The Divine Game of Pinzatski and the Glory of Creation
W. David O. Taylor is Associate Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary and the author of several books, including most recently, A Body of Praise: Understanding the Role of the Physical Body in Worship (Baker Academic, 2023). He lives with his family in Austin, Texas. You can find him on Twitter (@wdavidotaylor) and Instagram (@davidtaylor_theologian)
Praise God from earth, you sea dragons, you fathomless ocean deeps; Fire and hail, snow and ice, hurricanes obeying his orders; Mountains and all hills, apple orchards and cedar forests; Wild beasts and herds of cattle, snakes, and birds in flight; Earth’s kings and all races, leaders and important people, Robust men and women in their prime, and yes, graybeards and little children. ―Psalm 148:7–12 the message
“When [God’s] hand was opened by the key of love, the creatures came forth.” —Thomas Aquinas
Some years back my wife and I visited the small village of Glen Coe in western Scotland. We chose it chiefly because of its proximity to the West Highland Way, a popular walking trail that runs ninety-six miles across the Scottish Highlands. Formed into a U-shape by an ice-age glacier, the trail narrows sharply at a point called the “Pass of Glen Coe.” This pass is famous not just because it served as a location for Monty Python and Harry Potter movies, but also because of its stunning geography.
Lying between the six-mile-long notched ridge of Aonach Eagach and the truncated spurs of Bidean nam Bian, the glen is an ice-worn valley mantled with screes and debris from the mountains. As the Scottish National Heritage describes the area, the peaty flats of the lower glen stand in sharp contrast to the towering precipices and waterfalls around them. The region includes rugged mountains that soar from the flat valley floor as well as waterfalls, vertical outcrops, and hanging valleys.
During our three-mile hike up Stob Mhic Mhartuin, Phaedra and I played a game that we have often played during our walks in nature. It’s a game that I learned about in seminary called the “Divine Game of Pinzatski.” Conceived by Arthur and Ellen Pinzatski, the game calls for one person to point out an object in nature that the other person must then, as best they can, state what the object might say about God and why.
I’d point to, say, a bit of green moss, and Phaedra would say, “the gentleness of God,” and explain why she thought so. Or she’d point to a boulder-strewn cut in the mountain, and I’d say, “God’s severe mercy,” and explain why I thought so.
Playing this game over the years has taught us to pay attention to the details in creation and see that there’s no such thing as generic moss but rather things like Perthshire Beard–moss and Woolly Hair–moss; that rocks are not just rocks but can be volcanic or sedimentary.
It has taught us to hear the voice of the Maker in the things that he has made—that moss and rocks do in fact praise God in their own unique language.
It has taught us to re-see ourselves as humans, how small we are yet how well-loved we are, too, in this “theater of God’s glory,” as John Calvin once described the world. And it has taught us to see what the psalmist saw long ago, in Calvin Seerveld’s translation of Psalm 19:1–4:
The heavens are telling the glory of God.
The very shape of starry space makes news
of God’s handiwork.
One day is brimming over with talk for the next day,
and each night passes on intimate knowledge
to the next night
—there is no speaking, no words at all,
you can’t hear their voice, but—
their glossolalia travels throughout the whole earth!
their uttered noises carry to the end of inhabited land!
The Psalter opens with an echo of the first chapters of Genesis and it closes with a vision of the entire cosmos at praise. Before humans arrive on the scene, the psalms would remind us, creation was already at praise—long at praise. Once humans enter on the stage of history, creation does not cease to play a role. It continues to supply the proper context for all faithful praise.
As I wrote in my book, Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life, within the context of the psalms, creation enacts the praise of God and it summons us to fullsome praise. Hill and dale, fire and frost, along with amoeba, atom, Asiatic Black Bear, and Arcturus, twenty times the size of the sun, all rejoice in the Lord, and their praise extends to the “ends of the world,” as Psalm 19 puts it (niv).
Throughout the psalms, we see how God ravishes us with his creation and so invites faithful praise from the human heart. We see how creation invites us to participate in its joy in God, and in giving ourselves willingly to such a joy, we discover our true purpose as creatures made in the image of a joyful God: to faithfully reflect the divine image in all contexts of our created life as royal representatives of our Creator-King.
It's an astonishing vocation, which creation would remind and inspire us to continue to fulfill, if we but had ears to hear, a nose to know, and a mouth to taste and (eyes) to see that the Lord is indeed good. When we find ourselves forgetful of our truest vocation, my wife and I might head out again on a walk through the neighborhood in order to re-play the Divine Game of Pinzatski.
Our walks are less breathtaking in our aesthetically washed-out, architecturally grim neighborhood in northeast Austin, Texas. But with eyes to see and a willingness to attend to detail, we’re bound to notice the hidden grace of God in a small tuft of grass that has survived the hottest summer on record in this region of the world or the tenacious nature of God’s promises in the dogged roots of the Bradford Pear tree that sits on our front lawn and that refuses to yield its leaves to the rays of a seemingly pitiless sun.