gets missed. The tiny shift in the official’s belief changed not only his and his son’s lives, but it changed the hearts of everyone in his house. That’s how one tiny miracle—the slightest shift toward light in the heart and mind—can create ripples, patterns, that radiate, in their intricate, God-ordered, fractal-like way, touching the lives of people near and far, perhaps impacting the world in bigger ways than we know.
So how could we see more of God’s presence, both in our three-dimensional, physical world and in the quiet inner life of our souls and hearts and minds? I think waiting on God’s Light to show us what we’re missing is a good start. Waiting in the silence. Waiting at a stop light. Waiting for a bubble to freeze. We can also be intentional about keeping our hearts open to God’s possibility and staying awake to the moments and the blessings that come. Maybe even writing them in a journal, to encourage our noticing and celebrate the little miracles we find. About six months ago, I created a daily reminder for myself that my Cortana speaker reads to me each morning at 6:30am. I found it in a newsletter written by priest and author Richard Rohr. So every morning, Cortana reminds me,
“Keep your heart open and soft, your mind free of division and resistance, and your body aware of where it is and its deepest level of feeling.”
That’s not a bad place to start, with an open and soft heart, a clear, uncluttered mind, and the body’s senses awake to the richness of the moment. However we open, whenever we open—and whether we’re opening our eyes, our hearts, or our souls—we can trust God to bring just the tiny miracles we need to lead us to a deeper faith. Our response is an important part of the pattern. And we can let God’s mysterious, exquisite fractals of creation spread the love from there.
- OT: Psalm 85: 7-13
- NT: John 4: 46-53
- “A Soul Has No Walls,” in Rufus Jones: Essential Writings, pg. 67-68.
- Don Komarechka’s frozen bubble and a description of his process: https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkom/15787921233