As the sun arose above the Mountains the air loaded with the rich perfume of clover and wildflowers. And the heavy mountain dew looking like drops of silver on the rich leaves and blossoms. —– I was looking around at the beautiful mountain scenery around me. Each side of the road being thickly lined with low cedar and pine. When I was suddenly startled by the report of a Rifle near by and the whistle of a “Minnie” ball close to my head. I dove the spurs in my horses’ flanks and hurried forward to rejoin our men. We were now nearing the Battlefield, and we were in momentary Expectation of attack.
These words were penned by John Washington as he remembered a day back in 1862 when he was traveling with the union army after having escaped across the Rappahannock River to freedom. His words can be read in the book called A Slave No More, which contains the narratives of two men who escaped to freedom during the civil war.
My heart was pierced when I read these words of John Washington. It struck me that he was distracted by the beauty of nature for a few sweet moments and then jarred back to the reality of a bloody battle for freedom. On that day, the loud and dissident sounds of battle were imbedded in the calm and beauty of nature, and the stark contrast was not missed by him.
This paradox of the harmony of nature and the chaos of war existing together is an indictment on the greed and hatred of mankind. The fields of the battle had the stench of war mixed with the rich perfume of the clovers. How many men on that day, who were amid the battle, noticed the beauty that surrounded them as John Washington did? Perhaps those who know how slavery feels can smell freedom in the blossoms and the wildflowers.
John Washington was a man of faith. In the spring of 1856, six years before his escape to freedom, he attended a Revival of Religion and this is what he says:
“It was during this revival that I was Sincerely trubbled about the Salvation of my Soul. And about the 25th of May I was converted and found the Savior precious to my soul, and heavenly joys manifested, and began to be felt at that time, —— I was baptized in the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg, VA by Rev. Wm F. Broaddus June 13th 1856.”
Washington could have been too entrenched in bitterness to be concerned about the salvation of his soul, but instead he understood that the men who enslaved him had no control over his mind and spirit. I believe his conversion gave him a heightened sensitivity to God’s sovereign power over nature.
Job, who has a book written about him in the Bible, suffered severely at the loss of everything he had including his family. He says this in Job 12:7-10:
ask the birds of the air, and they will tell you.
8 Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you.
Or let the fish in the sea tell you their wisdom.
9 Everyone knows
that the Lord made these things.
10 Every animal that lives and everyone who breathes—
they are all under God’s power.
Verse 9 strikes a deep chord with me. “Everyone knows that the Lord made these things.” This reminds me of another verse in Romans 5:20 (ERV):
20 There are things about God that people cannot see—his eternal power and all that makes him God. But since the beginning of the world, those things have been easy for people to understand. They are made clear in what God has made. So people have no excuse for the evil they do.
Wow, verse 20 says that people have no excuse for the evil they do because of the evidence of God in creation. The Bible makes it clear that people are given the decision to either enjoy the beauty of God and his creation or dismiss it and abuse it. This appreciation of nature includes the proper love and care for animals, the land, and people.
On that battlefield in 1862, while bullets were flying through the air, Washington took note of the glory and sovereignty of God in his creation. Nature spoke to his soul. Now it is 2020, and racism and greed and evil are still raging around us in the middle of spring. What would John Washington have to say about the killing of Ahmaud Arbery who was shot dead while jogging in a Georgia suburb? I imagine he would be deeply sadden by the fact that 158 years into the future, a man of his skin color would still be hunted down. John Washington would say, “Nature is speaking. Why aren’t you listening?”
I highly recommend the book, A Slave No More. It is deeply personal because it contains the narratives of two men who dared to escape to freedom.
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