Sep 25 2022

The Right Place*

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog you know I am a big fan of Mary Oliver’s poetry. Whenever she publishes a new book I find cause for celebration.  Last week I celebrated the release of her newest collection of poems, Felicity.  You can easily read through this book in one sitting but I wouldn’t suggest that.  Oliver’s poems are to be savored and contemplated.  I especially like the ones where her love for nature and God merge.

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One of the poems in this new collection is called “Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way.” It begins, “If you’re John Muir you want trees to live among. If you’re Emily, a garden will do.  Try to find the right place for yourself.  If you can’t find it, at least dream of it.”  I like the idea of trying to find “the right place” for you.  Muir did, Emily Dickenson did, and so can you and I.  It’s interesting how different people are drawn to various landscapes or things.  We do not all connect to the same thing but it seems as though we all connect to something in the natural world.  How could we not?  I connect to a lot of things.  I no longer live near mountains but I will always love them.  I will visit them when I can.  And when I can’t, I can always dream.  Thankfully, I also find a connection with trees and there are lots of wonderful trees in my area, some right outside my door.  These trees offer me a special connection with God’s Creation.  What is your right place?

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Later in this poem Oliver writes “God, or the gods, are invisible, quite understandable. But holiness is visible, entirely.”  Here the poet makes a wise observation.  We are not able to see God with our eyes; for many reasons that is just not possible.  Still, we are able to see a reflection of the divine, God’s holiness, in a variety of places.  Certainly it can be seen in some special people from time to time but God’s holiness is always evident in the Creation. “In the beginning” a holy God spoke the world into existence and declared it good (Genesis 1).  That world, the parts not marred by humankind, is still good and bears witness daily to the holiness of its Maker.  For me, holiness is most readily seen in God’s handiwork.  It is through God’s Creation that I can visibly see the invisible God’s holiness on a regular basis.

In some parts of the country this is the peak season for fall foliage. This year I hope you will make a special effort to take a close look at and enjoy the delightful colors of autumn.  As you do so, make sure to offer a word of thanks to the Creator for this annual display of divine holiness.  Wherever you happen to be, make it the “right place” to commune with God.

–Chuck

*This post originally appeared October 22, 2015.


Sep 13 2022

Prayer and Seeing Creation*

As I have noted numerous times in the past, seeing God in Creation does not necessarily come easy for most people.  A group of individuals might walk the same trail and see the same things but that does not mean that all of them, or any, will experience or see God.  I am convinced that there has to be both an openness and desire to see God in Creation for this to happen on a regular basis.  Likewise, I am confident that there is no better way to prepare oneself to see or experience God in nature than prayer.  With this in mind, I’d like to commend to you a prayer I discovered in John Baillie’s little book, A Diary of Private Prayer.  It reads:

“Creator Spirit, who broodest everlastingly over the lands and waters of the earth, enduing them with forms and colors which no human skill can copy, give me today, I beseech Thee, the mind and heart to rejoice in Thy creation.  Forbid that I should walk through Thy beautiful world with unseeing eyes: Forbid that the lure of the market-place should ever entirely steal my heart away from the love of the open acres and the green trees:  Forbid that under the low roof of workshop or office or study I should ever forget Thy great overarching sky:  Forbid that when all Thy creatures are greeting the morning with songs and shouts of joy, I alone should wear a dull and sullen face: Let the energy and vigor which in Thy wisdom Thou has infused into every living thing stir today within my being, that I may not be among Thy creatures as a sluggard and a drone:  And above all give me grace to use these beauties of earth without me and this eager stirring of life within me as a means whereby my soul may rise from creature to Creator, and from nature to nature’s God.”

I cannot help but believe that if we offered a prayer such as this on a regular basis it would be of great benefit to us.  The Bible would seem to affirm this.  In the Book of James we read “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” (4:2)   Also, Jesus taught, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

I encourage all those wanting to see and experience God in Creation to remember the importance of prayer in this endeavor.  All my life I have heard people say, “prayer changes things.”  This is no doubt true; it even changes how we see or experience God in nature.

–Chuck

*This post originally appeared September 19, 2012.


Aug 31 2022

Majestic!*

Majestic. That’s the word my wife, Bonita, kept using on our recent cruise to Alaska to describe what we were seeing.  This adjective means “having or exhibiting majesty.” The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines majesty as “greatness or splendor of quality or character.” Roget’s Thesaurus offers as synonyms for “majestic” the words “grand” or “exalted.” That being the case, I will concur with Bonita that majestic was indeed the appropriate word to describe what we were seeing.  And just what did we see?  We saw awesome glaciers cutting their way through mountains.  We saw humpback whales feeding in the icy waters around us.  We saw gorgeous sunsets.  We saw sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, grizzly bears and bald eagles.  We saw lovely fjords carved by glaciers.  And, yes, it was all majestic–exalted and grand. This was my eighth trip to Alaska so I wasn’t surprised by what I saw. In fact, I had seen all the things mentioned above before in various places throughout the state.  Still, the sights remained overwhelming. There is just something special, almost holy, about our 49th state. It truly is majestic!

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Even more worthy of the adjective “majestic” is the One who created all the sights we saw. The Creator of Alaska and the rest of the world deserves the title majestic more than anyone or anything else.  Twice in Psalm 8 David declares, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (vs. 1, 9)  In Psalm 111 the Psalmist says “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.  Glorious and majestic are his deeds…” (vs. 2-3)  In the Song of Moses recorded in Exodus 15 the question is raised, “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you–majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (v. 11)  In 2 Peter 1:17 God’s divine glory is described as being “Majestic.” God’s name, deeds, holiness and glory are all described as majestic.

That God would be associated with the word “majestic” should not surprise anyone. God is, after all, God. If we can use the word majestic to describe what God has made then surely the One who fashioned the natural world deserves to receive the same exaltation.  When we consider all that God has done through Christ, this becomes even more true.

I hope as a result of your experiences with God you can say with the Psalmist, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”  God’s Creation and mighty acts are all meant to lead us to exalt God’s holy name.  They call us to worship the Creator and Redeemer of the world.  May we all heed that call and lift up the majestic name of the Lord.

–Chuck

*This post originally appeared in 2017. Bonita and I just got back from another Alaskan cruise and it seemed like the ideal one to share during my summer repeat series.


Aug 18 2022

Fellowship Workers*

I recently came upon a prayer found in the Book of Common Prayer that should be of interest to those who are concerned about being good stewards of Creation.  It is a short prayer that might be said on a regular basis.  It reads, “Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us fellowship workers in your creation.   Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

There are several things I like about this prayer.  One of the great things about it is that it reminds us of the true meaning of the word “dominion.”  The biblical call found in Genesis 1:28 for humans to have dominion over the earth has certainly been misunderstood by many over the centuries.  This misunderstanding has led to the horrible abuse of God’s Creation in a lot of instances.  In this prayer we catch a glimpse of the true meaning of dominion; it involves our being “fellowship workers” in God’s Creation.  Our calling is to work with and in Creation for its good.  When we do this together the world becomes a better place for us and for those who will come after us.

Another thing I like about this prayer is the recognition that we need “wisdom and reverence” to do what we are supposed to do.  We need wisdom because it is not always clear exactly what we should do or how.  We are called to be caretakers of God’s Creation but at times we must seek the Creator’s help in knowing how best to take care of what He has made.  We must also do our work with an attitude of reverence.  We revere the One who has called us to serve in His Garden and we must also show reverence for the work of God’s hands.  If we fail to do either of these things we will likely be unsuccessful in our fundamental calling to tend to the earth.  Reverence for both God and Creation are essential.  This prayer helps us to remember this.

Finally, I like this prayer because it serves as a reminder that our actions have consequences.  If we do not seek God’s wisdom and live in reverence of the Creator and the Creation we may very well abuse the earth’s resources.  We will be more likely to cause harm where we are supposed to bring help and healing.  This abuse and harm, as we have clearly learned, comes back to bite us.  The earth alone does not suffer when we abuse it, so do we.  Furthermore, it is not just we who live today that are affected by this abuse but also those who shall follow us.  As “fellowship workers” we have to be concerned about more than just ourselves.  We must tend to the earth in such a way that there will be plenty of resources left for the generations yet to come–resources that will not only sustain and nurture them but lead them to worship and praise the Giver of all good gifts.

For a short prayer this gem from the Book of Common Prayer has a lot of important reminders for us.  For that reason I encourage you to remember it and to use it on a regular basis as part of your prayer regimen.  It can’t hurt and it has the potential to do a world of good.

–Chuck

*This blog was originally posted in June 2013.


Jul 30 2022

Giving Nature a Second Look*

Today I want to share with you some thoughts from two writers separated by many centuries.  Ken Gire is a contemporary writer that I greatly admire.  His book, Windows of the Soul, is one of my all-time favorites. In this book he explores the many different ways God speaks to us today and he identifies these avenues as “windows of the soul.”  In the opening chapter of this book he writes: “We must learn to look with more than just our eyes and listen with more than just our ears, for the sounds are sometimes faint and the sights sometimes far away.  We must be aware, at all times and in all places, because windows are everywhere, and at any time we may find one.  Or one may find us.”

Gire goes on to explain that “windows of the soul is a way of seeing that begins with respect.”  To this he adds, “The way we show respect is to give it a second look, a look not of the eyes but of the heart.  But so often we don’t give something a second look because we don’t think there is anything there to see.  To respect something is to understand that there is something there to see, that it is not all surface, that something lies beneath the surface, something that has the power to change the way we think or feel, something that may prove so profound a revelation as to change not only how we look at our lives but how we live them.”

Gire’s words deserve our attention.  He’s right; there truly are many “windows of the soul” available to us and we must make sure that we take advantage of them.  One of the windows he discusses at the end of his book is nature.  He realizes, like many who have gone before him, that Creation itself is a window of the soul.

Writing over eight hundred years before Gire, Bonaventure noted how important it is that we pay close attention to nature.  He said, “All the creatures of this tangible world lead the soul of the wise and contemplative person to the eternal God, since they are his shadows, echoes and pictures…  They are set before us for the sake of our knowing God, and are divinely given signs.  For every creature is by its very nature a kind of portrayal and likeness of that eternal Wisdom.”

Like Ken Gire, Bonaventure recognized that when people look at the things around them they do not always see all that is there to be seen.  For him it is “the wise and contemplative person” who is able to discern God’s Presence in Creation.  How does one become such a person?  By practicing the respect Gire writes about, by giving Creation a second look realizing that in it we do, indeed, find a window of the soul that reveals to us our God and Savior.  I truly believe that when we give nature a second look we actually do find “something that has the power to change the way we think or feel” and something that will alter “not only how we look at our lives but how we live them.”  With that in mind, wouldn’t you agree that nature does, in fact, deserve a second look?

–Chuck

*This post originally appeared in August, 2012.


Jul 12 2022

Embracing Struggle*

In Letters to a Young Poet Rainer Maria Rilke says “we must embrace struggle.”  He writes this after noting that most people seek to resolve everything  “the easy way.”  When I read this a few days ago I had to admit I have a tendency to want to resolve things the easy way.  I am certainly not one prone to embrace struggle.  Rilke then goes on to say, “Everything in nature grows and struggles in its own way, establishing its own identity, insisting on it at all cost, against all resistance.  We can be sure of very little, but the need to court struggle is a surety that will not leave us.”

Since reading these words I’ve given them a good bit of thought.  Rilke has a point.  When you look at nature you see that there is a sense in which everything “grows and struggles in its own way.”  This struggle in many instances is not something bad at all but necessary.  For example, I remember hearing about a person who came across a cocoon where a butterfly was in the process of emerging.  Seeing that it was quite a struggle for the creature this person assisted the butterfly by cutting the cocoon.  The butterfly was freed but soon died.  What this good intentioned person did not realize is that the struggle to free itself from the cocoon is a necessary part of the process.  It is what strengthens the wings so that the butterfly can fly.   I guess you could say the butterfly’s struggle is a prelude to flight.

As I think back over my own life I cannot help but see that I, too, have found strength through life’s struggles.  I can’t say I enjoy struggle but my life would be very different today had I been able to escape all the hard times or struggles that have come my way.   It’s probably only human that we try to avoid struggles when we can but no one can escape struggle entirely.  Nor should we want to.  What I now see is that struggle is necessary for the building of character.   If we do not experience struggles in life we, like the butterfly, cannot grow nor can we fly.  I think that’s what Rilke was trying to say in his letter.  I also feel it is the message sounded in the first chapter of  the Book of James.  Here we read: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (vs. 2-4)

I’m not sure how quick I will be to embrace struggle in the future but both of God’s books—Scripture and Creation—teach me that it is a wise thing to do.  If I want to grow and fly I really have no choice.  Neither do you.

–Chuck

*This post originally appeared in September of 2011.