Dec 2 2016

Some Needful Reminders

_dsc1954In Celtic Prayers from Iona J. Philip Newell offers a series of morning and evening prayers for each day of the week.  In true Celtic fashion, many of the prayers focus on Creation.  I recently came across two of Newell’s prayers in this book that were especially meaningful to me and I want to share them with you.  The first prayer reads: “There is no plant in the ground but tells of your beauty, O Christ. There is no life in the sea but proclaims your goodness.  There is no bird on the wing, there is no star in the sky, there is nothing beneath the sun but is full of your blessing.  Lighten my understanding of your presence all around, O Christ.  Kindle my will to be caring for Creation.”

The second prayer reads: “You are above me O God; You are beneath; You are in air; You are in earth; You are beside me; You are within.  O God of heaven, you have made your home on earth in the broken body of Creation.  Kindle within me a love for you in all things.”

_dsc1477Both of these prayers remind us that God may be found in the world around us. This is an important reminder.  Often I pray the Lord’s Prayer when I am walking or hiking.  I always make an effort to remember that God is with me when I pray.  One way I do this is by pausing after the words “who art in heaven” and adding “and also in [wherever I happen to be].”  I believe God is both transcendent and immanent.  God is both far beyond me and also all around and within me.  Recognizing God’s nearness is important.  The exciting Advent/Christmas message that Christ came as Immanuel—God with us—is important to hold on to at all times.

The other truth Newell’s prayers convey is that God’s Creation is to be loved and cared for. If Creation truly is “God’s Other Book” and reveals to us the glory of God, how can we not love the Creation?  If Creation tells of God’s beauty, proclaims God’s goodness, and is a source of God’s blessing, how can we not long to care for it?  I would encourage you to pray with Newell, “Kindle within me a love for you in all things.”  Likewise, pray “Kindle my will to be caring for Creation.”

_dsc1516I truly believe that working to preserve and protect the Creation is both a religious obligation and an act of worship. I am also convinced that people of faith must now, more than ever, be willing to take a stand for Creation Care.  If we fail to care for the earth we not only fail God, we fail ourselves.  God forbid that should happen.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures used above on a recent trip to southern Georgia.)


Nov 11 2016

Kindness and Awe

_dsc1299

“Be kind to one another…”  Ephesians 4:32

Last month Parade magazine published an article on awe. In this article the author, Paula Spencer Scott describes how the emotion of awe is getting more and more attention from researchers.  She said, “new studies show that it’s a dramatic feeling with the power to inspire, heal, change our thinking and bring people together.” Scott quotes Dacher Keltner’s, head of the University of California Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab, definition of awe: “Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale, that transcends our current understanding of things.”

_ces3749It is likely that all of us have had experiences of awe. If you use Keltner’s definition of awe then most, if not all, of our religious experiences include an element of awe.  After all, when you encounter God you are encountering “something vast or beyond human scale,” something “that transcends our current understanding of things.” Many of our reactions of awe are triggered by nature.  It could be looking at the Milky Way on a clear night, watching a newborn fawn take its first steps, observing a sunrise, or standing before a booming waterfall.  God’s Creation offers us a multitude of opportunities to experience awe.

The current studies on awe are revealing some interesting results. One such result is that awe has a way of binding people together.  In a moment of awe we may very well come to realize that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves and begin to think more in terms of we than me.  Related to this, research indicates that awe makes us nicer.  In one study a group of participants were divided up.  One group was asked to spend a whole minute looking at an impressive stand of North America’s tallest eucalyptus trees while the other looked at a plain building.  It will come as no surprise that those who looked at the trees reported greater awe.  What is a bit surprising is something else that was included in this study.  When a tester “accidently” dropped pens in front of the subjects the awestruck ones helped pick up way more than the ones who had gazed at the building.  There is apparently some connection between awe and kindness.

f_dsc9914If this is indeed true, then we would all benefit by seeking to bring more awe and wonder into our lives. During the recent election season I saw several memes on Facebook with the caption “Make America Kind Again.”  I doubt that there is anyone who would deny that there is a shortage of kindness these days.  If awe can help make us kinder then we should take advantage of this connection and encourage others to do the same.  If we know, for example, that awe is invoked by being present in beautiful places then we should seek these out.  Awe may likewise be sought out by listening to inspiring music or reading good poetry.  It can often be found in personal and corporate expressions of worship.

I urge you to find ways to bring more awe into your life. Do this for your own soul’s sake and for the good of others.  Hopefully experiencing more awe will, in fact, lead us to think more in terms of “we” than “me” and make us kinder people too.  Hopefully it will draw us closer to God.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Henderson Sloughs WMA, the middle image at Hoosier National Forest, and the bottom image in the eastern Sierra mountains.)


Oct 26 2016

Nature’s Call to Worship

_dsc0868Currently I’m teaching a study on the Book of Revelation at the church I serve. This week the focus is on chapter four where John is given a glimpse of the worship going on in heaven.  John records what he saw and among the things he glimpsed were “four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes.”  (v. 6) He goes on to say “The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.”  (v. 7)  These four creatures, we are told, offered God worship day and night, continually saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (v. 8)

dnp-grizzly-2eSeveral scholars believe the four creatures John saw stand for the four parts of the animal kingdom. The lion represented wild beasts, the ox represented domesticated animals, the human face represented humans and the eagle represented birds.  The lion’s nobility, the ox’s strength, the human’s wisdom and the eagle’s swiftness likely played a role in their selection.  Each creature has preeminence in its own particular sphere and yet each give preeminence and worship to God, their Maker.  Here we find a reminder that all of Creation was made to worship God.  It is not humans alone that worship God; all that God has made joins together in offering the Creator praise.

In the verses that follow we learn that when the four creatures give glory, honor and thanks to God that others gathered around God’s throne fall down before God and join them in offering their own worship. Specifically, twenty-four elders are mentioned and they too sing a hymn of praise to God: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (v. 11)

_ces4447I would not be so bold as to say I understand all the particulars of worship in heaven but I do find a parallel here with my own experience. It is noteworthy that the twenty-four elders offer their praise after watching the four living creatures offer theirs.  The actions of the creatures somehow move the elders to join in the worship.  I have experienced that pattern myself.  As I have watched various creatures do what God created them to do, and thus offer God praise, I have found myself moved to offer praise to the Creator as well.  It was as though the creatures I was observing led or called me into worship.  Watching an eagle soar has done this for me.  So has observing a grizzly bear forage and a mountain goat climb rocks.  Hearing a bull elk bugle in the fall has served as a call to worship for me on more than one occasion.  Even spending time with comical prairie dogs has lifted my spirits and moved me to offer God worship.  So maybe all of Creation was not just made to worship God but also to lead the rest of us to do the same.  The question is, are we following in their steps as the twenty-four elders do in heaven.  I hope the answer is Yes.

–Chuck

(I took the elk and mountain goat pictures on my recent trip to South Dakota.  I took the grizzly image several years ago in Alaska.)


Oct 13 2016

What’s So Bad About the Badlands?

_ces3871What’s so bad about the badlands? That’s the question I kept asking myself last week while visiting Badlands National Park in South Dakota.  Why call such a beautiful land “bad”?  My guess is that early settlers found the terrain difficult to traverse or perhaps not conducive to grazing cattle.  But do these things warrant calling the land bad?  I don’t think the bison I saw there would call it bad.  Neither would the thousands of prairie dogs found in the region.  Nor would the pronghorn antelope or bighorn sheep say this was a bad place to live.  Even the countless meadowlarks I saw there sang as if they had no complaint about the land about them.

_dsc0673Humans seem to have a tendency to give value to things primarily as they relate to themselves. A fancy word for this is anthropocentrism.  If something benefits us it is considered good; if it does not we deem it bad.  We may have a tendency to look at things this way but I don’t think God does.  For some reason we often forget that God declared in Genesis 1 that all that He made is “good.”  Perhaps we have trouble finding the good at times from a human perspective but that does not mean such things do not have an inherent goodness about them.  All of the earth is valuable and good because it was created by and belongs to God. In one of her poems Mary Oliver says “You cannot cross one hummock or furrow but it is His holy ground.”  The badlands are no exception.

_dsc0467As I enjoyed the beauty and diversity of Badlands National Park and pondered why they got the designation “bad-lands” I thought of the story in the Book of Acts where Peter has a vision where “he saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners.” (10:11) In that sheet were all kinds of animals and Peter heard a voice that instructed him to kill and eat what he saw.  Since many of the species were ceremonially unclean animals and forbidden by Jews for eating Peter protested and said he had never eaten anything impure or unclean.  At this point Peter heard a heavenly voice tell him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (10:15)   Perhaps we stand in need today of a new vision where we are reminded that there are no bad lands.  If we are going to be good stewards of the earth it would certainly help if we recognized the goodness of the land.  Wouldn’t you agree?

–Chuck


Sep 29 2016

Mind Your Own Business

sd-mind-2I can remember growing up hearing, “Mind your own business”, from my sister. I think it is a common part of baby boomers’ times of growing up. Siblings used to love to say this, and sometimes parents would use this as a way of trying to quiet squabbling brothers and sisters. It is directed outward, as in, “Mind your own business, person who is bothering me.”

Now what does that have to do with Seeing Creation. A lot, I think, and it may say a bit about how we respect ourselves and God’s creation as formed in us. But I am not thinking an outward direction, but an inward direction.

sd-mind-3As Chuck and I know, nature photography is a great way of sharing God’s Creation. Yet, photography is a bit crazy in today’s world. In social media, we can see photographs from everyone everywhere, and we see a lot of what other people are doing in their photography. And of course, on Facebook, it appears to be all good. Photos are the best, trips are amazing, business is wonderful, and on and on. And it’s not just Facebook. Other places where the “world of photography” is put on display include Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr (still around), Google + and more. And all of it looks like everything is just great.

Sometimes it is. But that is rarely the full picture of anything, especially nature and photography. If we are only looking for the “best”, then we miss a lot of what God may want to show us. Nature is not defined by what we think is “best.”

Consider this, in Luke 12:6, Jesus says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.” Or Matthew 6:28-29, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Note that Jesus does not talk about eagles or lions, but the common sparrow. Nor does He talk about some exotic flowers, but common lilies of the field. If God considers these things important, then as nature lovers (and photographers), we need to pay attention to more than simply the dramatic nature that gets attention on social media. And of course, we have to remember Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” Not some things, a few things, but all that He had made.

The problem is that we have a tendency to want to compare our photos and what we see of nature to those bright and shiny posts on the Internet. “I should be photographing big landscapes and beautiful sunrises and sunsets, but all I have nearby are flat fields and average skies. I should be doing more than just photographing some common flowers or some stupid bugs. Why can’t I photograph like these other photographers? Why can’t I get better subjects?”

Comparisons are killers of creativity and our souls, who we are, who God created us to be. God did not create us to be someone other than who we are. God did not create nature in order to create bold subjects for Facebook.

So I think maybe we need to tell ourselves, “Mind your own business.” Or maybe even God’s business! But if we are true to who we are in how we see nature and in any creative endeavor, minding our business is God’s business as He has offered it to you. Your work can be God’s work. We need to pay attention to what energizes and excites us about photography, nature, and the world, how God is presenting it to us, not how someone else is dealing with that.

So whenever you are feeling conflicted because of what you see and learn about what other people are “doing” that you are not, remember to tell yourself, “Mind your own business!” That is probably God’s business as well.

sd-mind-1– Rob


Sep 9 2016

“Watchin’ and Listenin'”

wy-yellowstone-np-grand-prismatic-springLast night I decided it was time for me to reread C. S. Lewis’ classic series The Chronicles of Narnia.  I began with the first book, The Magician’s Nephew.  It is in this volume that Lewis tells the story of the founding of Narnia.  It will be obvious to most people that Lewis’ tale parallels to a certain degree the Creation story found in Genesis 1.

wy-yellowstone-np-lower-falls-vThe beginnings of Narnia are witnessed by a handful of humans from earth and a wicked witch that have travelled through time and space by using some magic rings. They all witness the arrival of the lion Aslan and his singing the new world into creation.  They do not, however, all witness this in the same way.  The two children are in awe of what they see.  The witch ends up running off in fear.  Another character immediately begins to see the potential for making a fortune from what was being created before his very eyes.  After this same character offers a complaint while so many wonderful things were happening all around him a different character says to him, “Oh stow it, Guv’nor, do stow it. Watchin’ and listenin’s the thing at present, not talking.”

I think these words are some a lot of us need to pay heed to when we stand before God and God’s Creation. Even now God’s Creation continues to unfold all around us.  Like the characters in the book, we too are witnesses of God’s ongoing Creation.  The Bible makes it clear that God is not finished with the work He started long ago.  God is creating still.  As we witness this ongoing work we would be wise to do more watching and listening than talking.  We’ll see, hear, and learn a lot more that way.

wy-yellowstone-np-giant-geyserA couple of weeks ago Rob Sheppard came to visit me and I was reminded how lax I had become in listening to Creation. Living near Los Angeles, California, Rob does not get to hear the sounds he was hearing where I live.  He opened the window in our guest room so he could hear the crickets and cicadas.  When we walked through John James Audubon State Park he commented on the sounds of the forest.  All of the sounds he pointed out were common ones that I no longer really pay attention to.  I guess I’ve come to take them for granted.  That is not good.  In order to get the most out of God’s “Other Book” I need to do more “watchin’ and listenin’.”  I suspect a lot of people do.  Perhaps recognizing that is a first step in moving toward a greater experience of God through Creation.  I hope so anyway.

–Chuck

(I took the pictures shown above at Yellowstone National Park.  This is one spot where God’s ongoing work of Creation seems pretty obvious.)